This week’s Heavy Music HQ album reviews include releases from Blessed Black, Bonded, British Lion, Frogg, Kaoteon, Magnum, Mark Morton, Odious Mortem, Porta Nigra, Rat King, Sleepwraith, Svarttjern, Victorius and Wormhole.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Cincinnati-based Blessed Black play stoner/doom comparable to The Sword and High on Fire. Beyond the Crimson Throne is their debut album. The band’s guitars are fuzzy, which is to be expected from bands of this fold, but not to the point where notes are drowned out. Their tempos move at a relatively upbeat pace considering the style of music they play.
While Blessed Black have been labeled as a stoner/doom band, the band leans more toward the stoner side of the spectrum with compositions nodding towards traditional heavy metal, hard rock and grunge. “Arioch’s Bargain” features a mean, churning riff that would have fit well on an early Danzig album. “The Shadows” is a raging, fist pumper. Beyond the Crimson Throne isn’t a groundbreaking album, it probably won’t move beyond the confines of its genre line, but it should find favor with fans who can’t get enough of this sound.
Bonded – Rest in Violence (Century Media)
Bonded’s lineup will have old school thrash fans, especially arbiters of German thrash metal, chomping at the bit. Their debut album Rest in Violence features former Sodom members Bern Kost (guitar) and Markus Freiwald (drums). Assassin’s current vocalist Ingo Bajonczak mans the mic. Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth (Overkill) and Kreator bassist Christian Giesler make guest appearances.
With all the major names involved, one would expect something special from Bonded. Listeners will not be disappointed. Rest in Violence features plenty of Sodom/Kreator references, but also calls to mind Testament or even Susperia. Bajonczak’s vocals are gruff and aggressive. Bajonczak and Blitz create a powerful dynamic on the title track. “The Rattle Snake” and “Arrival” are sonic wrecking balls. Speed and aggression aren’t the only course for consumption, though, the band also offer melodic passages not far removed from modern Kreator. Rest in Violence brilliantly balances contemporary thrash with the classic variety.
British Lion – The Burning (Explorer1)
Steve Harris keeps quite busy with his main band Iron Maiden, so it’s understandable that there has been a gap between British Lion albums. Their debut release was in 2012 and they did several tours behind the album. They’ll be playing some U.S. shows in support of The Burning, their sophomore effort.
Like their debut, The Burning is radio-ready hard rock with soaring melodies and ample hooks. It’s influenced by ’70s rock, but has a modern sound and production. The songs are stronger than their debut, especially tracks such as “Lightning,” “Legend” and “Spit Fire.” Vocalist Richard Taylor’s performance is spot on. The touring British Lion have done over the past few years seems to have resulted in a tighter and more cohesive unit that’s evident on this record.
That old saying “looks can be deceiving” could describe Frogg’s debut EP, A Reptilian Dystopia. If a listener approaches this on face value, just by band name and EP title alone, it’s as if they are throwing nothing but gags our way. Push beyond song titles like “Ranidaphobia” (the fear of frogs, big surprise there), and what lands is a group that aims for the highest technical plateau.
There’s enough impressive lead guitar work to fit onto a full album, let alone all that’s crammed into these four songs. The use of keyboards and female vocals is a subtle touch adding depth to the music. A few ideas seem half-formed, like the short-lived “Nuclear Storm,” but an ambitious song like “DNA” takes its almost eight minutes into compelling territory.
The blackened death metal band Kaoteon reside in the Netherlands, but are originally from Lebanon. The band’s permanent members are vocalist Walid Wolflust and guitarist Anthony Kaoteon. For the second consecutive album, Obscura’s Linus Klausenitzer handles bass duties. Adrian Erlandsson (At The Gates) is behind the kit for the band’s self-titled album.
After making a big leap forward on 2018’s Damnatio Memoriae, Kaoteon maintain that momentum on this release. The songs have razor-sharp riffs and punishing drums from Erlandsson along with a surprising amount of catchiness on tracks like “Broken.” The extremity is evident on songs like “Memento Mori,” while “Catharsis In Union” has more of an epic feel. The filler is minimal with the album clocking in at a lean 35 minutes while incorporating plenty of variety.
Magnum – The Serpent Rings (SPV/Steamhammer)
Long-running British hard rockers Magnum have a new member for their latest album The Serpent Rings. After nearly two decades with the group, bassist Al Barrow departed, with veteran Dennis Ward (Pink Cream 69, Unisonic) taking his place.
After nearly 50 years and more than 20 albums, Magnum have established a successful sound, executed flawlessly on The Serpent Rings. Catchy hard rock with earworm choruses and plenty of punch abound, with songs like “You Can’t Run Faster Than Bullets” balancing a classic style with modern touches. The seemingly ageless Bob Catley delivers another excellent performance, his tone and range still impressive.
Mark Morton – Ether (Rise/BMG)
Lamb Of God guitarist Mark Morton released his debut solo album Anesthetic last year. Instead of the extreme metal of LOG, Morton’s solo work is more rock based, and even had a hit single with “Cross Off” featuring the late Chester Bennington. Morton follows that up with the five song EP Ether.
It’s mostly acoustic, featuring three originals and two covers. Mark Morales from Sons Of Texas, who is also in Morton’s live band, appears on two songs, including the lead single “All I Had To Lose.” Other guests include Howard Jones (Killswitch Engage) and John Carbone (Moon Tooth). One of the highlights of the album is the cover of the Black Crowes song “She Talks To Angels” featuring Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale. It keeps the twang of the original, and Hale’s performance is killer.
