This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Black River Sons, Carnifex, Capra, Heavy Load, Heretoir, King Ov Wyrms, Linus Klausenitzer, October Tide, Of Mice & Men, Prong, Putrascension, Svalbard and Xorsist.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Black River Sons – Skins (Music)
A French based southern rock influenced metal band, a deeply unconventional combination that has ever been made; but Black River Sons have pulled it off decently. Having established their sound and style from the start with their 2019 debut Poison Stuff, it is plain to see that they have doubled down with Skins.
With the feeling of Buckcherry mixed with ZZ Top, it is made known that they have taken their inspirations seriously and made it authentically theirs. From start to end Skins manages to keep consistent in tone and style, with “No Pain No Gain” and “The Road” standing out the most in style that are on par with their American counterparts. This only being their second album it is clear to see that their stage is set to carve themselves a nice path, not only in the French market, but on a global one as well.
Carnifex – Necromanteum (Nuclear Blast)
Now nine albums in, Californian bruisers Carnifex have made considerable inroads within modern death metal, and proven their staying power. Their latest barrage, Necromanteum, is another hyper-aggressive pummelling. Their 2016 record Slow Death contained a greater black metal influence within the blasts-and-beatdowns deathcore attack. It’s a focus continued on this LP, albeit fused with some of the more straight-ahead brutality of 2021’s Graveside Confessions. Here, the symphonic elements weave in and out of the songs, depending on what’s required – sometimes window dressing, other times at the forefront. “Bleed More” for one has a particularly cinematic edge.
Newly recruited axeman Neal Tiemann’s melodic, yet technically proficient solos add a touch of class, and while vocalist Scott Ian Lewis can lack a distinctive identity on occasions, he growls, roars and screams with conviction. Aside from the fury of “Death’s Forgotten Children” that will satisfy the already initiated, a track like “How The Knife Gets Twisted” proves a standout, its abundance of groove and hooks offering a welcome point of difference. Necromanteum is ultimately heavier than a bag of spanners on Jupiter, although at times the sheer bludgeoning can become numbing. But at a taut 43 minutes, there’s less time for the audience’s attention to wane.
Capra – Errors (Blacklight)
The metallic hardcore outfit Capra emerged in 2021 with their well-received debut In Transmission. They use that album’s closing track to set the tone for Errors, which is a little darker and angrier. Pummeling riffs, breakdowns and passionate vocals from frontwoman Crow Lotus are a constant, but this time around the songs are a little catchier and groovier without losing any of their potent punch.
It’s a focused and streamlined effort, with tracks like “CHSF” and “Loser” wreaking havoc in about 2 and a half minutes. Walls Of Jericho’s Candace Kuculain-Puopolo guests on “Human Commodity,” an uptempo number that’s one of the record’s heaviest. Closer “Nora” has the intensity of previous tracks during it’s first half before mellowing out and adding piano towards the end. It that a harbinger on their approach for album number three? We’ll have to wait and find out.
Heavy Load – Riders On The Ancient Storm (No Remorse)
Returning after four decades are Swedish legends Heavy Load, known for their contributions to the earliest incarnations of Scandinavian metal to have ever existed. Riders Of The Ancient Storm is the band’s fourth album, one that marks a new era for the band 40 years later. Opening with “Ride The Night” you get a solid mix of traditional and power metal elements, weaving back and forth expertly between the two subgenres with nary any notice given. Heavy Load slow things down on the more anthemic “Rock The World” which requires fists thrown in the air, while “Walhalla Warriors” is a reference to the brothers Wahlquist, Ragne and Styrbjörn who are original members.
“Slave No More” is a slow mover with an epic undertone making for the longest song on the album which is solid but could likely use a trim. “Raven Is Calling” is a rollicking good time that hearkens back to classic albums Death Or Glory and Stronger Than Evil, a mode that fits the band and this new record well; riffs and vocals explode next to the pounding drums with an epic old school feel that modern trad metal bands often aspire towards. Riders On The Ancient Storm is a fun return that nobody saw coming and while it is an up and down affair, we have Heavy Load back and for that we are thankful.
Heretoir – Nightsphere (Northern Silence)
German post-black metal Heretoir are known for their utterly dramatic and melancholic atmosphere. Their Wastelands EP which was released not long ago, unveiled the almost new direction of Heretoir’s music. The band officially starts a new musical chapter with the release of their third studio album Nightsphere, which is entirely touching and involving.
Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach’s work used on the cover draws the listener to musically witness the symbolic elements present in this painting. It starts with “Sanctum – Nightsphere Part I” and at the very beginning, at the height of emotions, it prepares a nocturnal retreat and quickly reaches a spiritual but gloomy ascension. Although the sonic horizon of Nightsphere is constantly raised and remains strong, the vastness of Heretoir’s post-black metal majesty falls short with two ambient pieces which disturb the rhythm and the spirit of the album from freely going to every dark corner. Nonetheless, in the end Nightsphere wins. This is the echo of human’s cry who stares at darkness, nostalgia and ruinations.
For one-man death/black metal project King Ov Wyrms’ second album, The Womb Ov Borealis, musician Michael Oneirous Sanchez has expanded the group to include drummer Ricky Williams on all songs and session bassist Derrek Page on three of the eight songs. This is still the Sanchez show, with him doing everything from writing and recording to mixing and mastering the album, but having more people involved is a good way to avoid a repeat of the band’s redundant debut album.
Just having a dedicated full-time drummer does wonders for the music, as the band goes slightly progressive with half of the tunes on the record being over eight minutes long. Closer “What Time Has Wrought” is almost 14 minutes long, with acoustic guitars and solid lead work making it more manageable. At over an hour, The Womb Ov Borealis is too long for what it’s trying to do, yet it’s a definitive step ahead for the group.
