This week’s reviews include releases from Agrimonia, Atala, Centuries, Delta Deep, Grethor, Hooded Menace, Labyrinth, Lione Conti, Loudness, Mammoth Grinder, Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins, New Years Day, Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons, Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, Portal and Slow.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Agrimonia – Awaken (Southern Lord)
Agrimonia features members of At the Gates and Martyrdod, which shows through in colors in their metal style. The music on their third album Awaken is abrasive in nature, especially Christina’s vocals, but features a good deal of melody as well. However, there is a decidedly different approach that has a more downtrodden vibe and it leads to impressive results. The music is more focused on emotion and complexity this time around than the melodic moments and it leads to a different style of music that is appropriate.
There is still a good amount of bite to the songs, but they are focused in a different direction. The more melancholic tone of the band fits nicely into a new landscape of music. This is an album that takes more of an emotional stance than At the Gates and succeeds nicely in doing so. Just see the fifth track “Withering” for this focus on feelings and the newfound level of intricacy and a very strong undercurrent of atmosphere.
Atala – Labyrinth of Ashmedai (Salt of the Earth)
Released digitally last October, Labyrinth of Ashmedai, the third full-length record from Cali-based desert dwellers Atala, is set to be distributed on CD and limited edition vinyl via Salt of the Earth Records. A blend of stonerized sludge and gritty, heavy-handed doom, Atala balance the aforesaid genres by way of atmosphere that relies on emotional, mythical and psychedelic stimuli.
The use of clean vocals helps with the drifting, hypnotic feeling that the band attempts, and the recording’s booming rhythm section further accentuates a need for a monolithic, psyche-shaking listening experience. Unfortunately, nothing really sticks and it comes off as rather routine. An imposing, if not unmemorable, outing, Labyrinth of Ashmedai thrives on its heaviness but struggles to find any true staying power.
Centuries – The Lights of This Earth Are Blinding (Southern Lord)
Centuries’ sophomore album The Lights of This Earth Are Blinding is the kind that follows a scorcher of a song with a long acoustic passage. This kind of scattershot planning is not a long-term strategy, but it’s an example of the layers Centuries put on top of their metal/hardcore/punk sound.
“Bygones” and “Soil” are a raucous pairing that help move the album’s raging first half into a broader back half. The acoustic-heavy “Fury” is an outlier, but the instrumental rampage the group goes on in the closing moments of “Nul Orietur” finishes the album with grand success.
Delta Deep – East Coast Live (Frontiers)
In 2015 the blues rock supergroup Delta Deep released their self-titled debut album. The band’s lineup included Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen and Stone Temple Pilots bassist Robert DeLeo. East Coast Live was recorded in Pawling, New York during their 2016 tour.
The 15 song set includes their entire debut, along with other songs including the set opening Led Zeppelin cover “Black Dog.” There’s plenty of rock riffs, blended with classic blues and topped with the powerful, soulful vocals of Debbi Blackwell-Cook (Tesla, Luther Vandross) who also delivers entertaining between songs banter. Collen does some singing as well, as does an excellent job. The music is tight, the vocals are top notch, and like all good blues music, it makes you “feel.” There’s also a bonus DVD with seven live tracks.
Grethor – Damnatio Memoriae (Edgewood Arsenal)
The concept behind Danatio Memoriae is a sound one. The album revolves around the stronghold religious institutions have imposed on humanity, as perceptive thinking dwindles and violent retribution is a norm. Implant that into methodical black metal, and the initial appeal is obvious.
But when the album is boiled down to the essential, to the music itself, a less rosy picture emerges. Boredom is seldom an issue, but Grethor’s determination to push the album to the hour mark works against them. With some tightening, Danatio Memoriae could’ve been much more rewarding.
Hooded Menace – Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed (Season of Mist)
Finnish doom metal outfit Hooded Menace and their slow crawl of death/doom don’t get enough credit for what they do. Flying under the radar for four albums and then to throw the veritable mouthful of an album like Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed at the unsuspecting public? I mean what are they thinking?
Hooded Menace are likely to crush souls ala similar horror themed bands like Acid Witch and Coffins, however being more of a meld of the two, eschewing the stoner aspects of the former and adding discernible melody into the mix. The songs are on the long side as is typical for the band with only the last track clocking in under 6 and a half minutes. Ossuarium is likely their best to date, so there is no better time than the present to give ‘em a spin.
Labyrinth – Return To Live (Frontiers)
Last year the Italian progressive power metal band Labyrinth released Architecture Of A God, their first album in seven years. Prior to that, in the fall of 2016, the band reunited and played their 1998 album Return To Heaven Denied at the Frontiers Metal Festival. It is being released on CD and DVD as Return To Live.
The show was their first with a revamped lineup that included three new members. Even so, from the opening track “Moonlight” there are no signs of rust or uncertainly. Roberto Tiranti, who sang on the original album, nails the high notes throughout. Guitarists Olaf Thörsen and Andrea Cantarelli were also part of the original, and the new rhythm section and keyboardist don’t miss a beat. 20 years later the album stands up well, and the blend of old and new band members deliver a passionate performance.
Lione Conti – Lione Conti (Frontiers)
We go directly from one Italian power metal band to another. Lione Conti includes original Rhapsody vocalist Fabio Lione, who has also sang with Rhapsody Of Fire and Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody. He teams up with Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody and Trick Or Treat vocalist Alessandro Conti for their self-titled debut album. It’s described as the Italian version of Allen/Lande, and that’s pretty accurate.
