This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Asinhell, Code Orange, Desecresy, Disguised Malignance, The Hirsch Effekt, KK’s Priest, Nervosa, Nganga, Primordial, Sacred Dawn, Steven Wilson, Woe and Wolves In The Throne Room.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Asinhell – Impii Hora (Metal Blade)
Before he formed the very commercially successful hard rock/metal band Volbeat, Michael Poulsen fronted the Danish death metal group Dominus in the ’90s. He has been talking about doing another death metal project for a while, and that has come to fruition with Asinhell. Poulsen plays guitar on the album alongside The Arcane Order’s Flemming C. Lund, with Marc Grewe (Insidious Disease, ex-Morgoth) on vocals and Raunchy’s Morten Toft Hansen on drums. Producer Jacob Hansen plays bass.
Asinhell are influenced by the old school, including bands from Europe and the U.S. ranging from Entombed to Bolt Thrower to Death. They take those influences and create a style on their debut album Impii Hora (which translates to “Ungodly Hour”) that’s familiar without being derivative. The album is heavy and extreme, but it’s in Poulsen’s DNA to write catchy parts, so there’s plenty of melody as well. Whether it’s a one-off or becomes an ongoing project is yet to be seen, but lovers of old school death metal will find plenty to like with Impii Hora.
Code Orange – The Above (Blue Grape)
Code Orange had a ton of momentum heading into 2020’s The Underneath, but it was released just as the pandemic began, limiting their ability to bring their potent live show to the fans. It garnered rave reviews, a Grammy nomination, and ended up on many best of 2020 lists, including ours.
Their fifth album The Above has their most accessible material to-date, but also plenty of inscrutable and esoteric moments. Opener “Never Far Apart” has a little bit of everything, from modern electronic sounds to melodic singing from Reba Meyers to intense hardcore and harsh vocals. You’ll find radio friendly songs like “Mirror” while heaviness and intensity prevail on tracks like “Theatre Of Cruelty” and “A Drone Opting Out Of The Hive.” Code Orange embrace industrial stylings on songs like “Splinter The Soul,” and “Take Shape,” which features Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan. The Above is an effective balance of styles, tempos and intensities with memorable songs and minimal filler.
Desecresy – Deserted Realms (Xtreem)
On Deserted Realms, the Finnish death metal band Desecresy’s eighth full-length, they pull out all the stops. The stage is set for a ravishing death metal platter with punishing riffs and an archaic feeling to the tone of the work. Songs like “Green Monolith” bring an overwhelming evil vibe to the proceedings. The guitars are aggressive and crushing and fit the proceedings nicely. Drum work is relatively solid and noteworthy. The vocals are growls that rollick along at a nice pace.
As the album progresses, it becomes more abrasive and fits the tone of the work nicely. The issue lies in its generic nature that makes for some moments of boredom, never really pushing boundaries. The progression of the album is nice, but never develops into anything overly interesting. This is simply another death metal album in a long line of them. It comes recommended to fans of the genre, however, because there are enough positives here to be drawn into the work as a whole.
Disguised Malignance – Entering The Gateways (Prosthetic)
Entering The Gateways, the debut album from Finnish death metal group Disguised Malignance, isn’t polished by the hand of modern production or shackled to an old-fashioned way of songwriting. There are nods to mannerisms of the genre’s past, like that distinguishable fast riff break that had plenty of groups participate in synchronized head banging, but there’s also some ominous synth-laden ambient sections.
The seven-minute “Disengagement Into Eternity” counts as the album’s biggest departure, both good and bad. The bass guitar gets a chance to lead on, but there’s not enough meat on the song to justify its extension. It also acts as a solid closer, which is why it’s puzzling that it isn’t the last song but the second-to-last, with “Beyond (Entering The Gateways)” ending the record on an archetypal note.
The Hirsch Effekt – Urian (Long Branch)
The long-running German band The Hirsch Effekt are a prog band, but as their sixth album Urian shows, they embrace a lot of other styles and genres as well. The album opens on a mellow note with the reserved “Agora” that’s acoustic and subdued.
The prog kicks in with the 9 minute “Otus” that ebbs and flows between peaceful ambient parts and crunchy, metal sections. There’s something different around every musical corner, from the heaviness of “2054” to the slow build of “Stegodon” to the laid-back feel of the surprisingly catchy “Granica.” The Hirsch Effekt incorporate everything from post rock to prog metal on Urian, making for an interesting and eclectic album that still manages to be cohesive.
K.K.’s Priest- The Sinner Rides Again (Napalm)
Though perhaps unfair to compare this to the band K.K Downing founded decades ago, it’s not like he isn’t inviting it. From the title The Sinner Rides Again on down, the sophomore effort from K.K.’s Priest leans into the classic heavy metal vibe of his original band. Opener “Sons of the Sentinel,” itself a reference to Defenders Of The Faith-era Judas Priest (complete with chants of “defenders”), blasts off with a fury that recalls classic “Painkiller.”
Employing one-time Rob Halford replacement Tim “Ripper” Owens furthers the comparisons, his falsetto wailing bearing an uncanny similarity, but on tracks like “One More Shot at Glory” and “Keeper of the Grave” Owens gets to explore his more distinctive lower register. Though there isn’t much new happening, solid riffing and surprisingly youthful energy abound. K.K. may not be reinventing the steel, but as one of its founders, he doesn’t have to.
Nervosa – Jailbreak (Napalm)
On their latest album Jailbreak, Brazilian thrashers Nervosa have a complete lineup overhaul. The only remaining member from 2021’s Perpetual Chaos is guitarist Prika Amaral, who now takes over vocal duties as well. Guitarist Helena Kotina (Daffodil), bassist Hel Pyre (Afterblood) and drummer Michaela Naydenova (Ember & Dust) are the new members.
