This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include ASG, Barren Altar, Battleroar, Begat The Nephilim, Bloodbark, Charlie Looker, Dead Girls Academy, Diamante, Down Among The Dead Men, Here Lies Man, Lizzy Borden, Madball, Orange Goblin, Saxon and Tremonti.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
ASG – Survive Sunrise (Relapse)
ASG continue the streak that’s made them a heavy rock curio since the early oughts. Survive Sunrise is a Frankensteined mish-mash of sludge punk (a la Black Tusk) and desert rock (Kyuss), dotted with occasional screaming fits and shred-fests reminiscent of Midwest ’90s hardcore or old Bay Area thrash.
The opener is probably the album’s catchiest, most familiar number. “Up From My Dreams” may be the heaviest thing ASG’s ever written. Closer “Florida Sleep On” fuses galloping punk with Southern rock melody to a pleasing effect. And ultimately, all of this is just okay. Fun as it may be, and pleasing as it is that ASG is a part of the more eclectic end of Relapse’s roster, Survive Sunrise, much like last LP Blood Drive, fails to capture the intensity, groove and memorability of their classics, Win Us Over and Feeling Good is Good Enough.
On their Bandcamp page, Barren Altar offer this synopsis of their debut full-length, Entrenched In The Faults of the Earth: “A metaphysical plea for the voluntary end of all human life, pressed to plastic, and added to the ever-growing dumpster fire that is the modern world.” Not exactly the soundtrack for those quiet summer beach days, is it?
Then again, if pissing off everyone within earshot is a goal this summer, then this album will do it. It’s got the melancholy pull of funeral doom (the guitar harmonies on “The Great Awakening of Death” are marvelous) with the hateful venom of black metal. A melodic purpose squeezes its way into a few intros, a form of dynamics that would be pleasant if not for the cacophony surrounding it.
Battleroar – Codex Epicus (Cruz Del Sur)
The veteran Greek power metal band Battleroar have had some turnover since their last release four years ago. New to the band are guitarist Michael Kontogiorgis and drummer Gregory Vlachos for their fifth album Codex Epicus.
Having the word “epic” in the title is appropriate, as they create songs that are lengthy and ambitious with themes of battles and heroics. There’s a guest appearance from Manilla Road’s Mark Shelton on “Sword Of The Flame,” and his vocal style is a contrast to Gerrit Mutz, adding some variety. The album closes with a new version of “Stronghold,” originally done for last year’s split with Omen. The power metal field is a crowded one, and though Battleroar are solid, this album will please fans but doesn’t have enough memorable songs to cut through the clutter.
Begat the Nephilim – Begat the Nephilim I (Unholy Anarchy)
Begat the Nephilim have a flair for the cinematic on their debut album, Begat the Nephilim I: The Surreptitious Prophecy/Mother of the Blasphemy. That grandiose album title is a precursor to the rousing spectacle the group stirs up, a symphonic scope against the backdrop of blackened wrath. Both elements coexist, though unafraid to spar in a competition to see which one is more dominant.
However, neither is really the dominant gene in Begat the Nephilim’s DNA. One does not work without the other; their relationship is dependent on each enhancing what the other is trying to accomplish. The keyboards supplement the vile vocals in a way that wouldn’t have been as effective if the band approached the album from a typical melodic death/black metal stance.
Bloodbark – Bonebranches (Northern Silence)
This music of Russia’s Bloodbark is very epic and has a flair to it that is welcome and unique and this is shown on Bonebranches, their full length debut. It makes for a grand sound background that is close to Panopticon’s overall although it lacks a little in the folk department. They are similarly epic in scope, however. Also, the band shows similar dynamics to that outfit and has a great deal of mood shifts in their music. Their sound is very much based on mood and the riffs are enormous and encompass the atmosphere of the band nicely.
However, there isn’t enough here to separate Bloodbark completely from their peers. The songs are long, but one wishes the band would change the experience as they use riffs many times over. Still, the music is very exciting and original and shows a great deal of charisma. There is so much emotion poured into the music that you can’t help but be caught up in the whole thing. This is a very solid album that stops slightly short of being a great one, but is yet very worthy overall.
