This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Aerial Ruin, Ahab, Bell Witch, Carach Angren, Dismalimerence, Exocrine, Falconer, Fellwarden, Feuerschwanz, Fleshvessel, Grey Daze, Inexorcum, Mantar, Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins, Ofermod, Pale Divine, Pyrrhon, The Rite, Stygian Crown, Thecodontion and VoidCeremony.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Ahab – Live Prey (Napalm)
Ahab, Germany’s funeral doom metal quartet, who are also known as nautical funeral doom are one of those bands that have done no wrong in their career. With lyrics that are generally based on the stories and literary characters of the oceans, they have made a marvelous impact on making concept albums. To celebrate their groundbreaking debut album The Call of the Wretched Sea, Ahab performed some of the chosen songs for their first ever live album, Live Prey.
Live Prey features the deep atmosphere of Ahab’s music as heard on the album. The band does not try to improvise, and the narration of the album The Call of the Wretched Sea is heard in the same way in Live Prey. However, performing live on stage has given the songs a tremendous depth. The low sound of the audience is one of the interesting features of the album, as they appear to have boarded a broken ship with the band members. With a flawless and epic performance, Ahab give The Call of the Wretched Sea a new spirit.
Bell Witch and Aerial Ruin – Stygian Bough Volume 1 (Profound Lore)
Possibly the most intriguing release this week is this collaboration between doom duo Bell Witch and Aerial Ruin, a one-man folk outfit. Stygian Bough Volume 1 seems to promise future efforts as well, and the songs presented here certainly make a good case for additional work. I am unfamiliar with Aerial Ruin, but of course Bell Witch released the monolithic 83-minute opus Mirror Reaper three years ago.
Here on Stygian Bough, we are treated to comparatively succinct material. The five songs total 65 minutes, and range in length from four to nineteen minutes. The music is almost hymnal at times, yet still heavy at others, and as always patience is required. Each track here plumbs depths of deliberate emotion that make repeated listens not only essential but enjoyable. This collaboration is an excellent folk-doom album, just as we would hope.
Carach Angren – Franckensteina Strataemontanus (Season Of Mist)
Franckensteina Strataemontanus is the sixth full-length from the Dutch symphonic black metal band Carach Angren. They tell the story of Conrad Dippel, purportedly the inspiration for the classic Frankenstein tale by Mary Shelley.
Carach Angren’s brand of black metal is cinematic and theatrical, soaked in symphonic atmosphere and punctuated by narration and spoken word. Seregor is a versatile vocalist, shifting between various harsh deliveries along with some melodic moments on tracks like “Sewn For Solitude.” High points include “The Necromancer,” which is dramatic and intense along with being surprisingly catchy. Tracks like “Operation Compass” and “Der Vampir von Nurnberg” are more expansive and given more time to develop. It’s well-rounded and compelling both musically and lyrically.
Dismalimerence – Tome: 1 (Transcending)
Though Dismalimerence are releasing Tome: 1 in 2020, the origins of the band’s first album go back almost a decade. Vocalist/guitarist Elijah Cirricione started and stopped writing this for years until it was properly recorded in 2018 and 2019. Cirricione wrote this material at a rough point in his life, and whatever pain he was going through seems palpable in the group’s atmospheric black metal.
These songs have a melodic sensibility, using cleaner tones and keyboards to provide a glimpse of something far less brutal. Their usage is a bit uneven, like the sudden acoustic guitar interlude on “Sequestered Hearts,” but hits the right mark on a song like “Vale Amor,” where half of its eight-minute running time is instrumental serenity. Tome: 1 promises more than it delivers yet has enough positive attributes to avoid being a miss.
Exocrine – Maelstrom (Unique Leader)
France’s Exocrine have created a truly interesting technical death metal display on their fourth full-length release Maelstrom. It is fairly similar in style to the likes of Hour of Penance and Hate Eternal. The music is very complex and intricate and features a nice variety of instrumentation. It is also brutal and this makes it even more powerful. They are overly technical at times and this can lead to some messy songwriting.
The album counters this with a well-produced punch that makes it undeniably potent. While the band could be a bit tighter, they are reasonably structured and make for an entertaining experience throughout. Fans of bands that play brutal and technical death metal will find a lot to like here and will determine this to be a fun album. Though it goes a little overboard at times, I have no problems recommending this solid piece of technical death metal. It will be interesting to see how they progress in the future and introduce new elements to their sound.
