This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Anthrax, Atramentus, Blues Pills, Deep Purple, Diesel Machine, Expander, God’s Bastard, Jesus Wept, Mercyless, Precambrian, Pyramid Theorem, Reasons Behind, Sensory Amusia, Siege Column, Stoned Jesus, Unleash The Archers, Verikyyneleet and Vicious Rumors.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Anthrax – Persistence Of Time 30th Anniversary Edition (Megaforce)
As the ’80s turned to the ’90s, Anthrax issued Persistence Of Time, which showed a more mature and darker sound. It was the last studio album to feature Joey Belladonna on vocals for two decades. While receiving some mixed reviews at the time, history has proven it to be an album of lasting quality. The 30th anniversary edition of the album includes two CDs and a DVD.
The original 11-track album has been remastered, and there are numerous extra tracks included in the package. They range from a bonus B-side version of “I’m The Man” to a live version of “Time.” The most interesting bonus tracks are taken from “Charlie’s Stash,” and show the evolution of songs such as “Keep It In The Family,” “H8 Red” and “Time” from rehearsal to pre-production to the final version. The DVD was shot back in 1991 when Anthrax was touring with Iron Maiden. It’s a package Anthrax will want to take a deep dive into, reliving and revisiting a classic album while getting a peek behind the curtain into early and alternate takes of songs on the record.
Atramentus – Stygian (20 Buck Spin)
Atramentus’ debut album, Stygian, tells the tale of a nameless knight granted immortality, as he experiences Earth’s collapse into a frozen wasteland. Forced to live in an inhospitable climate with no way to escape the isolation, the knight wanders blindly, past memories being his lone solace. A story this bleak is perfect fodder for a funeral doom metal band like Atramentus, who relay this concept through a 45-minute composition split into three distinct parts.
The group, featuring two members of Chthe’ilist, does a top-notch job crafting an atmosphere appropriate for this subject. Keys and other ambient sounds act as a buffer to an album where it’s not uncommon to hear notes echo for seconds on end before the next comes up. The last few minutes of Stygian, where the band turns the tempo up to a nice blackened pace, lands a strike that matches the icy gale against the face of the nameless knight.
Blues Pills – Holy Moly! (Nuclear Blast)
Swedish retro-rockers Blues Pills caught lighting in a bottle on their self-titled 2014 debut. 2017’s Lady In Gold was more psychedelic, and almost as good. Now here they are in 2020 with their third release, Holy Moly!, self-recorded and produced in their own studio. How does it far compared to the first two albums?
Pretty good, but not great. The DIY approach is evident in the hectic, often messy feel of the rocking songs, and while there are still a number of excellent cuts (“Kiss My Past Goodbye” and “Bye Bye Birdie” come to mind), the overall feel of Holy Moly! is of an album that has been too hastily constructed. Elin Larsson remains one of the most charismatic singers in rock, but Blues Pills could really use a producer to sharpen and hone their formidable talents.
Deep Purple – Whoosh! (earMusic)
Fifty-plus years after emerging on the scene, the legendary Deep Purple are still making music. Whoosh! is their 21st studio album. Their current lineup includes Ian Gillan, Roger Glover and Ian Paice along with relative newcomers Steve Morse and Don Airey, who have only been in the band for a couple decades or so.
Produced by fellow legend Bob Ezrin, Whoosh! embraces Deep Purple’s musical legacy with progressive-tinged hard rock tracks like “Drop The Wagon,” “What The What” and “No Need To Shout” that are melodic and memorable. They also bring back the instrumental “And The Address” that appeared on their 1968 debut album. With most members in their 70s (Morse is the youngster at 66), Deep Purple still play with energy and creativity, and have the advantage of decades of chemistry and musical chops. The album has a classic and somewhat retro sound, with songs that are unmistakably Deep Purple.
