This week’s reviews include releases from Aborted Fetus, American Standards, Ayreon, Cirith Ungol, Crypt Rot, Dimmu Borgir, Entrapment, Fates Warning, He Is Legend, Junkyard, Liv Sin, Lonely Robot, Morbid Flesh, Pyramaze, Sarcasm and Skyclad.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Aborted Fetus – The Art of Violent Torture (Comatose)
With not as much slamming as Aborted Fetus have utilized in the past, The Art of Violent Torture is more focused on dynamic songwriting. The band seeks a bit of melody through groovy brutal guitar riffs and drum works while clean guitar arpeggios add some touches of progressive death into the music. The Art of Violent Torture completely portrays Aborted Fetus as a band who don’t want to be just another brutal death act anymore. Aborted Fetus have kept this record short, but loud and clever.
It has been a trying few years for the Arizona band American Standards. They lost their founding guitarist to suicide, and frontman Brandon Kellum’s father died of cancer. They poured a lot of emotion into Anti-Melody, but didn’t lose their tongue-in-cheek attitude, as you can see with song titles like “Writers Block Party.”
They blend metallic elements with hardcore punk and mostly aggressive vocals. It’s ragged and chaotic at times, groovy and smooth other times. There are also tracks like “Bartenders Without Wings” that are melodic and more traditionally structured. It’s a diverse and passionate album that will have appeal to both metal and punk fans.
Ayreon – The Source (Music Theories)
Whenever a new Ayreon album is released, you can expect a few things: it will be ambitious and epic, there will be a ton of high profile guests, and it will be really long. That’s the case with their latest opus The Source. It’s a concept album, revisiting the Forever saga.
Arjen Lucassen is an excellent songwriter, crafting complex arrangements that also feature plenty of melodies and hooks to keep the listener engaged. This time around the guestlist includes Tommy Rogers (BTBAM), James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Simone Simons (Epica), Tobias Sammet (Edguy), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Russell Allen (Symphony X) and more. 88 minutes is a lot to absorb, but Ayreon make the lengthy ride an enjoyable one, with the diverse music and various guest vocalists making it very compelling.
Cirith Ungol – King Of The Dead (Metal Blade)
The California band Cirith Ungol formed in the early ’70s, released a few albums in the ’80s and then split after their 1991 release Paradise Lost. They reunited in 2015. Originally released in 1984, their second album King Of The Dead is being reissued with some bonus material.
In addition to a remastered version of the album, there’s an alternate version of “Death Of The Sun” along with three live songs recorded in 2016 after their reunion. A DVD of a 1983 live show is also part of this edition. Cirith Ungol play traditional metal with influences of stoner/doom, a bit of prog, and potent vocals from Tim Baker. Hopefully the reactivated band will eventually release some new music, but in the meantime this album is a good place to start if you’re not familiar with Cirith Ungol, and also great for existing fans with the extra tracks and DVD.
Crypt Rot – Embryonic Devils (Southern Lord)
Crypt Rot certainly like to set their atmosphere right off the bat and do so in between its five proper songs. Whether they needed to be split from them is your own personal preference, but it adds to their fully in your face style of death metal. These dudes may be Ohio based, but they feel like they fell from a 1991 Stockholm-styled time warp.
Buzzsaw guitars line the outer layers of Embryonic Devils, with their all encompassing sound. The vocals sound like they were influenced a bit by earlier works from Exhumed as well. Fans of the old school will find a home for another 20 minutes plus of death metal, meant to be played on repeat.
Dimmu Borgir – Forces Of The Northern Night (Nuclear Blast)
It has been a long time since the last Dimmu Borgir album. As fans patiently await new material that could be released sometime this year, the double DVD Forces Of The Northern Night provides a couple of memorable live shows to tide them over.
One show, recorded in 2011 in Oslo, Norway includes a 50 plus member orchestra and 30 voice choir. The other is their 2012 Wacken performance with the National Czech Symphonic Orchestra. Both are impressive, with Dimmu Borgir’s stage presence and visuals able to hold their own with the plethora of additional musicians. There’s also a bonus documentary about the Oslo show and working with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and choir.
Entrapment – Through Realms Unseen (Doomentia)
Following its initial release via Pulverized Records last year, Through Realms Unseen, the third full-length record from Dutch death metal act Entrapment, is getting some sweet vinyl treatment courtesy of Doomentia Records. And for those attuned to the gnarled and buzzing intonations of old school death, particularly of such style gleaned from the eastern side of the Atlantic, this re-release proffers no shortage of energetic and decidedly melodic Euro crunch.
A one-man endeavor captained by Michel Jonker, the former drummer of Massive Assault and Absorption, Through Realms Unseen doesn’t thrive on innovation but rather on its hefty production and refined and authentic adherence to days of old and riffs ‘o’ plenty. While “Omission” or “Withering Souls” hears a fun, groovy side, a track like “Dominant Paradigm” brings evil back to the forefront. Adroit drumming and clever solos help this one along, which should appeal greatly to fans of acts like Asphyx or Dismember.
Fates Warning – Awaken The Guardian Live (Metal Blade
30 years after its release, the Awaken The Guardian era lineup of Fates Warning reunited for a European and a U.S. show. The lineup of John Arch (vocals), Jim Matheos (guitar), Frank Aresti (guitar), Joe DiBiase (bass) and Steve Zimmerman (drums) played the album in its entirety along with a few other tracks from their first two albums.
Awaken The Guardian Live is available on CD, DVD, Blu-ray and vinyl. Both the Keep It True XIX and ProgPower USA XVII shows are included. Three decades later the album holds up extremely well, as does Arch’s voice, and the reunited band’s performance is very cohesive, especially taking into account only two members are currently in the band. Fates Warning are still a very active and relevant band making new music, but revisiting their past and paying homage to one of the genre’s classic albums is something fans will really appreciate.
