This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Aara, Ad Infinitum, Ande, August Burns Red, Beggar, Devilskin, Drakonis, Dynazty, Errant, Freeways, Live Burial, Loviatar, Pale Mare, Pure Reason Revolution, Thrashera and Witches Of Doom.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Aara – En Ergô Einai (Debumur Morti)
En Ergô Einai is the second album by Aara. The Swiss group create atmospheric black metal. This is not the symphonic sort. Most of the atmosphere is generated through guitars, vocals and production. Guitar melodies slice through the haze, although the pounding beat of the drums doesn’t slow down. These are melodies on the fly, harmonies woven into the fabric of their sonic tapestry.
En Ergô Einai was inspired by the Age of Enlightenment in eighteenth century Europe. Without a lyric sheet these ideas are hard to decipher due to the distant, shrill nature of the vocals. This is just part of the album’s atmospheric charm. There are slight uses of keyboards and noises such as thunderstorms, bells and ethereal choirs on “Aargesang (Aare II),” but these are merely entrances or exits. From the swirling guitars to warped keyboard intros, ethereal is the perfect adjective to describe the sounds generated by Aara on En Ergô Einai.
Ad Infinitum – Chapter I: Monarchy (Napalm)
Ad Infinitum started as a solo project for Rage Of Light’s Melissa Bonny, before evolving into a full band. Their debut Chapter I: Monarchy is based on time travel.
The symphonic metal songs are intricately arranged with a lot of dynamics and atmosphere. There’s a lot going on, but tracks like “Marching On Versailles” and “Live Before You Die” still bring melodies and hooks to the forefront. Bonny’s voice has a pure and engaging tone that also brings plenty of power along with periodic harsh vocals. Songs like the ballads “See You In Hell” and “Fire And Ice” really showcase her singing. Chapter I: Monarchy is a debut symphonic metal album fans of the genre will have no problem embracing.
Ande (an Old English word meaning anger, pain and hatred) is a one-man Belgian black metal project helmed by Jim Christiaens. Vossenkuil is his third album.
Ande’s brand of black metal is sometimes intense and oppressive with blastbeats and icy riffs. Vocals are buried deep in the mix. There are also moments of groove and melody along with melancholy atmospheres. The songs tend to be lengthy, with 8 minute songs such as “Nachtwandeling” shifting between styles without meandering. “Eeuwig Vuur” is mellow and grandiose, mostly instrumental with some melodic vocals. That’s followed by “De Hutten,” one of the most chaotic and aggressive songs on the album. Christiaens also covers fellow Belgian black metallers Lugubrum on “Mijn Koninkrijk Van Groen.”
August Burns Red – Defender (Fearless)
There comes a time when a critic will lift his hat to the sky and cast aside prejudicial notions of something that they, historically, gained little enjoyment from. I never thought that I would ever be doing such a thing for anything within the metalcore scene but I guess the brutalizing Defender being unleashed by double Grammy-nominated August Burns Red might have something to do with it.
Defender paints (although that term might be too dainty) a battering soundscape that swells to a stately degree with multi-faceted displays of vociferous songwriting that swiftly avoids the pitfall of playing to every metalcore trope in the book. It’s a strong track list – with “Paramount,” “Bones” and “Three Fountains “being personal highlights – employing vocals that, while diligent to the metalcore sound, remain accessible to outsiders like myself. They join barrages of crushing instrumentation, the production for which is truly shown off with solo leads beautifully pronounced while breakdowns unravel with all the sophistication of a meat tenderizer. Hardcore core-head or not, this will certainly wake you up.
Beggar – Compelled To Repeat (APF)
There’s a perilous mentality coursing through Beggar’s debut album Compelled To Repeat, as its groove is held at bay by unsettled hostility. The groove screams out, “sludge metal,” but the piercing vocals and sudden outburst of blast beats on “Blood Moon” and the title track yells back, “black metal.” The two never get into it much, but when they do, it’s a battle that reaps prizes for sharp listeners.