Diesel Machine – Evolve (Metalville)
Diesel Machine formed in the mid-’90s and released an album in 2000. They began working on a second album, which was put on hold indefinitely. Members ended up in projects such as Halford, Damageplan, Soil, Cosmosquad and more. They eventually resumed work on what became Evolve, which is now ready to be unleashed.
The music is heavy and groovy with hardcore style vocals from AJ Cavalier. Heavy riffs from guitarist Patrick Lachman and hooks make tracks like “React” and “Ounce Of Strength” memorable. While having a lot of early ’00s New Wave Of American Heavy Metal in their DNA, Diesel Machine also bring more modern touches to the table. It’s an album that packs a punch and though the core sound remains pretty similar throughout, the band changes up tempos enough to avoid monotony.
Expander – Neuropunk Boostergang (Profound Lore)
Expander’s sophomore metallic attack Neuropunk Boostergang is perfectly described by their odd album art style. Death is balanced out in a Day-Glo future mixed with electronic leanings to give this a little something more than your standard thrash attack.
“Megacorp” isn’t shy on their use of electronic sounds to elevate their overall sound and when the track fades into “Hyper-Flesh Aedificium” the thrash comes in full force with pounding drums, to remind the listener to expect a little bit of the unexpected. The band rides out this speed for most of the duration of the album very seldom relenting and often in lockstep with various electronic flairs to add to this dystopian present/future. “Quest For Future” is a powerful closer and could also serve as Expander’s overall message.
God’s Bastard – Last Standing Village (I, Voidhanger)
Prolific drummer Lev Weinstein and former Floods vocalist/guitarist Drew Hays are involved with God’s Bastard, a shape-shifting black metal group that is having Last Standing Village, their debut EP from last year, re-released by I, Voidhanger Records. The three-song effort has a bit of the DNA of Weinstein’s other bands, like Krallice and Woe, but it’s more of a starting point than a direct lift.
Though just their first EP, Last Standing Village has plenty of fertile songwriting to come from it. “Chaos Apologist” is a direct opener, an unapologetic black metal supernova. It’s a solid way to get the EP going, though it lacks the out-of-the-box ideas of “God Raise The Sea” and “To The Last Standing Village.” The latter, in particular, throws around cleaner-sounding melodies to push into eight minutes without being cumbersome.
Like Diesel Machine, Homicide released one album a long time ago and seemingly disappeared before reforming. The Canadian thrashers released their debut back in 1995 and have re-emerged with the appropriately titled Left For Dead.
Homicide are unapologetically old school, delivering ’80s style thrash with tempos that are sometimes galloping and uptempo like “Nightmares Of The Apocalypse” and other times more moderately paced and ominous such as “Point Blank Range.” The vocals are a rudimentary, sing-song style typical of the genre. They aren’t bringing anything new to the table, but stay true to their old school roots.
Jesus Wept – Apartheid Redux (Redefining Darkness)
Wearing their Heartwork on their sleeve, Michigan based melodeath n’ rollers Jesus Wept have carved out niche for themselves in 2020. Apartheid Redux is an update to their 2017 release Crushing Apartheid with a few tracks pulled and more tracks thrown into the mix. Of particular note is a cover of W.A.S.P.’s “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast).”
Album opener “Buried Face Down” feels as though it could have been a part of the classic Earache Records stable of bands circa 1993. The guitar leads are clean and melodic which helps to separate them from the brutal rhythm section and their vocalist does a great job of not sounding exactly like Jeff Walker while taking his own gruff leads. If you need some melody in your death metal without sacrificing the brutality, Jesus Wept are ripe for the picking.
Mercyless – The Mother Of All Plagues (Xenocorp)
French death metal pioneers Mercyless offer their seventh full-length album, The Mother Of All Plagues. Lyrically, the album is a blasphemous offering that compares religious belief to an infection of the minds and the contagion spread by clergies to a plague.
