This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Alice Cooper, Beyond The Black, Cast The Stone, Circles, Descent, Helion Prime, Jesus Piece, Ken Mode, Krakow, Maligner, Mantar, Omnium Gatherum, Stillbirth and U.D.O.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Alice Cooper – A Paranormal Evening at the Olympia Paris (earMusic)
From the beginning of this exciting live show, when we are addressed as Alice Cooper’s “playthings,” to the glorious finale, fans of the band will be delighted with current renditions of old favorites like “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” The three-guitar attack is ultimately effective, especially in the rhythm sections, and the lead portions have a modern flair, making these classic songs currently relevant.
In terms of production, overall, listeners will be pleased with A Paranormal Evening At The Olympia Paris. At times the guitar solos come through a bit faint, yet generally, the sound makes for a fine, crisp, live record. Performances are stellar, if not predictable, and Alice’s vocal is strong with only few exceptions.
Beyond The Black – Heart Of The Hurricane (Napalm)
The third album from the German symphonic metal band Beyond The Black sees them making wholesale lineup changes. The only member remaining from 2016’s Lost In Forever is vocalist Jennifer Haben. The other five members are new.
The songs are melodic and bombastic with big choruses and heavy riffs. There are plenty of atmospheric and symphonic moments, but a few songs are more straightforward metal. Haben has a strong voice that’s able to soar above the symphonic elements when needed, and it’s also very expressive, which is effective in mellower moments. Periodic male vocals like on “Million Lightyears” and “Scream For Me” help provide variety. At 65 minutes it’s a bit long, but there are plenty of memorable songs to maintain interest.
Cast the Stone –Empyrean Atrophy (Agonia)
When Cast the Stone released their first album some 13 years ago, it was a couple of good friends from the midwestern US putting on a death metal clinic. Since then, the members have gone on to play in bands like Cattle Decapitation, Misery Index, and Scour. All of that experience and time in the seedier sides of the genre is bottled into their Empyrean Atrophy EP.
There’s a disjointed nature to this EP, where each of the six songs has its own influences and styles within the scope of death metal. One song has them in full melodeath mode; another is a quiet acoustic instrumental; then there’s the unexpected cover of Infestdead’s “JesuSatan,” which was a little-known ’90s Swedish death metal outfit featuring Dan Swano. It’s a “throw everything at the wall” approach that never gets boring, but also lacks defined roots.
Circles – The Last One (Season Of Mist)
The Australian progressive music scene is on fire these days, with bands such as Caligula’s Horse, Opus of a Machine, Dead Letter Circus, Voyager, and Ne Obliviscaris all releasing highly listenable material recently. Add Circles to this list, with their finely-crafted second album, The Last One.
Circles’ sound is derived primarily from the more aggressive prog leanings of Karnivool (think “Set Fire to the Hive”) and the arena-ready hooks of Dead Letter Circus. The music is impeccable and engaging, but the vocals lag behind a bit in the quality department. The Last One isn’t particularly original, as it displays its influences much too brightly, but it’s a solid album worth checking out.
Descent – Towers Of Grandiosity (Redefining Darkness)
Towers Of Grandiosity is the debut album from the Australian group Descent, whose lineup includes members of bands such as Scumguts, Coffin Birth and From These Wounds.
It’s an intense and extreme album, blending death metal, grind and hardcore into a brutal concoction. Some of the tracks are chaotic and frenzied, while songs like “Confined” and “Fountains Of Sand” are no less heavy, but have a catchy groove. The songs are streamlined, and the whole album is only about 24 minutes long. Descent squeeze a lot into a short time span, pummeling the listener with vicious riffs and crushing drums while adding enough melody to make it addictive.
Helion Prime – Terror Of The Cybernetic Space Monster (AFM)
The Sacramento, California power metal band Helion Prime have had some lineup changes since their self-titled 2016 debut. The most notable is new vocalist Sozos Michael, who replaces Kayla Dixon (Witch Mountain).
The album features excellent musicianship, including top-notch guitar work from Chad Anderson and Jason Ashcraft. There’s a lot of variety, ranging from catchy tracks like “A King Is Born” to more aggressive but still melodic songs such as “Bury The Sun.” Michael brings a potent and versatile vocal delivery, but it’s difficult replacing someone of Dixon’s caliber. The songs are all in the five minute range until the epic closing title track that clocks in at 17 minutes and features guest vocals from Unleash The Archers’ Brittney Slayes. It’s a slow build with a lot of ebbs and flows, but holds the listener’s interest.
Jesus Piece – Only Self (Southern Lord)
Jesus Piece have made a name for themselves in and out of their local Philly scene. These dudes are angry and their metallic hardcore assault is pure animosity for animosity’s sake and one of the most pissed off albums since Power Trip’s Nightmare Logic. With albums by Harms Way and Vein being released earlier this year it can be hard to stand out during this stellar time for hardcore, but this particular vitriol has a sense of vindication about it.
Shifts in speed do Jesus Piece well, for even when the band slows down, they also happen to be scaring the hell out of you in a “The world is ending” kind of feeling. This is the kind of hardcore that demands to be experienced in a live setting because Only Self is the kind of unforgiving music we need right now.