Compelled To Repeat locks into less of a quick-paced role on most of the album, with soulful guitar solos and a wild attitude being mainstays. At a slim 35 minutes, Beggar zones in on the best parts of their songwriting, though the under-30-second interlude “Custody Of The Eyes” is an oddity. Skip over that inconsequential break and let the substantial weight of Compelled To Repeat take control.
The Kiwi band Devilskin have been around for a decade. They have had a lot of success in their home country, with both of their first albums topping the chart in New Zealand. Their latest album Red seems poised to do same, and should garner attention in other parts of the world as well.
Devilskin play a blend of alternative metal and hard rock that has ample heaviness along with catchy hooks and melodies. Songs like “All Fall Down” and “The Victor” are ripe for rock radio airplay, while “Be Like The River” has a bluesy groove. Jennie Skulander is an impressive vocalist. She has a variety of deliveries, with traditional rock singing her bread and butter. She also showcases a more ethereal delivery on portions of a couple tracks that’s in the Amy Lee (Evanescence) vein. While many songs are all melodic singing, Skulander incorporates harsh vocals on songs such as “Same Life” and “Endo.” They may not be familiar to North American hard rock fans, but Devilskin are well worth exploring.
Drakonis – Blessed By Embers (Hostile)
After issuing a few EPs over the past several years, the Northern Ireland band Drakonis emerge with Blessed By Embers, their full-length debut. Three of their members are currently in or used to be in the Celtic folk group Waylander, a world away from the black metal of Drakonis.
Having been around for a while now and having those EPs under their belt, the transition to a full-length is a smooth one. It’s a concept album following the rise and fall of a cult leader. Musically, Drakonis inject death metal elements and atmosphere to temper the brutality and give the songs more depth. Keyboardist Sarah Prior is a recent addition to the lineup, and also provides some clean vocals. From traditional black metal to groove-laden death metal, the music is punishing but ever-shifting, making for an engaging album.
Dynazty – The Dark Delight (AFM)
A couple years ago, Dynazty frontman Nils Molin joined Amaranthe. They are a higher profile and more commercially successful band, but have three vocalists and the spotlight is mostly on Elize Ryd. With Dynazty, Molin’s powerful vocals are front and center.
The Dark Delight is the Swedish band’s seventh studio album. Soaring melodies and heavy guitars meld into a tasty concoction of traditional metal, power metal and hard rock. Tracks like “The Black” and “Hologram” are anthemic and traditional, while songs such as “From Sound To Silence” incorporate more modern electronic elements without losing any flow or continuity. They stretch their boundaries a bit with “The Road To Redemption” that has some twangy acoustic guitars along with bombastic metal. It’s a varied album with minimal filler.
Errant – Errant (Manatee Rampage)
Errant is the solo project from musician Rae Amitay (Immortal Bird, Thrawsunblat), and this self-titled EP has her exploring an alternative side on top of the spiteful death metal. She performed all the instruments and vocals on these four songs, and having complete control lets her push her creativity further than any of her other projects to date. A spirited cover of Failure’s “Saturday Saviour” brings an underappreciated 90’s gem back into a new decade.
Though there’s a melodic center to the EP, Amitay finds a way to sneak some callous riffs into a song like “Oneirodynia.” The one-two combination of “The Amorphic Burden” and “A Vacillant Breath” open the first half of the EP with a perfect snapshot of what Amitay is looking to do with Errant; offer a platform for an excellent, passionate collection of music.
Freeways – True Bearings (Temple of Mystery)
Only a Canadian band would use a painting of a motorhome on a winter farm road for their album cover. True Bearings is the debut album of classic rock-inspired Freeways. The band is influenced by nearly every rock band from the ’70s, but one can especially hear the guitar harmonies of Thin Lizzy and the laid-back vocal delivery of April Wine.
That laid-back approach can make one think singer Jacob Montgomery isn’t all that interested in the material, and True Bearings gets off to a slow start before the songs start to really click – and on a seven-song album, there’s not time for warmups. The album is uneven, and even the really good songs leave one with a sense of déjà vu, but Freeways do show solid classic rock abilities.