Charlie Looker – Simple Answers (Last Things)
With a 17-piece chamber orchestra, choral vocals, and a head full of obtuse ideas at his disposal, Psalm Zero vocalist Charlie Looker subverts whatever expectations one familiar with his past work would expect from his solo album. Simple Answers is a oxymoron, as Looker provides no simple answers either in the fragmented lyrics or the unorthodox music.
The orchestra is not here and gone in one track, but a mainstay that Looker engages with to drive many of the songs. They even get space solely to themselves, like on the gloomy “Speak Until Death Comes” and “What Dawn is This?”, the latter of which is divided into an overture and a “return” that acts as a reprise. The orchestra is unable to hide the bleak electronics and jagged vocals that put us in an unappealing light.
Dead Girls Academy – Alchemy (Victory)
Few of us get a chance. We work at what pays, rarely at what we love. Michael Orlando got his chance, and in the second it takes a bus accident to take a life, his chance was gone. Almost. It’s one thing to get a second chance at the thing we love, its another more important thing to get a second chance at life. Michael Orlando got both. From dead on the surgeon’s table to live on the stage, Orlando reconstructed his body, his life and his passion to rock.
However, Dead Girls Academy would not exist without Ronnie Radke (Falling In Reverse) who helped give Orlando a second chance to sing and leave behind his Vampires Everywhere days. Tyler Smith and Elvis Baskette round out the roster. Alchemy was born, a album of second chances. On the harsh end of rock/pop and the north side of metalcore, it’s a 40-minute binge of YouTube video and million-click anthems. There’s subtlety only in the lyrics, but the music and the melody plow the same territory as Alchemy”s first volley, “I’ll Find a Way.” The second single “No Way Out” goes the same route. After his brush with death, Orlando is able to breathe life into his music, making the most of his second chance.
Diamante – Coming In Hot (Better Noise/Eleven Seven)
Originally from Boston, Diamante started her singing career in musical theater before relocating to L.A. as a teenager and discovering rock. Her gigs on the Sunset Strip caught the attention of record labels, and worked with superproducer Howard Benson (Halestorm, Three Days Grace, Theory Of A Deadman) on her debut album Coming In Hot.
She’s inspired by classic rockers like Joan Jett and Pat Benatar, but Diamante’s sound is modern. The tracks on the album are slick hard rock with both melody and punch, ready made for rock radio. She pays homage to her roots with a cover of Heart’s “Crazy On You,” putting her own spin on a classic. She has a powerful and versatile voice along with ample charisma. There’s some filler in the album’s 14 tracks, but enough potential hits to make for a successful debut that rock and hard rock fans will be able to embrace.
Down Among The Dead Men – …And You Will Obey Me (Transcending Obscurity)
…And You Will Obey Me is the third album from the death metal troupe Down Among The Dead Men, whose lineup includes guitarist Rogga Johansson (Paganizer, Megascavenger and dozens more) and vocalist Dave Ingram (ex-Bolt Thrower, Ursinne), who are also in Echelon together.
The songs on the album gallop along at a rapid pace with catchy riffs and crust influences. Ingram’s vocals are mainly death metal growls, but breaks out some melodic singing such as on the chorus of the title track. It works in small doses, making for some catchy moments. There’s not a lot of variety, but periodic slowdowns on songs like “Eye Of Harmony” help. And with the 10 songs blazing by in 30 minutes and a plethora of good guitar work, that’s not a huge issue.
Here Lies Man – You Will Know Nothing (RidingEasy)
You Will Know Nothing is Here Lies Man’s second album. The band is an offshoot of the Afrobeat group Antibalas, where the band gets to explore a slightly heavier angle. Essentially, Here Lies Man try to meld Black Sabbath riffs with Afrobeat and world music rhythms.
The first and easiest comparison here is the Swedish experimental group Goat. You Will Know Nothing floods our speakers with thick riffs backed by catchy rhythms and simple choruses. Production gives the music a patina-like sheen. Each song ends with a clave (an African rhythmic structure that slows the tempo down), which is interesting but doing so 11 times becomes gimmicky. Nevertheless, You Will Know Nothing is an interesting and fun record.