Even with such a dramatic change in members, Nervosa’s sound remains pretty similar to their past releases. Galloping thrash riffs and harsh vocals with some shredding solos are the record’s driving force. Exodus guitarist Gary Holt guests on the driving “When The Truth Is A Lie,” while Infected Rain/Death Dealer Union vocalist Lena Scissorhands appears on the Slayer-esque “Superstition Failed.” Jailbreak doesn’t break much new ground, but the new lineup gels nicely and hopefully will get an opportunity to keep building that chemistry.
Nganga are a black metal band that manages untethered rage and introspective behavior on Phthisis. With five songs spanning 25 or so minutes, this is a record that teeters between EP and LP territory, but they make the most out of their limited time. This is a more engaging effort than their forceful 2022 demo, De Muerte, which maintained a persistent noise quota and that’s about it.
Phthisis works to remedy this with “Wound” and “Stems,” with the former having an extended intro of laid-back riffs and crisp bass guitar work while the lead guitar gets to shine on the latter. The shredding solo that pops up in it is an unexpected treat that’s uncommon on the record. “Absent Light” and “Lunar Chains” will provide comfort for those that can’t be bothered with anything melodic in their black metal.
Primordial – How It Ends (Metal Blade)
It has been five years since Primordial‘s last studio album Exile Amongst The Ruins, but fans have had material to tide them over in the interim. There was an EP in 2022 and a live release earlier this year. How It Ends is the Irish band’s tenth studio album.
The band’s trademark blend of Celtic folk and black metal is intact, with an approach that’s more aggressive. The opening title track has a fairly reserved beginning, but a couple minutes in that aggressiveness kicks in with passionate vocals from A.A. Nemtheanga. The songs are mostly in the 6 to 8 minute range, leaving plenty of room for lengthy instrumental sections and shifts in tempo and intensity. The album flows really well, from the urgency of “We Shall Not Serve” to the Celtic influences of “Call To Cernunnos” to the doomy groove of “Death Holy Death.” Interesting arrangements, plenty of variety and thought-provoking lyrics make How It Ends another strong addition to Primordial’s impressive catalog.
Sacred Dawn – Dismal Swamp (Qumran)
After twelve years of side projects and touring since their last album A Madness Within, frontman Lothar Keller reunites with guitarist John Vitale to make a return with Sacred Dawn’s second full album Dismal Swamp.
From start to end the album acts as a welcome back for fans of both Sacred Dawn and power metal. Each track incorporates different elements that makes them a unique but seemingly familiar listen. Tracks like “Let Chaos Reign” that provide a nice harsh gritty tone are offset nicely when compared with fast and uptempo songs like “Truth Be Told.” It is clear to see that even after such a long hiatus, Sacred Dawn still manage to stick to their roots.
Steven Wilson – The Harmony Codex (SW)
The legendary British prog rock band Porcupine Tree re-emerged for the first time in more than a dozen years with last year’s Closure/Continuation. On the heels of that welcome return, frontman Steven Wilson was also working on his latest solo album, The Harmony Codex.
The ten songs stretch out for over an hour and span a multitude of genres. Opener “Inclination” is proggy and modern with a guest trumpeter, while “What Life Brings” is a streamlined, relatively straightforward and catchy pop song. Electronics are a big part of the songs on The Harmony Codex, but Wilson is able to still instill the human connection. “Impossible Tightrope” is the record’s longest song at nearly 11 minutes, using everything from symphonic elements to acoustic parts to a jazzy interlude and numerous lengthy prog sections. The Harmony Codex is an extremely dynamic album that’s mostly engrossing with only a few lulls here and there.
Woe – Legacies Of Frailty (Vendetta)
For Woe’s fifth album, Legacies Of Frailty, founding member Chris Grigg decided to handle the majority of the instrumentation and vocals himself in a throwback to the group’s 2008 debut LP A Spell For The Death Of Man. That’s not the only connection between these releases, as the drums for this album were recorded by Joe Smiley, the same man who recorded and mixed their first record. This is almost a spiritual successor to that era, being as aggressive as the band was in those early days.
Grigg does throw in some new tricks, like creepy synth sounds, but the overall direction is primal at its core. He takes the “A Distant Epitaph” instrumental from 2017’s Hope Attrition and repurposes it as the seven-minute stampede “Distant Epitaphs.” Though Grigg goes at it alone for the most part, he does bring in current members to help out, with bassist Grzesiek Czapla on the production side and drummer Lev Weinstein playing on half of the album. Legacies Of Frailty is Woe both looking back and ahead in a headspace of tangible fury.
Wolves In The Throne Room – Crypt Of Ancestral Knowledge (Relapse)
Cascadian black metal veterans Wolves In The Throne Room follow up their 2021 full-length Primordial Arcana with the EP Crypt Of Ancestral Knowledge. It consists of four songs and a lot of variety. Opener “Beholden To Clan” is symphonic and atmospheric, a slow paced song that has a lot of traditional black metal elements like blastbeats and raspy vocals.
“Twin Mouthed Spring” includes vocals and acoustic guitar from founding drummer Cedar Serpent, who has begun playing live with the band again after a long hiatus. The song has a lot of folky and mellow moments. “Spirit Of Lightning” gets an atmospheric industrial interpretation on “Initiates Of The White Hart,” while closer “Crown Of Stone” is a dark ambient mostly instrumental track. Crypt Of Ancestral Knowledge is an interesting collection of material, whetting the appetite for WITTR’s next studio album.