Live Burial – Unending Futility (Transcending Obscurity)
Unending Futility is Live Burial’s first album since their debut Forced Back to Life, which was released in 2016. A lot of things have become more mature and coherent in the band’s second album. Basically Live Burial try to strike a balance between death/thrash and death/doom metal. Riffs have a crushing expressive doom metal approach and, on the other hand, the same riffs fall within thrash metal tones.
Lengthy songs allow Live Burial to complete their journey to all the familiar elements of old school death metal. Jamie Brown’s John Tardy-like vocals, the band’s impressive songwriting and brilliant production have made it possible to hear the music of legends such as Obituary, Death and Morgoth as Live Burial’s sources of inspirations. The wild temper of Unending Futility does not leave you alone for a moment.
Loviatar – Lightless (Prosthetic)
Loviatar went all-in on their 2017 self-titled debut, with a song split into three parts and an almost 20-minute closer. For their sophomore album, Lightless, the band hasn’t lost that confident spirit, though they’ve reigned in the song lengths a bit. Only the closing title track goes over 10 minutes, and not by much. The song demands that time, with a crawling pace extrapolated by massive-sounding guitars.
The band is in an atmospheric state with their doom metal, yet don’t reject the idea of picking up speed on “Cave In.” They reach their melodic apex with instrumental “All The Witches You Failed To Burn,” which uses acoustic guitars and rumbling rhythms to act as a sinister build towards the title track. Lightless has Loviatar finding bliss in the gloom.
Pale Mare – II (Seeing Red/Ancient Temple)
Sticking with my Canadian theme this week, we have Pale Mare’s second EP, II, on the docket. This Toronto sludge duo has been around for five years, landing opening slots for a number of big acts that have sauntered through town. With a sound that comes off as a more aggressive version of High on Fire, Pale Mare aim to hit hard on the four songs presented.
Pale Mare tear the house down right away, wasting no time with superfluous introductions and instead hitting hard with chugging riffs, rolling drums, and furious hardcore vocals. All four songs on II ooze fury and show off deft songwriting chops, with only the long final track “Remains” bringing any respite to the pace. Pale Mare have dropped a worthy entry to the sludge canon.
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea (InsideOut)
Eupnea, Pure Reason Revolution’s fourth full-length release, has an interesting mix of electronic and progressive tendencies. Often danceable rhythms associated with the songs make them catchy and appealing. Add a solid production job and the songs gleam with class and power. The album is a little too mainstream to be considered completely progressive, however.
Regardless, the amount of shifts and turns introduced in the music makes them very appealing. It’s a mostly adventurous album, making for a diverse listen. The overall effect of the album is that it’s pleasant and accessible making for an easy enough listen for a progressive release. As it stands, this is an engaging and fulfilling experience that mixes genres nicely.
Thrashera – Não Gosto! (Helldprod)
The Brazilian band Thrashera haven’t followed the usual release trajectory. They issued two live albums before their debut studio release. They’ve also been a part of more than a half dozen splits and a couple compilations. Não Gosto! is their third full-length.
After a less than compelling intro, the thrash kicks in. It’s classic, old-school speed metal/thrash with gruff vocals and straightforward song structures. The production is straight out of the ’80s as well. Most of the songs are in their native tongue, but “Trapped In The 80’s” has English lyrics. It’s raw and feral, bubbling out of the underground, an album that’s certainly derivative, but has its own charms.
Witches Of Doom – Funeral Radio (My Kingdom)
Based in Rome, Witches of Doom play a style of doom that brings together the blues/rock elements of stoner with the guitar harmonies and keyboard atmosphere of gothic doom. Their third album Funeral Radio features gothic sensibilities seemingly culled from the chalice of Type O Negative, Moonspell and Sentenced.
“Master of Depression” kicks off with the album with a bass and drum combo. Around the 15-second mark a bluesy, Danzig-esque guitar cuts in. The bass continues to pop throughout the song and the album. The title track and “November Flames” (another ode to Danzig?) feature powerful, undulating dynamics. The band saved the best for last with “Hotel Paranoia.” They really meet their mark with this song in terms of heavy guitars, screaming vocals and spooky ambiance. With Funeral Radio, Witches of Doom combine related sub-genres not often paired together to create a doom album that is familiar yet creative and distinctive.