This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Alcatrazz, Cardiac, Deathkings, Ernia, For I Am King, Graf Orlock, Johnny Gioeli, Lovebites, Metal Church, Myrkur, Rauhnacht, Steelheart and Zealotry.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Alcatrazz – Parole Denied: Tokyo 2017 (Frontiers)
The L.A. hard rock band Alcatrazz released three albums before disbanding in 1987. Last year, original members Graham Bonnet (vocals), Gary Shea (bass) and Jimmy Waldo (keyboards) reunited after 33 years for some Japanese shows. Guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen did not participate. Parole Denied: Tokyo 2017 captures the reunion.
The DVD and first CD are the 11 song set, which includes songs from all three of the band’s studio albums such as “Island In The Sun,” “Will You Be Home Tonight” and “God Blessed Video.” There’s also a second CD with some unreleased demo tracks, including “Emotion” with Steve Vai on guitar. They didn’t have a lot of commercial success, but Alcatrazz did leave a mark, and fans who weren’t able to make it to Japan for the shows will appreciate the CD/DVD.
Cardiac – Mañana No Será Otro Día Igual (Tenacity)
Based in Switzerland, Cardiac have been around for nearly two decades. Mañana No Será Otro Día Igual is their fifth full-length album.
They bring the groove, with memorable guitar riffs that drive the songs. That’s blended with metallic hardcore influences that add aggression and passion. Tracks like “Imparable” move at a brisk pace, while others are more deliberate. One thing that makes Cardiac unique is Ricardo Chimichanga’s mostly Spanish lyrics. The album also includes numerous guests such as Cypress Hill’s Sen Dog, Biohazard’s Billy Graziadei and Cancer Bats’ Scott Middleton.
From Los Angeles, California, Deathkings are one of those acts whose music makes you sit on the edge of your seat and enjoy it immensely. 2011’s Destroyer was a great start and 2016’s acclaimed All That is Beautiful portrayed a band who are one of the best in the business. Deathkings’ brand new EP Ex Nihilo brings the musical value of this band to an even greater degree.
Ex Nihilo consists of “Absolution Short Scream Final” and “Celestial Final Master,” which are great samples of how sludge/doom metal music can easily merge with tones of emotions and melodies to captivate you while its mild but tangible touches of funeral doom. They are woven perfectly with the context of Deathkings’ music to help to not get lost or bored in the EP’s atmosphere, which most of the sludge/doom metal bands are dealing with this situation. Also on Ex Nihilo you can hear excellent vocal performances and hair-raising growls.
Ernia’s death/grind on their self-titled debut album may seem derivative based on the first few songs, yet the band saves the unexpected for the album’s latter half. Within that space is a band experimenting with avant-garde and seismic tempo shifts. It’s a tale of two different bands; one with a youthful rage and the other with deeper sonic sentiments.
The contrast is striking, and may be brushed aside based on Ernia’s relentless pursuit for turmoil on “The Limits of Purity” and “Sabbath for the Zionist.” Skim past those stereotypical tunes to land on the ambient noise of “Random Discordant Actions” and abrupt jazz interlude in “The Flowers on Our Backs,” which put Ernia in unexplored zones. Ernia’s success may depend on their willingness to step from rigid death/grind boundaries.
For I Am King – I (Redfield)
For I Am King’s second album could’ve been teleported from a different decade; more specifically, the early 2000s, where bands like Arch Enemy and Killswitch Engage thrived. I has all the hallmarks of that era: piercing screams, melodic guitar harmonies and an update to a past sound (in this case, melodic death metal). They even name one of their songs “In Flames,” so the band doesn’t keep their influences hidden.
It’s not that For I Am King does anything revolutionary with these ten songs, but they are sharp songwriters that can find an infectious hook in the music. Couple that with great guitar solos and keyboards for a grand effect, and I comes off as an old soul with a modern mindset.
Graf Orlock – Examination Of Violent Cinema, Volume 1 (Vitriol)
L.A.’s Graf Orlock pay homage to action films in their music, using snippets from movies along with using dialogue as lyrics. They have released a plethora of EPs and splits over the years, with Examination Of Violent Cinema, Volume 1 their fourth full-length.
Musically, the songs are focused barrages of hardcore punk with grind and thrash elements, generally clocking in at between two and three minutes. The lyrical focus of this record is movies released in 2017, such as John Wick 2 and Blade Runner 2049. The movies they are focusing on are violent, as is the music, with pummeling drums and throat shredding vocals. Sometimes chaotic, other times groovy, Graf Orlock are always engaging.
Johnny Gioeli – One Voice (Frontiers)
2018 has been a busy one for Johnny Gioeli. The Axel Rudi Pell/Crush 40 vocalist reunited with his former Hardline bandmate Deen Castronovo for an album earlier this year. One Voice is a solo album that he crowdfunded, with a portion of the money raised going to help a young man who was paralyzed in an accident last year.