The Mother of All Plagues moves through mid-tempos. “Rival of the Nazarene” features a blast beat. Even though the drums hit hard, don’t expect to hear a lot of blasts. The guitar is distorted and crunchy but not murky. The riffs are catchy and groovy. In addition to providing one half of the guitars, Max Otero has a tortured, sandpaper vocal delivery comparable to Marc Grewe of Morgoth and Martin Van Drunen formerly of Pestilence. There are shades of Death and Pestilence, while the opening harmonic squeals of “Contagion” bring to mind Immolation. After 33 years, Mercyless still keep the flame of ‘90s death metal burning bright with The Mother of All Plagues.
Precambrian – Tectonics (Primitive Reaction)
It is always interesting when a black metal band chooses a particular theme for their lyrics that is different from the common lyrical themes, such as misanthropy, darkness or Satanism. Featuring members of Drudkh and Windswept, Precambrian talk about earth and geology in their debut album Tectonics, and that’s why it could be notable to many.
Tectonics is specifically based on raw and atmospheric black metal, and somber melodies are the connection between the two. The drums and guitar patterns on this album are rarely changed and all the songs are mostly written with repetitive textures and structures. That’s why the songs have a minimal yet chaotic form and what gives them dynamism is the hazy and cold atmosphere reigning in the background. Many may think that Precambrian and Tectonics follow the same musical arrangements of Drudkh and Windswept and only the name of the bands have been changed, but what really matters here is that Precambrian have recreated the ideas that still work gloriously and inexhaustibly.
Their 2008 debut album was instrumental, but the Canadian progressive band Pyramid Theorem added vocals to their 2012 eponymous release, 2017’s Element Of Surprise and their latest effort, Beyond The Exosphere.
They take the bold step of opening the album with the epic, nearly 18 minute long title track. It ebbs and flows between quiet ambiance and full-tilt prog, showcasing virtuoso musicianship and an arrangement that does a good job of maintaining interest throughout with minimal self-indulgence. The other four tracks are more streamlined, with “Freedom” the most mainstream of the bunch, but still pushing boundaries. Pyramid Theorem’s brand of prog draws influences from a myriad of bands ranging from Dream Theater to Rush to Symphony X and melds into their own unique approach.
Reasons Behind – Project: M.I.S.T (Scarlet)
On their second album Project: M.I.S.T., Reasons Behind have toned down the progressive aspects of their 2014 debut album, The Alpha Memory. Where before there were expressive keyboard solos, now the keys are relegated to the background as electro/techno beats. The songs are shorter, within the comfortable three-and-a-half minute singles range, and there’s a grab at mainstream appeal with the technicality toned down into the occasional flashy guitar solo.
This shift in musical style benefits vocalist Elisa Bonafe, who gets some rousing choruses to belt out. Though there’s a reach for a broader audience, there’s a bit of edge left from the past. “(E)met” has a riff in the middle of the song that’ll be a headbanger’s delight, a trait that could’ve boosted a few of the tamer songs that lack bite. As far as radio-friendly contemporary metal goes, Project: M.I.S.T. is plenty suitable.
Sensory Amusia – Bereavement (Lacerated Enemy)
The Australian trio Sensory Amusia perform death metal that has a slight grind influence. Their music is visceral and intense. There are numerous black beats to be found on the EP Bereavement. Comparisons can be drawn to the likes of Aborted, although the band seems a little less obsessed with gore. Considering the short running time of the EP, the band is able to make an impact.
Bereavement has a brutal approach and this is what makes the band so compelling. It includes guest vocal appearances from The Amenta’s Cain Cressell and Earth Rot’s Jared Bridgeman. The music is groovy and manages to be catchy at the same time. The songwriting is fairly good, but could be even more innovative and complex than it is. This EP delivers a solid death metal experience. It offers a heavy display that makes it mark at a blistering rate.
Siege Column – Darkside Legions (Nuclear War Now!)
New Jersey based death metal legion Siege Column and their second LP proper Darkside Legions starts in proper OSDM fashion; slowly. The album then gives way to some incredibly powerful bombast and gritty production on “Devil’s Nights of Hell.”
