This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Bellrope, Black Anvil, Death Is Death, Demon Hunter, Der Weg Einer Freiheit, Devil Master, Eremit, Ewigkeit, In Flames, Mark Morton, Mike Tramp, Pissgrave, Queensryche, Relics Of Humanity, The Riven, Sisters Of Suffocation and Source.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Bellrope – You Must Relax (Exile on Mainstream)
Two basses, a guitar, drums and homicidal screaming constitute the pulsing heaviness of You Must Relax, the full-length debut from German doom horde Bellrope. Given that the quartet includes savvy veterans from defunct drone-dealers Black Shape of Nexus, it’s no surprise that this premiere sounds anything but thanks to its butt-ton of uber-dense riffs and general overall volatility.
While the first track consists of a superfluous, albeit unnerving, noise experiment, the subsequent four are sheer aural immensity that merge doom and sludge with noisy psychedelia, and the fourth tune, ‘TD200,’ the main riffs in that beastie sound like they were cut from some fine nu-metal cloth. Song durations may wear on some, but the thoughtful excavation Bellrope employ to dig up such gargantuan riffs cannot be dismissed. A thundering first record.
Black Anvil – Miles (STB)
This four-song EP from Black Anvil has been in development over the past few years, as the NYC black metal group had wanted to pay respect to former The Devil’s Blood guitarist Selim Lemouchi, who passed away in 2014. They do so with the emotionally-charged “Miles,” a song that would’ve fit on their last album, As Was. To add to the tribute, the band also covers one of The Devil’s Blood’s songs, “Everlasting Saturnalia.”
Though Black Anvil’s sound has progressed over the years with more emphasis on melody, they can still rage out with lustful abandon, which is what opener “Iron Sharpens Iron” does perfectly. They close Miles out with a faithful rendition of Mercyful Fate’s “A Corpse Without Soul,” complete with imitation King Diamond falsettos.
Death is Death – Death Wears Suit (Concorde)
A band named Death is Death, using the word death in their album title and every single song title: that’s the punchline of this punchless debut album from a band that spent more time crafting song titles than writing memorable thrash metal. The group recorded Death Wears Suit in a single weekend, which after hearing it makes one wish they would’ve spent a few more weekends on it.
This album has all the hallmarks of thrash, including gang vocals and guitar shredding, but little of it lands its desired effect. There are brief high points, like the prominent bass guitar that gets several lead spots, but they can’t distract from how generic Death Wears Suit turns out to be.
Demon Hunter – War (Solid State)
Demon Hunter are releasing two separate albums on the same day. War is the harder edged release, Peace the more melodic effort. It’s an ambitious and probably commercially unwise decision to release two albums simultaneously instead of waiting a few months in between.
Though War is the heavier release, there is plenty of melody to be heard as well. It’s more in the vein of previous Demon Hunter releases, metalcore with hard rock, groove and alt metal influences. Tracks like “Close Enough” find frontman Ryan Clark utilizing both harsh vocals and melodic singing. Even the heaviest songs like “Unbound” and “The Negative” provide a lot of catchy moments.
Demon Hunter – Peace (Solid State)
Peace is the more accessible of the two albums, as Demon Hunter push into different musical territories. It’s certainly the more diverse of the pair, with styles ranging from mainstream rock on “Loneliness” to the twangy and acoustic flavored “When The Devil Comes” to the industrial tinged “Recuse Myself” to the gentle piano ballad closer “Fear Is Not My Guide.”
With the vocals being almost exclusively melodic singing, this album has the greater potential to reach beyond the band’s existing fan base and reach the mainstream rock masses. Is Peace the way the band is heading, or will it be a one-off? Demon Hunter could have created one really strong album with the best 10 or 12 songs, but in issuing two separate albums with a total of 20 tracks, chose to share the full fruits of their labor and a more expansive (and expensive) musical palette.
Der Weg Einer Freiheit – Live In Berlin (Season Of Mist)
After four full-length studio albums, the German black metal band Der Weg Einer Freiheit are unleashing their first live effort, Live In Berlin. The album was recorded in late 2017 as they toured in support of Finesterre.
Der Weg Einer Freiheit write long songs, so even through there are only 10 tracks in their setlist, the show lasts nearly 80 minutes. It’s a nice balance of material that takes at least two songs from each album. From the bludgeoning “Litchtmensch” to the epic “Zeichen,” the band’s musicianship is impressive as the songs flow very smoothly. It’s a chance for fans in places like North America that may not have had the opportunity to see them live to experience how potent they are in concert.
