This week’s Heavy Music HQ album reviews include releases from The Agony Scene, Black Elephant, Blacklab, Cemetery Lust, Cryonic Temple, Daggra, Epica, Extremity, Finnr’s Cane, God Alone, Jungle Rot, Khanus, Khorada, Mutilation Rites, Powerwolf and Sandrider.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
The Agony Scene – Tormentor (Outerloop/Cooking Vinyl)
Of all the bands that made waves in the 2001-2005(ish) U.S. metalcore craze, The Agony Scene were one of the most regrettably unappreciated. Following 2007’s Get Damned, they disintegrated. Now they return with Tormentor, a brilliant record that easily outshines their past output. Two main features put Tormentor head and shoulders above the band’s previous work.
First, there’s songwriting maturity. These tracks truly boast the best the subgenre’s ever offered; they’re immediately catchy, but songs like “Hand of The Divine” and “The Submissive” are dense and complex enough for rewarding repeat listens. Second, there’s the increased melodic death metal influence. While The Agony Scene have never shied away from the guiding hand of their spiritual Swedish forebears, songs like “Like the Weeds in the Field” and “Mechanical Breath” take Carcass/At The Gates (and a bit of Dismember) worship to a new level that’s both familiar and refreshing. This is grown folks’ metalcore. If it wasn’t your bag the first time around, try it now. Even if you’re not totally sold, you’ll definitely be pleasantly surprised.
Black Elephant – Cosmic Blues (Small Stone)
This is a bit unexpected: from a country more readily known for symphonic and power metal, we get some Clutch-like stoner rock in the form of Italy’s Black Elephant. Cosmic Blues is the band’s third album, and while the 34-minute length seems short, the band packs a fair bit of wallop into these seven songs.
Loaded with riffs, drenched in delay, with wah pedal solos aplenty and copious use of the panning knobs, Cosmic Blues is stoner metal the way it was meant to be played. Alessio Caravelli is the star of the show, with his Clutch-influenced lead vocals and steaming lead guitar work. Black Elephant may just be the surprise of July.
Blacklab – Under The Strawberry Moon 2.0 (New Heavy Sounds)
Blacklab are a doom metal duo from Osaka, Japan. Yuko Morino handles vocal and guitar duties while Chia Shiraishi is the drummer. Under The Strawberry Moon 2.0 consists of their album that was originally released in Japan plus some new songs.
They play thick doom with crushing riffs, but lose the fuzz periodically and incorporate clean guitar parts alongside the Sabbathian sections on tracks like “Spoon” and “Warm Death.” The vocals are sometimes soothing and melodic, other times harsh and dissonant. The album wraps up with “Big Muff,” nearly 10 minutes of fuzz without drums. That track is way too long, but the rest of the record is a solid slab of stoner/doom.
Cemetery Lust – Rotting In Piss (Hells Headbangers)
If you are looking for in your face sexually perverse humor and acts of the depraved, look no further than Cemetery Lust, whose prior release Orgies of Abomination was surprisingly good. More of the same occurs on the subtly titled Rotting In Piss, complete with album art equally as enigmatic.
The music plays much like early Kreator, Sodom, and Slayer with subject matter than would make a porn star blush. Song titles like “I Am Trash” play into the joke that Cemetery Lust are all too aware of. I hope you are listening to this album in a dungeon because that seems like the most suitable way to take this one in, by choice or by force. A retro styled dirge that is fun albeit the immediate urge to shower soon thereafter.
Cryonic Temple – Deliverance (Scarlet)
While not as well known as Swedish power metal counterparts such as Sabaton and Astral Doors, Cryonic Temple have been around for more than two decades. Deliverance is their second album in a little over a year, and their sixth overall.
Their brand of power metal is very melodic with plenty of guitar wizardry. Influences of classic bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest give them some bite alongside the grandiose atmosphere and elegant arrangements. It continues the outer space concept of last year’s Into The Glorious Battle. Like that album, it clocks in at more than an hour, and cutting a couple tracks would have made things much more streamlined.