The guitars and bass sound as though they were produced in a dark basement; combine that with a wonderful Xerox looking album art and you know exactly what is going on with this album. “In a Stolen Tomb,” much like the rest of the album, features a gross vocal style that draws inspiration from horror movies as well as the genesis of the genre; this could easily be an album that was recorded in 1987 and be considered a certified classic in the underground. If you are looking for death metal to be mean, gross and nasty again, look no further than these ghouls from the Garden State.
Stoned Jesus – First Communion (Napalm)
Ten years ago low-end leviathans Stoned Jesus would kickstart their career of heavyweight stoner-doom with First Communion, ushering in a new congregation of devout riff lovers. Marking the end of its first decade, Napalm Records gives the record a new lease of life with the re-release of the four original tectonic tracks with the added sweetener of “Red Wine”’s demo tape to the satisfaction of the fanatics.
Lauded upon release for its Sabbath-esque vocals splayed within unforgiving tides of fuzz-fueled riffage , revisiting its sludgy plains with the hindsight of the band’s forthcoming success makes for a warming experience. A decade ago I would have said that the band had captured a timeless sound and now, in 2020, I can rest assured of such point. The classic velvet hums of guitar glide through the record’s resting moments but roar with dissonant fuzz when the band decide you have gotten too comfortable. 10 years on, it remains a blistering arena of sound. Whether you’re a returning disciple or one of the recently converted, there’s never been a better time to experience your First Communion.
Unleash The Archers – Abyss (Napalm)
When done right, power metal can be the most invigorating and uplifting subgenre in the metal movement. Canada’s Unleash The Archers, thirteen years and five albums into their career, know how to do it right, and showcased their mighty talents on 2017’s excellent Apex album. Here they return with another concept album, Abyss, and once again they manage to press all the right buttons.
Led by the awesome Brittney Slayes behind the mic, Abyss is nearly an hour of all-out power metal glory, with high-paced anthems, brooding ballads, and a handful of extreme metal moments. Unleash the Archers manage to sound fresh and vital in a genre that can often be rife with cliché, and Abyss only narrowly misses Apex’s high point. Another outstanding release.
Verikyyneleet –Ilman Kuolemaa (I, Voidhanger)
Verikyyneleet have been active in some form for the last two decades, keeping their vehement black metal confined to demos and EPs. Ilman Kuolemaa is the one-man project’s first full-length album. Its essence is minimalistic and unpolished, with buzzing riffs sounding as if they could’ve been grabbed from 1992. A few of these songs are downright primitive with their back-to-basics execution.
That doesn’t seem to be Verikyyneleet’s main purpose with Ilman Kuolemaa, though. It comes out better in the synth-heavy compositions, like the various ambient interludes or the chilled-out instrumental “Muinainen Kosketus.” These provide relief after some of the more far-reaching material fails to connect, a difficulty with songs that go as long as 11 minutes. There’s some great content to find, but it takes some searching to locate.
Vicious Rumors – Celebration Decay (SPV/Steamhammer)
The California heavy/power metal band Vicious Rumors got their start in the late ’70s before issuing their debut album in 1985. They’ve had tons of lineup changes over the years, with guitarist Geoff Thorpe the only constant. Past members included Vinnie Moore (UFO), Dave Starr (Chastain), Steve Smyth (Testament, Nevermore) and Brad Gillis (Night Ranger, Ozzy Osbourne). Their latest release Celebration Decay features new vocalist Nick Courtney (Gladius).
While the new blood (which also includes guitarist Gunnar Dugrey), injects energy into the band, Vicious Rumors stick mostly to their classic style of traditional metal with power metal elements. They do push in different directions on tracks like “Darkness Divine” while songs like “Arrival Of Desolation” and “Collision Course Disaster” are in the classic Vicious Rumors vein. Courtney is a good vocalist that has the pipes to hit the high notes, but is also able to sing with edge and aggression when needed.