Devil Master – Satan Spits on Children of Light (Relapse)
Inspired by the first wave of black metal, Devil Master offer tidings and sonic sacrifices to the underworld on Satan Spits on Children of Light. The blasphemous stench emanating through the album title alone is enough to scare the saints away. They are punks at heart, if those punks got into the dark arts and cast some spells under a blood-stained pentagram.
Their music has that sense of sloppy danger a band like Venom once had, though their performance chops are less raw than that group. There are some stellar guitar solos on this album, and the piano intro/outro that bookend all give off an occult-ish sensation. There’s a long lineage of this black metal/punk combo dating back before the members of Devil Master were even born, but they still make their evil intentions legitimately terrifying.
Eremit – Carrier of Weight (Transcending Obscurity)
Carrier of Weight is the debut album from German doom trio Eremit. The band takes the long form doom stylings of Bell Witch (and even their album artist, who created the awesome cover art here) and amps up the sludge component on all three of these tracks. Three tracks, that’s it? Yes it is, when they range in length from 11 to 33 minutes.
Eremit’s intention here is to bludgeon us into obeisance with monolithic, sledgehammer-like riffs and poignant emotion. For the most part they succeed, although refinements in songwriting, arrangements and performances will hopefully result in a stellar follow-up, as these songs can outlive their welcome. Carrier of Weight is a solid debut, though, one that fans of doom and sludge should check out.
Ewigkeit – DISClose (Death To Music)
DISClose marks a quarter-century of releases by experimental/black metal outfit Ewigkeit. In that time, James Fogarty, a.k.a. Mr. Fog, played every note and sang/screamed every lyric. Past albums delved into space or conspiracies. Fog is a truth seeker and DISClose refers to governments hiding the truth about aliens.
While the keys provide a celestial backdrop, Fog’s guitars are of the heavy groove variety. Some of the riffs have a stoner/doom, psychedelic vibe. The album is not one big scrape on the pavement, though; as the guitars melt melodically during his switch to clean vocals. The microphone effects/layering of his voice results in spacey/forlorn voices. The duality of his clean/harsh voice sets the tone between bliss and torment. The blackened doom section on “Resonance” is a great example of switching polarity. Ewigkeit’s mix of rich melody, heavy groove and cosmic orchestration on DISClose equals a solid album from front to back.
In Flames – I, The Mask (Eleven Seven)
In Flames‘ sonic evolution from melodic death to hard rock has been well chronicled. With several albums in that vein, it should be pretty apparent by now what their musical direction is, and that continues on I, The Mask. It’s their first album with bassist Bryce Paul Newman and drummer Tanner Wayne, who replace Peter Iwers and Joe Rickard.
There are plenty of heavier songs like opener “Voices,” “I Am Above” and the title track that feature harsh vocals from Anders Friden. A good portion of the record is very melodic with all clean vocals. Tracks like the ballad “Follow Me,” the rousing “This Is Our House” and the extremely catchy “We Will Remember” have plenty of rock radio potential. Friden’s distinctive voice gives even the most mainstream sounding songs a unique flavor. There are flashes of In Flames’ past on this album, but that won’t appease fans who yearn for the days of The Jester Race. However, those who enjoyed the band’s recent output will find this one right in their wheelhouse.
Mark Morton – Anesthetic (WPP/Spinefarm)
Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton brings together a bunch of recognizable musicians on his Anesthetic solo album. Just listing them all could fill up this review: Chester Bennington, Chuck Billy, Myles Kennedy, and Alissa White-Gluz, just to name a few. The amount of guest talent on here allows Morton to stretch beyond his typical roots, though Randy Blythe does make an appearance on “The Truth is Dead” to keep some crossover to his main project around.
There’s a clear motive for Morton to try anything he wants, which bolsters songs like the somber “Axis,” featuring Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees). Metal fans may be put off by some of Morton’s choices (Papa Roach singer? Acoustic songs?), but his fearlessness in these moves helps Anesthetic become more than a Lamb of God knock-off.
Mike Tramp – Stray From The Flock (Target)
Though White Lion had plenty of commercial success and a platinum album (1987’s Pride), their career didn’t last as long as some of their contemporaries (although they did re-form for a while in the 2000s), and are one of the genre’s more underrated acts. Vocalist Mike Tramp has released many solo albums over the years, with Stray From The Flock his eleventh solo effort.
Tramp circa 2019 is a long way musically from the glam rock/hair metal of White Lion. That unique voice is still intact, but the music is melodic rock. There are rousing, upbeat guitar driven tracks like “Dead End Ride” and “Live It Out” along with mellower songs such as “No Closure” and “Die With A Smile On Your Face.” It’s a well-rounded and enjoyable album from an artist that has found a second act, being able to move forward in a different direction instead of having to rely on the nostalgia of hits gone by.