He Is Legend – Few (Spinefarm)
Since the release of their 2004 debut album I Am Hollywood, He Is Legend have earned a passionate fan base that’s witnessed the band continue to develop and distance themselves from their initial alternative/post hardcore roots and towards more accessible, stadium-ready hard rock with a southern edge. Few is the band’s fifth full-length record, and although it will likely cause old fans to swoon, the majority of metal heads will likely find themselves seeking something with a bit more bite.
The album title is quite apt, as Few harbors a scant handful of songs one would wish to revisit, those being “Air Raid,” “Beaufort,” and “The Vampyre.” Quasi-complex riffs, heavy drums and a hefty production lend Few a robust sound that routinely drifts into songs and refrains that remind of Nonpoint, Hoobastank and Buckcherry, a good thing for those seeking such. Not bad, but a bit too transparent and unremarkable to leave lasting fang marks.
Junkyard – High Water (Acetate)
After the success of Sunset Strip bands in the mid-’80s, the late ’80s/early ’90s saw a second wave of countless bands, many of whom were derivative and/or generic. But there were others that were good, but either got lost in the shuffle or were pushed aside when grunge got huge. Junkyard were one of those bands. Their 1989 self-titled debut was excellent, with songs like “Hollywood” and “Simple Man” that you can still hear on Hair Nation. They released one more album and split.
They reunited back in 2000, and are finally releasing their first new full-length album in more than 25 years. High Water will appeal to those who were into the band in their heydey. It’s bluesy hard rock with plenty of swagger, hooks and the distinctive vocals of David Roach. Tracks like “Hellbound” are extremely catchy and in their wheelhouse, but they also expand their sound with tracks like the punk-influenced “Wallet.”
Liv Sin – Follow Me (Despotz)
After the demise of Sister Sin, frontwoman Liv Jagrell has re-emerged with a new band, Liv Sin. Their debut album Follow Me recorded by Fitty Weinhold (U.D.O.) and Stefan Kaufmann (ex-Accept, ex-U.D.O.).
Liv Sin doesn’t stray too far from Sister Sin. The songs are straightforward traditional metal with plenty of guitar wizardry. Jagrell gives a varied performance of aggressive singing and melodic crooning. There are influences of classic vocalists like Doro along with more modern approaches. It’s a well-crafted and produced debut that will satisfy Sister Sin fans and starting building a whole new Liv Sin fan base.
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream (InsideOut)
Producer/songwriter John Mitchell (ex-Frost, Arena) is back with his second album as Lonely Robot, a prog-rock project with big influences and ideas. The Big Dream follows 2015’s Please Come Home, and both center conceptually on The Astronaut, a character Mitchell envisions central to three albums in total. The themes in this album are more down to earth than Please Come Home, and the music reflects that with a lighter feel than Lonely Robot’s first effort.
The music is immaculately produced, with solid songwriting and exceptional musicianship. Fans of Steven Wilson and Peter Gabriel will hear heavy influences from both artists, which is a good thing for progressive rock. Mitchell sings and plays all instruments but drums, and he performs admirably in all facets. In a light month for progressive offerings, The Big Dream stands out as the best release.
Morbid Flesh – Rites of the Mangled (Unholy Prophecies)
Six years after releasing Reborn in Death, a more than hour-long debut, Barcelona, Spain’s Morbid Flesh took a more concise approach on their brand new album Rites of the Mangled.
Rites of the Mangled has mostly kept the spirit of their debut alive, but it still experiences its own existence. While the vocals resemble late ‘80s/early ‘90s death metal growls, the music is more like thrash tinged death metal with chromatic old school touches to slight doom metal structures. Just like their debut, Rites of the Mangled still sounds like Obituary/Autopsy worship, which is a good point of Morbid Flesh’s music. On the other hand, if you are looking for something new and original, you won’t find it here.
Pyramaze – Contingent (Inner Wound)
Walking a fine line between progressive and power metal, Pyramaze blend thick guitar riffs with melodic vocals all wrapped within cinematic orchestration. Contingent is their fifth release and sees maturity within the songwriting. The musicianship is top notch as guitarist Toke Skjønnemand and Keyboardist Jonah Weingarten shine and are masters of their craft.
The true star is vocalist Terje Herøy, with his incredible power and a gift for melody. His range is never overbearing and incredibly accessible. It doesn’t hurt that producer Jacob Hansen is the second guitarist and bassist, whom once again produces the effort to maximum effect. Contingent is the sound of the band hitting their stride and finding their identity with the most consistent release of their career.
Sarcasm – Within the Sphere of Ethereal Minds (Dark Descent)
In the history of ’90s Swedish death metal, Sarcasm never got a chance for a proper introduction. Their debut, Burial Dimensions, was recorded back in 1994, yet was not released in any format until last year. More than twenty years after their first album went unreleased, the group is active again with Within the Sphere of Ethereal Minds.
They teeter between combustible aggression and ambitious harmony with death metal that is both indestructible and timely. The transformative scope of a song like “A Black Veil for Earth,” with its grave acoustic intro, gives Sarcasm the depth to excel.
Skyclad – Forward Into The Past (Listenable)
British folk metal pioneers Skyclad return with Forward Into The Past, their first studio album since 2009. The lineup is a veteran one, with the newest addition being guitarist Dave Pugh, who was actually in the band for a few years in the early ’90s and makes his return.
Their trademark style is intact, blending metal with folk influences. Lyrically they balance lighthearted drinking songs with socially conscious and political tracks. There’s plenty of melody and memorable moments. Skyclad helped lay the folk metal foundation, and more than a quarter century later that foundation is still rock solid. It’s another excellent addition to their very consistent catalog.