This week’s reviews include releases from Bad Karma, BardSpec, Broken Hope, Carach Angren, Dying Fetus, Ex Eye, In Human Form, Insatia, Kai Hansen, Marzi Montazeri, Rhapsody Of Fire, Separations, Skelethal and Tyrannosorceress.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Bad Karma – Death Has No Calling Card (Shadow Kingdom)
The Boston thrash/speed metal band Bad Karma released a few demos in the ’80s and ’90s. They are finally working on their full-length debut, and in the meantime, those early demos have been collected in Death Has No Calling Card.
Their 1988 three song demo is very polished for the era, with fully fleshed out songs that shows a well-rounded trio of songs with a lot of potential. They did another demo in 1990, which shows an advance in both songwriting and musicianship, though the production is rawer. The final demo was recorded in 1999 and includes a cover of Alice Cooper’s “Billion Dollar Babies.” It won’t have a wide appeal, but thrash/speed metal historians and those who were familiar with Bad Karma back in the day will find it interesting.
BardSpec – Hydrogen (By Norse)
Progressive death metallers Enslaved might be the last place one would look for an electronic ambient side project, but here you go, with that band’s guitarist Ivar Bjornson presenting us with exactly that in BardSpec. Today is the Day’s Steve Austin pitches in throughout with guitars and effects, giving us a very Tangerine Dream-y collection.
The music on Hydrogen is hypnotic and entrancing, with each song gradually building layer upon layer throughout. When it clicks, it’s captivating, such as on songs like “Bone,” “Salt” and “Teeth,” but at other times, largely due to these songs all being 9-12 minutes long, the music can be tedious. While it isn’t for every occasion, Hydrogen is for the most part an immersive experience that showcases a very different side of Bjornson.
Broken Hope – Mutilated and Assimilated (Century Media)
Back in 2013 and with all of its pros and cons, Omen of Disease was a great comeback for Broken Hope, after nearly 14 years on hiatus. It took four years to hear something new from Broken Hope camp and the band’s seventh studio album Mutilated and Assimilated is here.
Mutilated and Assimilated follows the path of Omen of Disease, but is also reminiscent of the band’s classics like Repulsive Conception and Loathing, where walls of groovy, technical driven guitar works are built upon tight blasting drums. Vocal-wise, Damian Leski has done a more varied and diverse job this time. Mutilated and Assimilated once again portrays the mixture of old school and modern [brutal] death metal in a fine and absorbing way.
Carach Angren – Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten (Season of Mist)
For over a decade Carach Angren’s name has been associated with a theatrical type of symphonic black metal, which is mostly focused on narrative horror themed pieces. Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten, the band’s fifth studio album, is a follow up to their 2015 release This Is No Fairytale.
Influences from Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth’s post-2000 albums and touches from Notre Dame meet Danny Elfman orchestrations are boldly hearable once again in Carach Angren’s music. Symphonic sections accompany the ambitious black metal pieces. Dance and Laugh… is solid, but won’t play a big role in Carach Angren’s musical catalog. Song like “Charles Francis Coghlan” are good, but there aren’t enough tracks as memorable as that one.
Dying Fetus – Wrong One To Fuck With (Relapse)
It has been five years since the last Dying Fetus album, the longest gap between records in their quarter-century career. The Baltimore bruisers bring their usual brutality on The Wrong One To Fuck With, their eighth full-length.
Like on previous releases, Dying Fetus blend skillful technicality with skull-crushing extremity and John Gallagher’s guttural growls. Brutal death isn’t a genre that generally displays a lot of variety, but by varying tempos and intensities, Dying Fetus make it more diverse than most. The songs are longer than usual, with most in the 5 to 6 minute range, but they have the chops and songwriting skill to make them compelling throughout.
Ex Eye – Ex Eye (Relapse)
Ex Eye are a jazz-meets-metal instrumental group featuring saxophonist Colin Stetson—who has performed with indie rock favorites like Arcade Fire and Feist—and Liturgy drummer Greg Fox. Don’t presume this eponymous album has a soft touch because of Stetson’s past work; the abrasive factor on this is routinely keyed up.
An antsy opener introduces the band in a midst of an aggravated state, though subsequent tracks take a softer line to the hard-edged side. Instrumental music with songs over ten minutes needs a certain touch to avoid dragging a listener down, and Ex Eye quickly figure that out.
In Human Form – Opening of the Eye by the Death of I (I, Voidhanger)
In Human Form call their brand of music “Atra Metalli Metaphysicam,” aka progressive black metal flavored with jazz-fusion. It’s not exactly the catchiest phrase to use in a press release, but it does speak to the group’s unconventional, and quite accurate, method to making their second album Opening of the Eye by the Death of I.
Three gargantuan songs, each one longer than the last, are saddled with three discreet instrumentals acting as a sonic palette cleanser. If the band has learned anything from their last album, Earthen Urn, it’s the art of pacing. The various tempos, elevations and excellent raspy wails go down smoother with a reprieve close by.