Two powerhouse vocalists showcase their potent chops, both individually and collectively. From upbeat tracks like “Ascension” to poignant ballads such as “Somebody Else,” they deliver the goods. While their name is on the band, guitarist/bassist Simone Mularoni (DGM) is equally important, writing the songs, providing excellent guitar work and also produced, mixed and mastered the album. The vocal prowess of Lione and Conti is obvious, and these songs are worthy vehicles to deliver their performances, packed with soaring melodies and atmospheric arrangements.
Loudness – Rise To Glory (earMusic)
The Japanese band Loudness have been around since the early ’80s, and made some noise in the U.S. in the mid ’80s. Their 1985 album Thunder In The East spawned the MTV favorite “Crazy Nights.” They have continued releasing albums over the years. The current lineup includes three of the four members from their classic era (drummer Munetaka Higuchi passed away in 2008).
The band has explored various styles over the years, but Rise To Glory hearkens back to their ’80s heyday, driven by the guitar wizardry of Akira Takasaki. The songs are melodic yet aggressive. It’s an eclectic mix of midtempo rockers, more metallic uptempo tracks such as “Massive Tornado” and slower songs like the downbeat and doomy “Rain.” The album also includes Samsara Flight, a collection of re-recorded versions of early classics that was released in Japan a few years ago.
Mammoth Grinder – Cosmic Crypt (Relapse)
Mammoth Grinder were always known for their groundbreaking and wild sludge metal/hardcore mashups. That was the way they started their career and they kept it throughout their numerous EPs and splits. On their third album Underworlds they added death metal into their sound and now by releasing of Cosmic Crypt the shape shifting is complete.
Mammoth Grinder’s transformation to a death metal band hasn’t gone too far. Cosmic Crypt revolves around filthy old school death metal. but Mammoth Grinder have kept the groove and anger and have made a passionate record. The bottom line is Cosmic Crypt is strong enough to enjoy and to welcome the new era of Mammoth Grinder.
Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins – Pawn And Prophecy (Frontiers)
Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins return with their sophomore album Pawn And Prophecy. The lineup includes LePond (bass) along with vocalist Alan Tecchio (Watchtower). Lance Barnewold and Rod Rivera handle the guitars.
They play a blend of traditional and power metal, with beefy riffs and plenty of melody. Most of the album follows that template, until the epic title track that wraps up the album. The 21 minute opus includes guest appearances from LePond’s Symphony X bandmate Michael Romeo along with vocalists Veronica Freeman (Benedictum) and several others. It has Celtic/folk elements along with traditional metal. While overstaying its welcome a bit, it is the record’s most compelling track.
New Years Day – Diary Of A Creep (Century Media)
It has been a few years since the last New Years Day full-length, and in the interim, fans have something to dig their teeth into with the EP Diary Of A Creep.
The six song album includes the new song “Disgust Me” along with five covers. The new song is good, an intense rocker that still has ample melody. The covers are an interesting mix. Tracks like No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” and Garbage’s “Only Happy When It Rains” are right in vocalist Ash Costello’s wheelhouse. More unexpected is the band’s version of New Order’s ’80s new wave classic “Bizarre Love Triangle” that’s transformed from a mopey dance track to an uplifting rock anthem. They tackle Pantera’s “Fucking Hostile” with mixed results, but do a nice job with Linkin Park’s electronica-tinged “Crawling.”
Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons – The Age Of Absurdity (Nuclear Blast)
After releasing an EP in 2016, former Motorhead guitarist Phil Campbell and company return with The Age Of Absurdity. The band includes Campbell’s three sons Todd, Dane and Tyla along with vocalist Neil Starr.
Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons‘ sound has similarities to Motorhead, especially on straightforward, faster songs like “Dropping The Needle,” but they also played more midpaced, groove laden tracks that give them their own identity, as do slow, bluesy songs like “Dark Days.” Starr has a pretty polished sounding voice, but is able to inject some grit where needed. The album is streamlined and focused, clocking in at just over 40 minutes.
Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals – Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue (Housecore)
Nearly five years after their debut, Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals return with Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue. They have had some lineup changes, with bassist Stephen Taylor moving to guitar, and new additions Walter Howard IV (Grieved) on bass and Mike DeLeon (ex-M.O.D.) on guitar.
It’s a relentless but varied album. Tracks like “Choosing Mental Illness” incorporate both dense and extreme death metal with slow, doomy sections. Even their heaviest and most oppressive songs like “The Ignorant Point” slow down for a groove or two. Some tracks are ominous and foreboding, while others have more of a swagger. Anselmo gives a versatile performance, delivering everything from low guttural growls to higher pitched shrieks to harsh barks.
Portal – Ion (Profound Lore)
The enigmatic Australian death metal band Portal find themselves continuing to hone their oddball, dark and scary death metal on album number 5. It certainly isn’t for the faint of heart either. Their style of music is a swirling unpredictable maelstrom that continues to change throughout multiple movements.
For those folks who have been following the band for a while, these musical excursions do feel much more like songs this time around than 2013’s Vexovoid did. There are even moments on a song like “Phreqs” that sound and feel like the tornado from The Wizard of Oz, with nearly the the same tempo to boot.The album art is indicative of the overall feel of the album; like a fluctuating electrical current. Ion is a solid entry to their cacophonous catalog of diabolically dissonant death metal.
Slow – V – Oceans (Code666)
If ever there was a band whose name should be taken literally, it would be one-man Belgian funeral doom project Slow. Their album, V – Oceans, consists of five ten-plus minute glacially-paced atmospheric doom epics. Originally self-released last year, it is now seeing record label release.
Musically, V – Oceans is the equivalent of listening to a tsunami, with wave upon wave of colossal, bleak, yet captivatingly arranged funeral doom crashing over us with inexorable might, each song flowing seamlessly into the next. Add in Déhà’s charred, ominous roar and you have something that, for fans of the genre, merits dozens of repeat listens – just not all at once.