This week’s album reviews include releases from Atlas Pain, Black Map, Blacktop Mojo, Cellador, Chrome Molly, Condemned, Holy Martyr, In The Company Of Serpents, Lock Up, Lunar Shadow, Nova Collective, Thobbe Englund and Vastum.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Atlas Pain – What The Oak Left (Scarlet)
Their music is cinematic, with elements of power and symphonic metal. They also inject folk and atmospheric sections along with Viking/pagan influences. The vocals are almost exclusively harsh, except for attempts at melodic singing on tracks like “The Storm” and some melodic backing vocals on “From The Lighthouse.” With the epic arrangements of these songs, adding some true melodic vocals alongside the harsh growls would be a nice addition and contrast.
Black Map – In Droves (eOne)
In an era where many bands have five or six members, it’s refreshing to hear a trio like Black Map create a wall of sound with just three members. In Droves is the Northern California rockers’ latest album.
The songs are accessible, catchy and radio-friendly. Guitar tones that alternate between shimmering and crunchy along with thundering drums propel memorable singalong choruses. Vocalist/bassist Ben Flanagan has a versatile style that can go from crooning to belting. He channels everyone from Trevor McNevan (Thousand Foot Krutch) to Bono to Perry Farrell to every British male alt rock singer from the ’90s. Their sound isn’t original, but the execution is strong.
Blacktop Mojo – Burn The Ships (Cuhmon)
Blacktop Mojo write catchy songs that have thick riffs and a southern flair in the vein of Black Stone Cherry. They also incorporate some grunge and classic rock that gives their music an even wider appeal. Matt James has a powerful voice, and he really shows his range on their cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” They are a band with all the ingredients for success in the hard rock arena.
Cellador – Off The Grid (Scarlet)
Back in 2006 Cellador released their well-received debut album Enter Deception on Metal Blade Records. After a considerable absence they are back with a new lineup, new record label and new album, Off The Grid.
Founding member Chris Petersen takes over vocal duties in addition to guitar and does an excellent job. He’s the only remaining member from their debut. The band’s soaring power metal is usually played at a fast tempo with top-notch guitar work. There are similarities to DragonForce, but Cellador incorporate a bit more groove in addition to the guitar acrobatics. Returning after such a long absence is a difficult feat, but Cellador don’t miss a beat with an enjoyable and impressive comeback.
Chrome Molly – Hoodoo Voodoo (earMusic)
The British group Chrome Molly were founded back in the early ’80s. After releasing a few albums they disbanded in the early ’90s. Hoodoo Voodoo is their second record since reforming a few years back. Three of the four members go all the way back to their debut, with drummer Greg Ellis the relative newbie.
Hoodoo Voodoo goes back to the NWOBHM days with larger than life melodies and singalong hooks along with a plethora of guitar solos. They also namecheck many bands from that era on “Pillars Of Creation Albion.” Vocalist Steve Hawkins sounds a bit like David Lee Roth, but with more range. And even though the songs are a tribute to the glorious ’80s, the production keeps it from sounding dated.
Condemned – His Divine Shadow (Unique Leader)
San Diego’s Condemned play brutal death metal descended from Suffocation with a heavy dose of slam tossed in for good measure. All of the hallmarks of the genre are here: guttural vocals, densely heavy production, bursts of speed intertwined with moments of slammy, slap happy riffs and bass lines, you name it.
This particular brand of death metal doesn’t really have much to offer in the sense that once you’ve heard one of these bands, you’ve heard them all. But, Condemned do mix things up a bit with some varied songwriting on tracks such as “Ascending The Spectral Throne” as they step outside the confines of their genre’s very narrowly defined box. Overall, the songwriting is good enough to make Condemned stand out a bit from their numerous brethren. However, His Divine Shadow is probably mostly for purists and strict fans of the genre.
Holy Martyr – Darkness Shall Prevail (Dragonheart)
There are a lot of ways one can ruin the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Italian power metallers Holy Martyr have come up with one here on their fourth album, Darkness Shall Prevail. This LotR concept album comes off as amateur night at the local metal bar – the poorly drawn cover is just the start.
The songwriting for the most part is choppy and inconsistent, with only a handful of decent riffs and moments. The guitar solos are poorly arranged and rarely have any sort of cohesion. The vocals are poor, the production has a ton of grating midrange, and the guitars and vocals are way too loud in the mix. All in all, Darkness Shall Prevail is an album that didn’t have to be made.