Pissgrave – Posthumous Humiliation (Profound Lore)
Few bands in extreme music have the reputation that Pissgrave do. Their view from the subterranean catacombs of slaughter is a unique one in death metal, fusing extreme music with extreme art. Add to this producer extraordinaire Arthur Rizk and you have a band fully realizing their potential.
In a similar vein to last year’s Portal combined with Tomb Mold you have Pissgrave sounding like the slow death you get in a horror movie combined with swirling maelstroms of riffs. Each and every time you hear a track like “Euthanasia” or “Emaciated” you feel like you have been hypnotized and told to do something awful. If you wanted to heard a no frills, death metal album in 2019, Posthumous Humiliation is all that plus nightmare inducing album art to top off this rotting package. You have been warned.
Queensryche – The Verdict (Century Media)
The Verdict is the third Queensryche album to feature Todd La Torre on vocals. It’s the first album to also feature him on drums. La Torre stepped behind the kit after Scott Rockenfield did not participate in this record.
While The Verdict has the distinctive Queensryche sound, the songs are a bit heavier this time around. Tracks like “Man The Machine” and “Propaganda Fashion” pack plenty of punch while not skimping on hooks and melody. There’s ample prog on this record as well, on tracks like “Inside Out” and “Launder The Conscience.” La Torre’s pipes are powerful, and he does a surprisingly good job on the drums as well. A couple songs miss the mark, diluting the overall impact, but the current incarnation of Queensryche remains a strong one.
Relics of Humanity – Obscuration (Willowtip)
Through the past decade, Eastern Europe has been the birthplace of many death metal acts, with many of these bands evolving around brutal death. From Minsk, Belarus, Relics of Humanity are one of those bands. Their promising 2012 debut Guided by the Soulless Call gave us a new name which can be one of the greatest of this genre and their new EP, Obscuration, has proven this.
Obscuration prominently displays how Relics of Humanity aren’t just another pig squeal-driven slamming brutal death metal band. You can feel the real brutality in their music, backed by pretty solid songwriting and an impressive performance by vocalist A.J. Magana, who has given a new spirit to the band. Effective and neat production has also granted a new sounding dimension. Obscuration is a great place for Relics of Humanity to examine their current assets and abilities for future releases; and they have done it strongly.
The Riven – The Riven (The Sign)
British retro hard-rockers The Riven released a highly-acclaimed EP back in 2016, Blackbird. It was a rough-around-the-edges slice of ’70s hard rock that showed real promise. Now here we are in 2019, and the quartet are releasing their debut eponymous LP. We’re hoping for more of the same, only slightly more refined.
That’s sort of what we get here, although The Riven sees the band moving a bit further away from the heaviness of Blackbird, where they pulled from bands such as Grand Funk Railroad and Heart. Now it sounds like they want to compete with rival female-fronted hard rockers Blues Pills or Pristina, and while the songs are well played, and Totta Ekebergh gives us a fine vocal delivery, it all feels too safe, lacking the vitality of their debut – almost as if The Riven tried too hard to craft a solid album, instead of just letting it rip. The result is a good but not great album.
Sisters Of Suffocation – Humans Are Broken (Napalm)
The Dutch death metal band Sisters Of Suffocation are no longer an all female band with the addition of Kevin van den Heiligenberg on drums. They have also added a second guitarist, Emmelie Herwegh, to the lineup for their second full-length album Humans Are Broken.
The songs are potent and heavy with guttural vocals from Els Prins, blending old school with modern touches. The addition of melodic vocals on songs like “War In My Head” and “The Next Big Thing” add variety. In addition to straight ahead death metal, other styles make an appearance as well, with the riffs set on gallop on the thrashy “What We Create” and the groove amped up on “Little Shits.” Sisters Of Suffocation bring the brutality, but also insert melody and atmosphere to create a compelling and diverse death metal album.
Source – Totality (Pavement)
Colorado prog rockers Source definitely have Tool undertones in their music. There is a vibe to the band that highly echoes that other outfit’s music on Totality, their second full length. Source definitely have their own sound as well. Their music is more like Undertow than Aenima or Lateralus, however. The rock vibe the band has is totally one of a kind. The music is straightforward enough to be accessible, yet complex enough as well. The riffs are strong and have the ability to make the listener head bang.
Source certainly wear its influences on its shoulders, but is different enough to be taken seriously as its whole separate outfit. See the rock vibes of “The Witness” for a good example of the catchiness this band want to obtain. The songs are also different enough from one another to be worthy. Along with the new Soen we have new music to tide us over until Tool finally release their new album. This comes highly recommended.