Insatia – Phoenix Aflame (Pitch Black)
The Arizona power metal band Insatia have had a lot of lineup changes since their 2013 independently released debut. Vocalist Zoe Federoff is the lone remaining member for Phoenix Aflame.
There are some symphonic elements in addition to traditional power metal. Federoff isn’t an operatic belter, but displays a lot of range and versatility. The songs are skillfully arranged and well-produced, with numerous guest musicians such as Apollo Papathanasio (ex-Firewind), Chris Amott (ex-Arch Enemy) and Christian Hermsderfer (Serenity). There’s plenty for power metal fans to sink their teeth into.
Hansen and Friends – Thank You Wacken (earMusic)
Last year the legendary Kai Hansen (Gamma Ray, Helloween) released his debut solo album. He played one only show in support of the disc, the 2016 Wacken Open Air Festival, and it was captured for posterity with the CD/DVD Thank You Wacken.
The set includes 7 of the 10 tracks from XXX: Three Decades In Metal. The remaining five songs are Helloween covers. He’s joined by his Unisonic bandmate and former Helloween vocalist Michael Kiske on a couple of those songs. Hansen fans will appreciate the XXX songs, with the Helloween tracks an added bonus. The album is available on DVD/CD, with the Blu-ray version including some bonus audio content.
Marzi Montazeri featuring Tim “Ripper” Owens – The Uprising (Crunchy Western)
Marzi Montazeri is the self-styled “High Priest of Distortion,” perhaps best known for his collaborations with Philip Anselmo over the years. He has teamed up with ex-Judas Priest/Iced Earth singer Tim “Ripper” Owens (you have to have a nickname to be in this band) for The Uprising EP.
The Uprising lists six songs, but since the intro and outro are both extraneous and unnecessary, this is basically a four song straight-up heavy metal EP. Aside from the poor drum samples used, the four songs in question are all good ones (I don’t want to say rippers, but they are), featuring some excellent axework and Owens sounding more like Dio than Rob Halford. A full album wouldn’t have been a bad thing.
Rhapsody Of Fire – Legendary Years (AFM)
Before changing their name to Rhapsody Of Fire in 2006, the Italian symphonic power metal band released several albums under the Rhapsody moniker. With the backdrop of numerous lineup changes, the band has re-recorded tracks from their Rhapsody era for Legendary Years.
It’s the debut of vocalist Giacomo Voli, who replaced longtime singer Fabio Lione. The songs are from the five albums beginning with 1997’s Legendary Tales and ending with 2002’s Power Of The Dragonflame. This collection does feature some of the band’s best songs, with arrangements that are very faithful to the originals. It seems unfair to Voli to have his first recorded work be songs done originally by Lione, inviting a direct comparison. And while Voli does a fine job, he doesn’t reach Lione’s high bar, and it would have been better to have his introduction be new material that he could put his own stamp on.
Separations – Bloom (Imagen)
Bloom is the sophomore album from the Atlanta metalcore band Separations. They’ll be spending most of the month of July on Warped Tour.
They blend accessible melodies with electronic elements and more intense metal parts. They’ve made a big leap forward from their debut with the songs being catchier and more memorable. There are plenty of potential singles like “Exist” and the title track along with harder hitting songs such as “Lionheart.” While following the genre template very closely, Separations bring plenty of passion to the table along with quality songs that aptly enough, help create separation from the metalcore masses.
Skelethal – Of the Depths… (Hells Headbangers)
Skelethal’s band logo says it all. This French duo pay homage to Entombed and the rest of the Swedish death metal pioneers with their full-length debut Of the Depths…, a crunching and buzz-sawing barrage of Sunlight Studio-inspired malevolence. Sure, it’s all been heard before, but the enthusiasm Skelethal inject into the record adds much to the listening experience.
The balance of fun and evil honed during the early Swedish movement is likewise in play on Of the Depths… Tempo shifts are well-managed, with the band opting to drive through barricades but often switching into mid-paced barbarity and then occasionally a reptilian crawl. Slick solos, a strong vocal assault, and a hefty production job aids greatly to Skelethal’s deadly game plan, with tracks like the pummeling “Spectral Cemetery” or the doomy “Scaly Smelly Flesh” serving as definitive highlights.
Tyrannosorceress – Shattering Light’s Creation (Tofu Carnage)
With the U.S. black metal scene arguably at a current high mark, it takes more than competent music to be a stand out. Tyrannosorceress have the quirky band name criteria marked off, but that’s about as far down the list the group gets.
As far as the actual songs go, Tyrannosorceress perform with expertise, cultivating material around sterile, uncompromised riffs. The occasional melodic guitar solo gives the slightest sliver of life to what are nondescript tunes. They come and go, feeding off an internal frenzy, but ultimately staying in an already-established creative headspace.