Linus Klausenitzer – Tulpa (AOP)
Bassist Linus Klausenitzer is known as a virtuoso, his 6-string fretless bass adding a distinctive sound to bands like Obscura, Alkaloid and Noneuclid. Tulpa is his debut solo album, which includes guest musicians whose resumes include bands such as Helloween, Triptykon, Annihilator and Beyond The Black.
The album is progressive death metal, though a bit more straightforward than some of Klausenitzer’s other projects. It’s a good blend of memorable riffs, catchy melodies and proggy instrumental sections. There are shorter, more focused tracks like “Sword Swallower” and “Dig Deeper” along with more epic songs such as “Queen Of Hearts” and the dynamic closer “Lunar Assailant.” The songs on Tulpa are interesting, as is the lyrical concept based on the book Die Sphinx that chronicles the story of an Austrian lord trying to create artificial humans through alchemy.
October Tide – The Cancer Pledge (Agonia)
There was a more than four year span between In Splendor Below and The Cancer Pledge, the seventh studio album from Swedish death/doom metal veterans October Tide. As with recent releases with the current lineup, there’s more emphasis on the death metal side of the equation.
The sound is very similar to In Splendor Below, and it was meant to be, inspired by bands of the ’80s and ’90s. It’s certainly not a retro sounding album, but has influences of classic melodic death metal bands, molded into October Tide’s style. Tracks like “Tapestry Of Our End” and “Season Of Arson” are heavy, but inject variety and melody to make them more compelling. Though they don’t break much new ground, The Cancer Pledge has quality songwriting and musicianship.
Of Mice & Men – Tether (SharpTone)
For the past decade Of Mice & Men have been prolific, issuing six studios in that time frame. Tether is their latest album, following 2021’s Echo, which collected the three EPs they issued that year.
It follows in the footsteps of recent albums, as they sound has evolved from their early days to a more accessible hard rock/alt metal approach, but still injecting metalcore moments. The songs are modern sounding with pristine production. Tracks like “Eternal Pessimist” and “Warpaint” have heavy and intense moments with harsh vocals contrasted by catchy choruses and melodic singing. Songs like “Tether” are more accessible and radio-friendly with all melodic singing. Tether is another quality Of Mice & Men album with a varied collection of songs and minimal filler.
Prong – State Of Emergency (SPV/Steamhammer)
It has been a while since the last Prong full-length. They issued an EP in 2019, but Zero Days was back in 2017. Vocalist/guitarist Tommy Victor has been there since the band’s beginning in 1986. State Of Emergency is the first Prong album for drummer Griffin McCarthy, while bassist Jason Christopher has appeared on their last few release.
Prong’s sound spans a variety of genres ranging from thrash to groove to industrial to punk, all while remaining distinctively Prong. Victor’s riffs are the engine that drives State Of Emergency, from the thick grooves of “Breaking Point” to the traditional metal feel of “Non-Existence” to the more experimental approach of “Obeisance” to the post-punk feel of “Disconnected.” The album wraps up with a cover of Rush’s “Working Man,” with Prong’s version a bit slower and downtuned, giving it a heavier sound. After three plus decades, State Of Emergency shows that Prong won’t be slowing down any time soon.
Putrascension – Forever Below (Horror Pain Gore Death)
Putrascension’s Forever Below is a toxic form of blackened death metal, setting a sonic stage for the cover art that looks like an environmentalist’s fever nightmare. The artwork shows refineries on fire and ghosts caused by the tampering of the air and water we need to survive coming up for their vengeance.
With members of the band being involved in other groups like Windfaerer and Tombs, they can manage being maniacal without becoming mundane. Forever Below is an action-packed 34 minutes, with the acoustic intro to closer “Meslamtaea” being the first time Putrascension lower their guard. There’s a grandiose scale added to it thanks to somber violins. It acts as a denouncement to an album that pictures the future as something worth being terrified about.
Svalbard – The Weight Of The Mask (Nuclear Blast)
Following up on 2020’s When I Die Will It Get Better are Svalbard, whose metallic post-hardcore are here to crush you and tug at your heart strings. Vocalist Serena Cherry does an excellent job of sounding indestructible while in front of the mic on opener “Faking It,” all while the guitars display equal parts beauty and chaos. This dichotomy perfectly describes what Svalbard do as a band. Cherry is also capable of displaying her own beauty on “Eternal Spirits” while the rapidly picked riffs crash all around her, creating a tremendous atmosphere, one that the band continues to use as an underpinning for The Weight Of The Mask.
Svalbard continue to add emotional weight to their tracks as they progress through this album on “November,” “How to Swim Down” and “Be My Tomb,” allowing their expert songwriting to take you on these powerful divergent dirges all to bring you back to a point of singularity through their music. The Weight Of The Mask is a great return, picking up the emotional pieces only to shatter them in new and incongruous ways. Svalbard’s pretty pandemonium is a unique wrinkle in heavy music, and they aren’t going anywhere.
Xorsist – At The Somber Steps To Serenity (Prosthetic)
Though Xorsist are relative newcomers, their perspective on At The Somber Steps To Serenity is from the formative years of death metal. Their home country of Sweden gave us an endless list of revolutionary acts in the genre, and Xorsist respect the past by not altering their buzzy take that started with last year’s Deadly Possession. Even with only a year between releases, the leap between them from a creative songwriting position is apparent.
These 10 songs have more under the surface than the whiplash-inducing mannerisms of their debut album. A somber two-and-a-half minute piano opener in “A Life In Vain” leads into “Carve It Out,” a tune that can cause neck strain whether it’s bellowing forward or stomping around. The acoustic instrumental “Darkened Wings” into the eight-plus minute title track ends the record well with a two-song stretch that emphasizes Xorsist’s quickening maturation.