Ain-Soph Aur, the latest offering from In the Company of Serpents, translates to “limitless light.” Though that may come across as something positive, and there is a sense of self-discovery and perseverance throughout, it retains a gloomy core. With an overtly contentious style, the duo doesn’t shy away from their sludge/doom metal upbringing.
However, the exploration into tranquil settings can’t be ignored. The album is split between long-form structures and reflective, acoustic snapshots. The acoustic material lets vocalist/guitarist Grant Netzorg use his gruff singing to provide an extra forlorn layer over the material. It all combines into a redeemable package.
Lock Up – Demonization (Relapse)
After a nearly six year absence, the death/grind supergroup Lock Up return with Demonization. It features new vocalist Kevin Sharp (Brutal Truth), who replaces Tomas Lindberg (At The Gates). The rest of the lineup returns: bassist Shane Embury (Napalm Death), drummer Nick Barker (Cradle Of Filth, Dimmu Borgir) and guitarist Anton Reisenegger (Pentagram Chile).
The vocalist is different, but their bludgeoning death/grind remains as devastating as ever. It’s dense and chaotic, sometimes galloping at warp speed, other times slowing to a deliberate groove. One thing that’s different this time around is the songs are slightly longer, with only one clocking in at under two minutes. The 14 tracks still fly by in just over 40 minutes. Adding a new vocalist to a group can disrupt chemistry, but Sharp fits right in and Lock Up continue to crush skulls and take names.
Lunar Shadow – Far From Light (Cruz del Sur)
The popularity of Ghost has vaulted gaudy, melodic, traditional heavy metal back into the consciousness of popular culture, but that popularity has been buttressed within the metal underground by bands such as Germany’s Lunar Shadow. Lunar Shadow also flirt with melodic, very accessible heavy metal centered around a combination of sci-fi, fantasy, and historical themes on their debut full-length, Far From Light.
Unlike Ghost, who rely heavily on glitz, glamour, and theatrics to get their point across, Lunar Shadow let the guitars, soaring vocals, and melodies do the talking. Toss in some excellent guitar soloing, acoustic passages and some very obvious NWOBHM-themed nods to bands such as Iron Maiden, and fans of the style should flock to this album.
Nova Collective – The Further Side (Metal Blade)
Four musicians best known for their involvement in progressive music, all highly-touted experts at their respective instruments, make up Nova Collective. Featuring members of Trioscapes and Haken, The Further Side is comprised of complex performances and calculated flexibility.
Each song has its own quirks, whether it’s the bouncy pace of “Ripped Apart and Reassembled” or the jazzy rhythms on “Dancing Machines.” The group holds their best tune for last, as the title track flirts with classical surroundings in lush strokes. When a beautiful piano melody takes the lead near the end of the track, signaling its proximity to finality, it’s a tender moment with weight behind it.
Thobbe Englund – Sold My Soul (Metalville)
Fans of Sabaton will recognize the name Thobbe Englund. He was one of the Swedish power metal band’s guitarists from 2012 through to last year. Sold My Soul is Englund’s first foray into solo albums, and features contributions from Wisdom’s lead singer, Gabor Nagy.
Sold My Soul is more a collection of ideas than songs. Songs like “Sold My Soul” and “Annihilation” are extremely short, with abrupt endings and no true arrangements. Stylistically, Englund is all over the map, touching on power metal of course, but also two Black Sabbath-like snippets that stick out like sore thumbs, and one short guitar solo track, “The Flame.” Overall these ideas could have become good songs, but aside from a couple of exceptions they just never ripen.
Vastum – Carnal Law (20 Buck Spin)
Originally released back in 2011, San Francisco quintet Vastum’s ominous debut album Carnal Law is resurrected now as it is re-released via 20 Buck Spin. At first listen, Carnal Law sounds like most [new wave of] old school death metal albums, which are mostly focused on a death metal/doom metal rugged combination.
Despite Vastum and Carnal Law following the aforementioned lead, the album has its own style. They pay tribute to classic acts like Autopsy, Bolt Thrower and Asphyx, by borrowing their distinguished musical elements and fusing them with their own visions of songwriting, built upon the downtempo to midtempo chunky guitar riffs and demonic guttural/screaming vocals. Carnal Law’s re-release is a good reminderhow the potency of it led Vastum to release their 2015 magnum opus, Hole Below.