Falconer – From A Dying Ember (Metal Blade)
Long running Swedish folk/power metal collective Falconer are back with From A Dying Ember, their first new material in six years and ninth album overall. Appreciation of their folk storytelling approach will pull you in on tracks like “Desert Dreams” and the excellent vocals of Mathias Blad will make you stay.
“Redeem and Repent” features medieval strings to intersperse with the double bass pedal and high-flying guitar harmonics. Falconer are much more than a power metal band and that is one aspect that they don’t learn terribly hard on, instead relying on excellent song structure and folklore. If you need a fix from the genre, Falconer are one of the most solid bands around.
Fellwarden – Wreathed In Mourncloud (Eisenwald)
The UK atmospheric black metal duo Fellwarden emerged with their debut in 2017. Vocalist/guitarist/bassist/keyboardist The Watcher (Fen) and drummer Havenless are back with Wreathed On Mourncloud, another album inspired by the fells of northwestern England.
Each track is meticulously crafted with ebbs and flows of harsh black metal and mellow atmospherics. The lengthy tracks with several in the 10 to 12 minute range tend to start out in a quieter mode with extremity rearing its head as the songs progress. The exception is “Scalfell’s Blight,” which begins with intense black metal before easing up about halfway through and picking up steam towards the end. It’s an album of contrasts: darkness and light, chaos and tranquility, beauty and ugliness.
Feuerschwanz – Das Elfte Gebot (Napalm)
Considering their Germanic war apparel has always alluded to something heavier, it’s no surprise that Feuerschwanz, on their latest effort Das Elfte Gebot, march further into their newfound cohesion of their folk-rock roots with the Herculean cinematics of power metal. Established on 2018’s Methammer, the band’s blend of fiddles and pipes with righteous riffs and colossal chorus harmonies is nothing but endearing. It may not result in the most divergent of track lists, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a dud amongst all the fanfare.
It’s a 40-minute, 11-track, banger-to-banger set with “Metfest” and the title track providing singalongs while “Mission Ekalation” and “Im Bauch des Wals” allow the folk roots to grow for some hearty, wholesome rhythmic jams. Either side of the soundscape is a wondrous place to be. It is true that Das Elfte Gebot may lean on the occasional power metal cliche and fall foul to the odd ambiguous melody, but Feuerschwanz’s tongue-in-cheek attitude anchors their ninth album in what this band has and always should be about; fun.
Fleshvessel – Bile Of Man Reborn (I, Voidhanger)
Fleshvessel’s first EP, Bile Of Man Reborn, is a heck of an undertaking for a new band. A single track spanning almost 25 minutes, there’s no shortage of initiative taken with the band’s angular version of progressive/experimental death metal. The song is split into three chapters, utilizing classical accompaniment and prog-influenced keyboard and piano work on top of the impenetrable mayhem. It spans a multitude of emotional responses without coming off as scattershot.
To describe every turn the music takes would be a disservice to the group’s vision. Suffice to say, one playthrough is not enough to ascertain how rich this EP is. There are minutes where all one can do is sit back and just take it all in with muted breath. Asking a new listener to the band to engage in a track this long is a big ask, yet Fleshvessel makes the ask a rewarding prospect with Bile Of Man Reborn.
Grey Daze – Amends (Loma Vista)
Before he was in Linkin Park, Chester Bennington got his start in the Phoenix-based band Grey Daze. They released a couple of albums and had local success, but never made much of a splash nationally. Prior to his death, Bennington announced Grey Daze would reunite and re-record some of the songs from their youth. After Bennington’s passing, the rest of the band did re-record the music for 11 songs to accompany Bennington’s original vocals.
Many other artists participated, including Chester’s son Jaime and members of Korn, Helmet, P.O.D. and others. The songs on Amends are alternative rock, and a teenaged Bennington’s vocals were powerful and emotional. If some of these songs would have received national exposure back in the day, they may have been rock radio hits. It would have been interesting to include some of the original ’90s era versions to hear the difference, but the 2020 editions of these songs show a then unknown Bennington’s talent and potential, and give fans a chance to hear his voice again.