Daggra – Setsuna (HPGD)
Texan trio Daggra deliver nihilistic grind with touches of the abstract on their second full-length record, Setsuna, the final album to feature original vocalist Phillip Acevedo. Released via underground purveyors HPGD., the album consists of 15 tracks that range from 24 seconds to the obligatory marathon closer that runs to a gluttonous 215 seconds, amounting to a 22-minute running time that keeps the raucous content from wearing too thin.
Not too far removed from your slightly more out-there grind acts like Antigama or Noisear, Daggra incorporate unusual hardcore-meets-death metal tendencies that keep things simultaneously heavy, frantic, and, more often than not, interesting. However, the overall result equates to an album that will likely blur into the background as Setsuna’s multitude of ideas, while cogent and violent, leave more bruised skin than broken bone.
Epica – Epica vs. Attack On Titan (Nuclear Blast)
The latest Epica release is a covers EP, but a very different set of songs than is typical for this sort of effort. They cover versions of theme songs from the manga series Attack On Titan, which is apparently very popular. Originally released in Japan, it is now available worldwide.
The songs are typical Epica fare: symphonic metal with choirs and orchestra and the angelic vocals of Simone Simons. The songs are soaring and epic, with periodic growling vocals from Mark Jansen on songs like “Wings Like Freedom” adding some edge. There are four songs along with instrumental versions of each, clocking in at just over 40 minutes. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this release, but it sounds very similar to Epica’s original material, with even more cinematic qualities, especially the Disneyesque ballad “If Inside These Walls Was A House.”
Extremity – Coffin Birth (20 Buck Spin)
Extremity started their career with so many interesting elements in one frame with Extremely Fucking Dead EP just a year ago. It was old school death metal whose artwork was Têtes Coupées, an 1818 gruesome and powerful painting by Théodore Géricault. A year later, Extremity are back with Coffin Birth, a striking follow up.
At first listen it seems nothing major has changed in song structures, but it keeps the spirit of the EP alive with subtle yet clever improvements on songwriting and production. They polish some of the music’s rawness away while it still keeping some filthy sounds. The band pays homage to old school death metal, especially to European death metal veterans such as Grave, Asphyx and Bolt Thrower, which is utterly successful on Coffin Birth. They’ve strongly hit the target, with passion and skill.
Finnr’s Cane – Elegy (Prophecy)
Finnr’s Cane, from my hometown of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, perform a very atmospheric form of black metal. On this their third length Elegy they fully grasp the concepts that make bands like Agalloch such outstanding acts. They go through folky atmospheric sections like there’s no tomorrow and create a nice mood. Songs like the title cut stick out and give a certain feeling because of it. There is a decent amount of variety in the instrumentation to add character to the songs as well, which can be seen in the subtle “Empty City,” for example.
The band has that dreary aspect that makes Agalloch so prominent, but incorporate their own sound to differentiate things. The band still does not quite have the strength to mimick Agalloch or even Falloch and it shows in the somewhat dated riffing the band uses. It’s still enough to make an impact, even if it doesn’t quite live up to the progenitors. Their music is rich and full of life and oozes its atmospheric goodness upon the listener. This is very good stuff, indeed.
God Alone – Bent Shoulders (Rise)
Mike Hranica is the frontman for The Devil Wears Prada, and a couple years ago announced the side project God Alone. The rest of the lineup for Bent Shoulders includes fellow TDWP members Kyle Sipress (guitar) and Giuseppte Capolupo (session drummer) along with bassist Pip Beltz, who is a tech for TDWP.
God Alone’s sound is completely different that The Devil Wears Prada. There are elements of noise rock, alt rock and post punk. Hranica’s vocals are mostly spoken word/singsong instead of harsh screams. There are influences of everything from Jesus Lizard to The Birthday Party to Young Widows. Styles range from the sparse and mellow “Firehouse” with an almost country vibe to the more aggressive but still groovy “Milk Drinkers” to the rocking “David.” It’s diverse and unique, with Hranica getting to explore different musical soundscapes.
Jungle Rot – Jungle Rot (Victory)
You won’t have to look through many reviews before finding Jungle Rot referred to as “meat-and-potatoes death metal.” As lame as cliches are, however, it’s a fitting one. And while the band may not break out of this particular mold on their self-titled tenth LP, if you’re even listening to Jungle Rot, meat and potatoes is what you came for.