KEN Mode – Loved (Season Of Mist)
Canada’s noise-rock veterans KEN Mode are back with their seventh album, Loved. After issuing some outtakes on 2016’s Nerve EP, the band delivers what promises to be a darker, heavier album, and they deliver with nine furious blasts of unnerving chaos. Production is handled by Andrew Schneider (Cult of Luna, Converge) rather than Steve Albini, and the sound is as raw as the emotion.
Loved is 36 minutes of unbridled aggression. The first eight songs never let up, with atonal guitarwork, wonderfully obnoxious drum sounds, and Jesse Matthewson spitting fantastic lyrics with a maniacal rage. The only respite from this acerbic devastation comes in the first few minutes of album closer “No Gentle Art,” making Loved an exhausting but engaging listen.
Krakow – Minus (Karisma)
The Norwegian quartet Krakow have always brought a lot of different influences to the table, and that remains the case on their fourth full-length, Minus.
The six songs are an eclectic mix of genres. Opener “Black Wandering Sun” has some stoner/doom influences, but also features a shredding guitar solo from Motorhead’s Phil Campbell. “The Stranger” has alt rock/grunge vibes, while other tracks incorporate post metal and prog, channeling everyone from Neurosis to Mastodon to Voivod. Perhaps the most progressive song on the album is the nearly 10 minute instrumental title track. And even with all the varied styles, Krakow manage to keep things cohesive.
Maligner – Attraction to Annihilation (Blood Harvest)
Sweden’s Maligner perform a mix of thrash and death metal on Attraction To Annihilation, their first full length release. The combination is effective and leads to some massive chops. The album is very old school sounding and has some tendencies towards early Death and Sepultura, among others. The rhythms are pummeling, yet straightforward, but they aren’t doing anything particularly interesting and this style has been done better in the past.
Still, the songs are written well and tight in their approach. While it’s nothing spectacular, the music will leave its impact strongly upon the listener. Fans of the combination of death and thrash will want to give this a listen, though fans of other genres might want to approach with caution. I find neither genre to overpower the other and their was a nice mixture found. This is a fun release, but nothing special. Those dedicated to death/thrash mixture releases will find something to enjoy here, however.
Mantar – The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze (Nuclear Blast)
German doomcore duo Mantar return with their sophomore release The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze, a fitting continuation of Ode To Flame which sees the band revisit some older themes and also some newer musical tropes. The plodding of “Age of the Absurd” is chock full of pounding drums and a vicious guitar tone which at times treads into black metal territory; giving the band more atmosphere than they had on their prior album.
“Midgard Serpent (Seasons of Failure)” has the kind of fat riffs with an ability to encapsulate the listener with furious chants and more power than two men should be able to generate. “Obey the Obscene” must be a lifestyle choice for the band; it is a nasty number to mosh to with neck-breaking force and also what sounds like a pipe organ to lead you in and out of furious power. These Germans are forging a path that is all their own and you should start paying attention.
Omnium Gatherum – The Burning Cold (Century Media)
Omnium Gatherum are one of those outfits that vexes you through one album and then hypnotizes you through the next. The term ‘melodic death’ is as bi-polar as the impact of Omnium Gatherum’s discography, but it best explains the thrills and let-downs of The Burning Cold. Fifty minutes plus does not an album make, not that brevity is the band’s strength, but a trim and tightening of some of the flabbier tracks, especially after the thirty-minute mark would have helped the gut-punch of ‘Redefining Fire” and the ambitious “Rest in Your Heart.”
Arp-style sweeps and string machines, choruses big as all death, forests and shadow lyrics and a sense of something altogether special… but just a sense, puts this a step above 2016’s off-kilter Grey Heavens. The Finnish band is better than most other outfits in the melodic death underworld, and The Burning Cold illuminates the fact while hinting at better things to come.
Stillbirth – Annihilation of Mankind (Unique Leader)
The alternative title to Stillbirth’s Annihilation of Mankind should be “Annihilation of Patience,” as that’s what the band’s monotone sound does to a listener far before the album mercifully ends. This is brutal death metal at its most frustrating: mechanically solid, but soulless, reliant on overproduced drums and a dizzying array of vocal styles that don’t mesh well. Guitar solos on the last two songs, “The Sky Turns Black” and the title track, aren’t enough to counterbalance this.
At least they try to be more serious on this album with their subject matter, as humanity’s violent delights and nuclear annihilation show slight maturity from a band with past songs like “Addicted to Abortion” and “Zombie Porngasm.” It’s a shame that Stillbirth’s obvious musical acumen isn’t reflected in the tedious songwriting.
U.D.O. – Steelfactory (AFM)
At age 66, the legendary Udo Dirkschneider shows no signs of slowing down. Steelfactory is the 16th studio album from U.D.O., who marked their 30th anniversary as a band last year. It’s the first U.D.O. album to feature Dirkschneider’s son Sven on drums.
There are no surprises with an U.D.O. album. You know you’re going to get soaring, melodic traditional metal songs with plenty of guitar solos topped by Dirkschneider’s distinctive vocals. The album is filled with catchy tracks like “Tongue Reaper,” “Rising High” and “A Bite Of Evil.” Dirkschneider utilizes both his lower register and his unmistakable raspy high register. Steelfactory is another in a long line of consistent and enjoyable U.D.O. albums.