Lizzy Borden – My Midnight Things (Metal Blade)
Lizzy Borden‘s My Midnight Things is a perfect mix of hard and pretty. The theme at least from a musician’s standpoint, is layering. Vocals are tiered in awesome harmony, and overlays on top of that often occur with melodic lead guitar parts that are memorable.
Some of the songwriting sounds similar between tracks, but standout cuts are “My Midnight Things” and “Long May They Haunt Us,” both coming off strong and anthem-like. The best song on the record is “The Scar Across My Heart,” seeming to encapsulate everything Lizzy Borden does exceptionally well, with startling hooks and the most complex guitar tapestry. “Run Away With Me” could be a radio hit, and fans will be pleased.
Madball – For The Cause (Nuclear Blast)
For a quarter century, NYC hardcore legends Madball have been fighting for causes they believe in, and that spark has not dimmed in the slightest, which is evident on their ninth full-length, For The Cause. It sees the return of guitarist Matt Henderson, who hadn’t appeared on an album since 2000.
Thick grooves, catchy melodies and passionate lyrics from Freddy Cricien have always been the hallmarks of Madball albums, and that’s the case here. There are numerous guest appearances including Ice-T on “Evil Ways” and Rancid’s Tim Armstrong on “The Fog.” Armstrong also produces the album, which was mixed by Tue Madsen. Madball aren’t reinventing the wheel on this album, delivering their trademark sound with some new twists to keep things interesting. Their legion of longtime fans will embrace this, and they still have the energy and relevance to appeal to the new generation of hardcore kids.
Orange Goblin – The Wolf Bites Back (Candlelight/Spinefarm)
British stoners Orange Goblin have been around for more than 20 years, and all four current members have been there since the beginning. That chemistry and cohesion is on full display with The Wolf Bites Back, their ninth studio album.
The opener “Sons Of Salem” is one of the album’s catchiest with driving riffs and a singalong chorus. They change things up with the title track, an acoustic beginning gathering momentum and electric mode eventually kicking in. “Swords Of Fire” begins as a doomy instrumental with vocals eventually taking over and the tempo increasing. There’s a lot of variety throughout in everything from guitar tone to tempo. It’s an album that grabs your attention from the opening note and doesn’t relinquish control until the end.
Saxon – Denim and Leather, Power And The Glory and Crusader (BMG)
Earlier this year Saxon reissued their first three albums (Saxon, Wheels Of Steel and Strong Arm Of The Law, and now their fourth through sixth albums are being re-released. In addition to the original albums, 1981’s Denim and Leather, 1983’s Power And The Glory and 1984’s Crusader reissues have bonus tracks and hardbound packaging with additional photos and liner notes.
These three albums are not as strong as Saxon’s first three, with Denim and Leather the best of these reissues. The bonus tracks are the b-sides of the “Never Surrender” single and seven live tracks recorded in 1981. Power And The Glory is the one completists will want since it includes demos and two previously unreleased tracks. Crusader has similar bonus tracks. The packaging is nice on these reissues, and if you don’t have the originals are well worth picking up. The bonus tracks will motivate serious fans to buy them as well. The next batch of Saxon reissues (Innocence Is No Excuse, Rock The Nations and Destiny) are coming in late July.
Tremonti – A Dying Machine (Napalm)
Already known as an outstanding guitar player, Mark Tremonti (Alter Bridge, Creed) has shown he can also sing with his Tremonti project that also includes Eric Friedman (Projected) and Garrett Whitlock. For their fourth album A Dying Machine, they decided to do a concept album, with Tremonti co-writing an accompanying novel.
Like their other records, this one was produced by Elvis Baskette and is slick, melodic hard rock/metal. There are focused, radio-friendly tracks such as “Take You With Me” and “The Day When Legions Burned.” Others are more dynamic, complex and lengthy, like the title track and “As The Silence Becomes Me.” At just over an hour, this album is considerably longer than their previous releases, but the songs are memorable and cohesive enough to pull it off.