Simply put, Jungle Rot is Sarge and the boys’ best effort in years. Numbers like “Stay Dead,” “Pumped Full of Lead,” and opener “Send Forth Oblivion” pay just the right amount of homage to Slayer and Kreator, while “Triggered” and “A Burning Cinder” see the band honing the hardcore-leaning riffage they’ve been incorporating since Dead and Buried. The band’s as tight as they’ve ever been, the riffs lean, and the album’s production is full and punchy. Even if there’s nothing new to see here, sometimes change sucks. Jungle Rot is thrashy OSDM for 2018.
Khanus – Flammarion (I, Voidhanger)
The first song on a band’s debut album is a calling card of sorts, the way into the psyche of a band most haven’t heard of yet. Khanus use this chance to go with an otherworldly cover of Darkthrone’s “The Serpents Harvest,” using female choir vocals as a counterbalance to the rawness of the original song and giving it a whiff of sophistication. It’s not an interpretation Darkthrone fans would expect.
Basing their ideas on mystique and shaman principles gives this Finnish death metal group an original perspective, save for a few clunky lines (“Where the beginning starts/where the end ends/or are they just the same?”). The music has flexibility in its tempos and design, though the band struggles to make the most out of the incorporation of choirs and tribalistic instrumentation.
Khorada – Salt (Prophecy)
Many mourned the end of Agalloch, who split up in 2016 after a two decade run that saw them release several outstanding albums. Just a couple of years later, three quarters of the band (guitarist Don Anderson, bassist Jason Walton and drummer Aesop Dekker) have teamed up with ex-Giant Squid vocalist/guitarist Aaron Gregory to form Khorada. Salt is their debut album.
While the DNA of both Agalloch and Giant Squid are evident, Khorada also blaze their own trail. The lengthy songs give them plenty of room to move between styles, tempos and textures. Tracks like “Seasons Of Salt” are sometimes urgent and aggressive, other times deliberate and reserved. There’s push and pull throughout, with a thread of melancholy keeping it cohesive. Nearly bottomless depth and obvious emotion make it easy to immediately grasp onto, but it takes longer to fully absorb everything Khorada are doing on their engaging debut album.
Mutilation Rites – Chasm (Gilead)
On Chasm, the third album from NYC’s Mutilation Rites, their decrepit nature transfixes on a primitive form of death metal, a different edge than their blackened past. Black metal is still present throughout Chasm, but the group wrangles hooks out of songs like “Post Mortem Obsession” and the title track that could have come from any Florida death metal band circa 1993.
The intense wallop raging through the taut “Axiom Destroyer” is a feature drawn out on the rest of the album, where lenient lengths open up possibilities. Copious amounts of feedback reverberate through “Pierced Larynx,” immediately starting Chasm out with a sullied atmosphere. The momentary deluge of serenity in “Putrid Decomposition” is snuffed out by a ten-minute sprint with a fadeaway ending that projects a band with endless endurance.
Powerwolf – The Sacrament Of Sin (Napalm)
Like Cryonic Temple in Sweden, the German power metal band Powerwolf have been around for a long time, but don’t have as high of a profile as some other bands of that genre from their homeland. The Sacrament Of Sin is their seventh full-length studio album.
It’s a rousing album with many of the typical power metal trappings. It’s dramatic and dynamic, slickly produced and arranged, with memorable melodies and singalong choruses. Attila Dorn has a powerful voice and sings with a lot of conviction. While sometimes crossing the line from dramatic to melodramatic, lines like “Demons Are A Girl’s Best Friend” provide some levity. Powerwolf’s execution is flawless and the songs catchy, and they even deliver their first ever ballad, “Where The Wild Wolves Have Gone.”
Sandrider – Armada (Good To Die)
Seattle’s Sandrider have been around for ten years now, sporadically releasing albums of sludgy, riff-filled stoner metal while at the same time avoiding all pretensions of caring about building a fan base. The schtick does seem to work, as the band continues to gain in popularity right up to Armada, their fourth release.
The ten songs on Armada vary from the unrelenting thunder of “Hollowed” to the driving rock of “Lungs.” At times the incredibly over-enthusiastic vocals can get the better of Sandrider, but if you can tolerate, or buy into, their exuberance, you’ll find an earnest album full of well-written stoner metal awaiting your enjoyment.