Gioeli is a versatile singer with a lot of power and range. The songs on the album are hard rock with huge hooks and singalong choruses. There are driving rockers like the opening track “Drive,” along with soaring ballads such as the title track and “Price We Pay.” Guitarist Eric Gadrix (Raquel, Mercury) also delivers an excellent performance. One Voice is a varied release that will appeal to melodic rock fans.
Lovebites – Clockwork Immortality (Arising Empire)
Last year the Japanese all-female band Lovebites released their debut EP and a full-length, and this year have already released another EP. Clockwork Immortality is their sophomore full-length.
While their band name may have been inspired by a Halestorm song, Lovebites’ music is in the power metal/NWOBHM vein. It is driven by the dual guitars of Midori and Miyaki, with keyboards providing additional atmosphere on songs like “Rising.” There’s a lot of melody and catchiness, but tracks such as “Mastermind 01” inject some edginess as well. Vocalist Asami can belt it out when needed, and also sing with texture and emotion. Their debut was strong, but Clockwork Immortality has even more depth and consistency.
Metal Church – Damned If You Do (Rat Pak)
If dark traditional metal is up your alley, then you’ll likely want to hear the new album, Damned If You Do, by Seattle’s legendary Metal Church. They bring out the best of the genre in this, their twelfth full length release. The wired vocals of Mike Howe, who recently returned to the band after a 20 year absence, fit nicely with the rest of the work to give charisma to the work. The multiple guitarist attack also works well for the band as they unleash a inferno of metal goodness.
Add in some slamming drums and the musical performances stand out nicely for the band as they let loose their traditional style. This is still music that is very rooted in the fundamentals and it brings a very straightforward work upon the listener. However, the music is performed so well, you won’t mind the simplicity. The songs are all very catchy and easy to groove along with. Damned If You Do is a traditional metal lovers dream come true and has all the right rhythms to make a huge impact.
Myrkur – Juniper (Relapse)
Juniper, the new EP from Amalie Bruun’s Myrkur project, features two new songs with an emphasis on folk music. The title track has a glimpse of the black metal Myrkur was heavily invested in on her first few releases, with a cathartic expulsion of raw feelings. Brunn’s shrieks are absent, her calming voice belting out wistful high notes.
The 17th century traditional Danish folk song “Bonden og Kragen” makes up the second half of the EP. Arranged using an acoustic guitar, it’s a low-key finish to Juniper. In the years since Myrkur’s self-titled EP, Bruun has leaned away from the black metal that got her media attention, and Juniper is further evidence of her investment in a folksier side of metal.
Rauhnacht – Unterm Gipfelthron (Debemur Morti)
After last year’s split with Tannod and Hanternoz, the Austrian pagan black metal project Rauhnacht return with their their full-length release Unterm Gipfelthron.
Mainman Stefan Traunmuller blends icy black metal and harsh vocals with folk elements and melodic singing to create a varied soundscape. There’s also a five minute mostly acoustic instrumental that divides the album’s five tracks in two. The final two songs are 10 plus minute epics that develop slowly and shift between mellow ambiance and ominous black metal. Even with the shifts in style, it is still a cohesive and engaging release.
Steelheart – Rock‘n Milan (Frontiers)
In memory of guitarist extraordinaire Kenneth Kanowski, who passed away a couple of months after this stellar performance, Steelheart deliver. With the exception of some strange, drawn-out endings and a rather coarse version of “I’ll Never Let You Go,” Rock’n Milan is an outstanding live album, mixed brilliantly and musically executed to near perfection.
Especially noteworthy is the magnificent vocals offered by Miljenko Matijevic, never settling for alternative notes, and showing mastery of the things most singers can’t pull off live: subtlety, idiosyncrasy, and superior inflection. Kanowski is a tasteful guitar player, blisteringly fast when appropriate, and Mike Humbert and “REV” Jones provide an exciting rhythm section. Back to Matijevic for a moment, it must be mentioned here that his groundbreaking talent is underrated (not by his fans of course, but across genres). With the possible exception of Frank Dimino of Angel, Matijevic is rock’s greatest high tenor, without question.
Zealotry – At The Nexus Of All Stillborn Worlds (Unspeakable Axe)
Boston’s Zealotry take old-school death metal and infuse it with progressive/technical death metal. Or is it the other way around? Unspeakable intricacies interlace with guitar solos that shred our speakers, making it hard to tell. But here on their third album, At The Nexus Of All Stillborn Worlds, one thing is certain: the listener will be disoriented from the ensuing chaos.
At The Nexus Of All Stillborn Worlds brutally combines the rawness of OSDM with the technical prowess of prog-death, and throws even more elements into the mix – choir backing vocals, symphonic intros, and more. It all adds up to a complex, at times disturbing, and always engaging progressive death metal album that fans of the genre will love.