Inexorum – Moonlit Navigation (Gilead)
Inexorum made a great impression with their melodic black metal on 2018’s Lore Of The Lakes, a feat they repeat with Moonlit Navigation. There isn’t a giant step made between the two albums, as the pair that makes up Inexorum use these eight songs to finesse their sound further. The “melodic” side has been given the most substantial upgrade, with tuneful guitar leads and scattered singing showing growth in that department.
Though not given as much new-found attention, the group still hones into the hypnotic nature of black metal on this album. The blurring of riffs on “The Breaking Point” and “In Desperate Times” gets to be an intoxicating experience, which is broken up in the former by alluring keys and guest vocals from Sarah Roddy. What Moonlit Navigation lacks in revelatory moments, it succeeds in fine-tuning an already solid sonic base.
Mantar – Grunge Hooligans II (Brutal Panda)
Two years after their last studio album, the German sludge duo Mantar pay homage to some of their influences on the covers EP Grungetown Hooligans II. They journey back to the ’90s and cover grunge, noise, alt rock and Riot Grrrl songs.
There are two L7 tracks (“The Bomb” and “Can I Run”) along with songs done originally by Mazzy Star, Babes In Toyland and 7 Year Bitch. Not all of the songs were done originally by female artists. Mantar also tackle The Jesus Lizard, Sonic Youth and Mudhoney. They avoid the karaoke trap and give the songs their own spin while still remaining relatively faithful to the originals. While certainly not essential, it’s a nice trip back to the ’90s.
Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins – Whore Of Babylon (Silver Lining)
Being in multiple bands is commons these days, but Mike LePond (Symphony X, Death Dealer, Stygia, etc.) takes it to Rogga Johansson and Mike Portnoy levels with a massive Metal Archives entry. Whore Of Babylon is the third album from Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins, whose lineup also includes vocalist Alan Tecchio (Watchtower, Hades) and guitarist Lance Barnewold.
The album is traditional/power metal with soaring melodies, crunchy guitars and songs about some of history’s most interesting figures. LePond’s trademark bass is front and center on rocking tracks like “Tell Tale Heart” while songs like the acoustic-tinged “Night Of The Long Knives” and “Champion” with vocals and flute from Sarah Teets (MindMaze) add variety. Tecchio’s voice has plenty of range and power and he can croon or sing with an edge with equal aplomb. It’s a bit melodramatic at times, but the songs are rock solid.
Ofermod – Pentagrammaton (Shadow)
Pentagrammaton was recorded 15 years ago by the Swedish orthodox black metal group Ofermod, but main member Belfagor went to prison and it never saw the light of day (as if there is any light to be found in their music.) Instead, they released their debut full length Tiamatu in 2008. Now, thanks to Shadow Records, the group is releasing the album as a two-disc vinyl with the original version and the remixed/remastered version.
Pentagrammaton is musically in line with Swedish bands like Dissection, Marduk and Watain. The drum beats are fast with a lot of kick drums and interesting cymbal play. The guitar riffs vary from speedy tremolos to medium tempos with sliding notes such as heard on the revisited version of “Tiamatu.” The vocals on “A Likeness to Yah” range from tortured cries to mental ward cleans voices. Those who keep the candle of classic Swedish black metal burning should take sadistic pleasure in Pentagrammaton.
Pale Divine – Consequence of Time (Cruz Del Sur)
After a quarter-century together, epic metallers Pale Divine return with their sixth album, Consequence of Time. The eight songs clock in at a succinct 43 minutes, and showcase a talented and many-faceted band that has now added an extra dimension: Dana Ortt joins the band, contributing on guitar as well as providing an intriguing second lead vocal.
The songs on Consequence of Time range from epic (the title track) to doom (“Phantasmagoria”) and everything in between. Pale Divine’s songwriting and musicianship is top-notch, and the dual vocals of Greg Diener and Ortt are excellent. Oddly sterile, DIY production and some of the inexplicably weakest drum sounds of the year are all that hold this album back from the upper echelons of greatness.