Odious Mortem – Synesthesia (Willowtip)
Odious Mortem come from a similar musical place to bands like Hour of Penance and older Decapitated. Synesthesia, the California band’s first album in 13 years, is full of wonderful twists and turns and features the same buzzsaw approach as those bands. It is death metal that comes from a pretty high pedigree, so quite a bit can be expected. They deliver mostly in spades with a solid death metal album that has quite a bit of lenience towards some past death metal greats. Though the production could be better, it is good enough to throw out these very good songs at a nice rate.
The songwriting is quite crisp and features a number of interesting moments, though it can sound a bit generic at times. Though it’s not as picture perfect as something like Winds of Creation, the music on Synesthesia is great enough to make an impact upon the listener. This is a very good death metal record that has solid songwriting and performances from top to bottom.
Porta Nigra – Schöpfungswut (Soulseller)
After a nearly five year absence, the German black metal band Porta Nigra emerge with a new album and a new vocalist. Tongue (Chaos Invocation, Crescent) steps up to the mic for the band’s third full-length Schöpfungswut, which translates to “anger of creation.”
In addition to the typical tremolo riffing and blast beats, Porta Nigra add avant-garde elements to make for more compelling compositions. The songs are long, most in the eight minute range, which allows for tempo and intensity shifts on tracks like “Das Rad des Ixion” and the addition of melodic vocals on songs such as “Die Augen des Basilisken” and “Die Entweihung von Freya.” While not quite as eclectic as their first two releases, there’s still plenty of variety for black metal fans.
Rat King – Vicious Inhumanity (Within The Mind)
Rat King’s sophomore album, Vicious Inhumanity, throws its mass around with a concoction of death/grind and sludge metal. The songs squarely in the former slot, like the one-two, barrel-chested rampage “Borratanico” and “Chaleco De Billetes” goes on, have a visceral magnetism that engulfs the listener. They have a furious focus that shaves off time with the precision of an unwieldy chainsaw.
The switchblade accuracy of the mid-tempo riffs in “Rotting From Inside” are a welcomed counterpart. There’s also a touch of experimentation with the passionate guitar solo on the jam-heavy outro to “In Quiet Sleep,” and the quick acoustic intro of “Zero” is immediately betrayed by a smoldering fury. Rat King have adopted more of a death metal/grindcore to the established sludge metal of their past work, and this addition is a positive one on Vicious Inhumanity.
Sleepwraith’s Day Terrors dabbles in very serious topics. Depression, suicide, and personal demons are all captured in stark imagery. Vocalist Seedy Mitchell put on a showcase with a varied approach to his vocals, including cutthroat growls and emotive melodies, giving heft to the topics at hand, even with some unwieldy phrasing and a tendency to cram as many words as possible into a verse.
There’s a progressive lean to most of these songs, even if the manageable song lengths don’t make that apparent. The duo of Mitchell and Ryan Biggs handle all the instrumental work, with Mitchell handling all strings and Biggs on the drums. The two have known each other for decades, and this chemistry from life-long friends is a benefit. The middle portion of Day Terrors does stumble a bit but is held up by the strong front and back ends that make the album viable.
Svarttjern – Shame Is Just a Word (Soulseller)
Hateful, misanthropic and aggressive. This has been the usual approach with Svarttjern‘s music, ever since they released their outstanding debut album Misanthropic Path of Madness in 2009. Eleven years later, the Norwegian quintet are back with their fifth studio album Shame is Just a Word. It is another impression of their familiar forms, but with a slight change that has given a new sound to their music.
Throughout their previous albums, Svarttjern followed the usual musical aspects of Norwegian black metal. But on Shame is Just a Word they use thrashy guitar riffs and traditional, simple compositions more than ever. They’ve even covered Exodus’ most well-known song “Bonded by Blood.” Shame is Just a Word doesn’t have anything extraordinary in it. At times it doesn’t surprise the listener, but in other occasions it does the job right. So for those who have eagerly followed Svarttjern so far, Shame is Just a Word will be a delight.
Victorius – Space Ninjas From Hell (Napalm)
The German power metal band Victorius have been around for 15 years or so, with Space Ninjas From Hell their fifth full-length. It tells tales of ninjas, dragongods and wizards. It’s as cheesy as you’d expect, but is a fun musical ride.
The songs are bombastic, with heavy guitars in the DragonForce mold. Tracks like “Ninjas Unite” and “Nippon Knights” add backing choruses and atmosphere along with searing guitar solos for more complex arrangements. Spoken word parts like the intro of “Wasabi Warmachine” and the entire closer “Shinobi Strike 3000” are corny, but the songs are so catchy you don’t mind. Behold the power of cheese!
Wormhole – The Weakest Among Us (Lacerated Enemy)
Wormhole take what could be ordinary brutal death metal on The Weakest Among Us and spin it with an emphasis on the more technical side of the spectrum. There are enough slamming grooves and incomprehensible vocal bellows to placate those who only care about how ruthless the music is, while space is given for superb solo work from every instrument. They aren’t the first band to use this combination, but they are one of the few contemporary groups to do it so well.
The Weakest Among Us is a tightly crafted experience, akin to their debut, as the album doesn’t reach the 30-minute mark by its end. With a sound that keeps the pace at an elevated level, it’s to the band’s advantage that they don’t try to pad this material more than it needs to be.