Pyrrhon – Abscess Time (Willowtip)
NYC based extreme entity Pyrrhon are here to remind you that everything is far from OK. Harsh noise abounds from the outset of the title track, feeling like The Jesus Lizard, Swans and death metal all within the same breath. This follow-up to their critically acclaimed 2017 release What Passes For Survival shows a further evolution in the band’s overall sound, moving more and more away from the traditional song structures of their previous death metal endeavors. Even the voice samples of ignorance seem more poignant in times of people’s unwavering biases towards information, all encapsulated within this violent vessel.
Doug Moore’s vocals set the stage with varying different effects on display as guitarist Dylan DiLella does his best to keep up within each odd time signature. This cohesive effort is hard to break down into components, since this needs to be experienced in full; though “Another Day In Paradise” is a great encapsulating effort on its own. Tough to find many bands in the genre who are willing to take these risks and see it pay off so massively. One of the best and bizarre death metal albums of 2020.
The Rite – Liturgy Of The Black (Iron Bonehead)
International metallers The Rite turn heads on their full-length debut Liturgy Of The Black. The cover art and song titles point to black metal mayhem, but The Rite resemble a force closer to death/doom metal with gravelly, guttural vocals. The riffs are monstrous on this opus and it’s a sneakily great record with outstanding, demonstrative demonic anthems.
“Children Of Belial” is among the best works with unrelenting speed akin to Necrophobic and then slows down to a demonic riff to elevate the chorus. “Famadihana” follows a similar pattern as this Danish / Italian horde meticulously crafted these songs and flawlessly manipulated the riff and tempo transitions. The Rite chew on those Candlemass type riffs to bridge a verse while also summoning atmosphere in “Necromancy.” Liturgy Of The Black is diabolical, methodical and a stunning sound of blackened doom metal. Don’t let this one slip through the cracks.
Stygian Crown – Stygian Crown (Cruz Del Sur)
Stygian Crown consist of veteran members of the Los Angeles metal scene. Drummer Rhett Davis formerly played in the legendary death/doom band Morgion and Keen of the Crow. With Stygian Crown, he brings in mates from the thrash/death/black hybrid, Gravehill. Stygian Crown’s self-titled debut is a mix of churning, mid-pace death metal instrumentation and epic doom metal. Classically trained Melissa Pinion voices those epic qualities.
Pinion’s singing is exceptionally strong. She has an impeccable ability to hold and project a note. Her keys add mystique to their ancient mythological themes. Davis’s drums are loud but don’t over power the mix. He’s a master of timing and precise fills. Nelson Miranda and Andy Hicks create rumbling, ringing chords and darkly melodic solos. Their clean tones mesh well with Jason Thomas’s bass on “Through Divine Rite.” Solid in all areas, Stygian Crown is a stand out doom album that should appeal to fans of Candlemass and Morgion.
Thecodontion – Supercontinent (I, Voidhanger)
For their debut album Supercontinent, Thecodontion travel back quite a ways—hundreds of millions of years, to be precise—to the time when Earth was just an unstable land mass. This is the starting point of the band’s trip through multiple eras, including Paleoproterozoic and Paleozoic. It’s evident that significant research was put into the lyrics, as this sort of topic is unusual in black or death metal and makes Supercontinent unique in that regard.
The music takes on a schizoid overtone with its compositions, as guest drummer V.P. (SVNTH, formerly known as Seventh Genocide) utilizes wild fills along with his blast beats. As there is no guitar player in the band, bassist G.D. takes on the lion’s share of work. His bass acts as both rhythm and lead, and his soloing is quite impressive. With a fresh subject matter and lack of typical instrumentation, Thecodontion has created a well-rounded record in Supercontinent.
VoidCeremony – Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel (20 Buck Spin)
On Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel, VoidCeremony’s first full-length album, the group brought in Damon Good (Mournful Congregation, StarGazer, Cauldron Black Ram) to perform fretless bass guitar on all tracks. This calculated move is a main high point of this album, as his warm tones and technical leads elevate the progressive mannerisms of the band’s snarling death metal.
VoidCeremony seek solace in bands like Atheist and mid-to-late 1990s Death when drawing inspiration for their music. For the most part, they keep these twisty compositions in a comfortable four-to-five minute range. The lone exception is “Empty, Grand Majesty (Cyclical Descent of Causality),” which overstays its presence as it creeps close to 10 minutes. The group’s far-reaching execution works better in shorter bursts, which most of the album delivers.