This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Devin Townsend, Forever Still, L.A. Guns, Lance King, Lustre, Magic Circle, A New Revenge, Nightrage, Nordjevel, Section H8, Sermon, Vltimas, Whitechapel and Witherfall.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Devin Townsend – Empath (InsideOut)
Canada’s Devin Townsend has become a respected figure in the progressive metal world. From Strapping Young Lad to his latest, Empath, he has released 25 albums. This is his ninth as Devin Townsend, although he considers it his first true solo album. Empath can be thought of as a career retrospective of sorts, a mashup of all his influences.
Mashup is the key word here, as this music is often an incoherent, jumbled collage of what sounds like 1986 Casio keyboards, with multiple ideas thrown at the listener in every song. Townsend comes closest to genius on these insane songs on “Spirits Will Collide” and “Hear Me,” but this 75-minute, way too long opus won’t convert any new fans. Devin’s current fan base will likely enjoy Empath quite a bit, though.
Forever Still – Breathe In Colours (Nuclear Blast)
Breathe In Colours is the sophomore release from the Danish band Forever Still. After vocalist Maja Shining and multi-instrumentalist Mikkel Haastrup handled all the duties on their debut, live drummer Rune Frisch joined them in the studio this time around.
Forever Still play modern metal with a melodic flair and crisp production. Shining’s vocals run the gamut from subdued croons to bold screams. She transitions easily from smooth singing to more intense styles, giving the album more variety. There are numerous uptempo tracks along with ballads like “Is It Gone?” and “Say Your Goodbyes.” They amp up the electronics on “Pieces,” with a heavy section reminiscent of In This Moment. There is plenty of diversity, but the songs could use a few more hooks to up the memorable factor.
L.A. Guns – The Devil You Know (Frontiers)
Luminaries Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis give L.A. Guns fans a reason to cheer with their latest studio release The Devil You Know. Most notable on this record is the ability the band has to tastefully revisit the sound that made them famous and package it with a burst of variety, in fact, I would argue that the “B” side material here becomes the storyline.
Plainly, this band plays fast, it is their bread and butter, yet ironically, the songs used for counterpoint and diversity ring truer to their current vision. “Loaded Bomb” has an alternative feel and a vocal hook that is incredibly catchy, just as “The Devil You Know” plays more like awesome stoner sludge than meat and potatoes hair metal. “Gone Honey” has a tasteful, non-linear hook, and “Down That Hole” is pure sex, translated through a groove you feel in the solar plexus.
Lance King – ReProgram (Nightmare)
Lance King has fronted several different bands over the years, from Pyramaze to Balance Of Power to Gemini. ReProgram is his second solo album, and first since 2011. There are a lot of guest musicians as well from bands such as Anubis Gate, Annihilator and Freak Kitchen.
The album is progressive/power metal with sophisticated arrangements and a lot of atmosphere. King calls it “Celestial Metal.” The balance is generally more in the power metal vein with crunchy guitars and soaring vocals. King has a powerful voice and a wide range, adding extra oomph to songs like “Stand Your Ground” and the Queensryche flavored “Reaction Formation.” The songs are pretty streamlined, save for the nearly 10 minute closer “A Mind At War” that builds slowly and has a lot of proggy sections. ReProgram is an ambitious album that will hit the spot for prog and power metal fans.
Lustre – Another Time, Another Place (Chapter One) (Morrowless)
Another Time, Another Place (Chapter One) is one of two compilations released this month from musician Nachtzeit’s ambient black metal project Lustre. This first compilation entails an unreleased EP, The Ardour of Autumn, and 2009’s Welcome Winter EP. While they were recorded at different times, the collection portrays the changing of the seasons with a forlorn gaze. The autumn side is as if composer Angelo Badalamenti put his synths over Cascadian black metal, while the winter side is much harsher in tone.
The keyboard is the most audible instrument, as the rest of them plus the vocals are buried beneath it; however, it does have better production than some of the material in the second compilation. Still, with songs averaging ten minutes in length and a pace that makes glaciers seem fast, Lustre are a challenge to absorb.
Lustre – Another Time, Another Place (Chapter Two) (Morrowless)
Another Time, Another Place (Chapter Two) is the second compilation to come from ambient black metal group Lustre this week. This one includes Lustre’s first EP from 2008, Serenity, and the 2013 EP A Spark of Times of Old. Hearing Serenity in full offers listeners the roots of Lustre’s sound, though in a much rawer form. The keyboard-only instrumental “Waves of the Worn” has the band going full ambient.
Serenity established Lustre’s lasting musical direction, and the single, 20-minute track that makes up A Spark of Times of Old shows off the unfortunate excesses that can come from it. There’s a different between hearing two or three of the same ideas repeated over nine or ten minutes and stretching that out by double. The first compilation is the more essential of the two, though “Waves of the Worn” is a fantastic instrumental.
Magic Circle – Departed Souls (20 Buck Spin)
Boston’s Magic Circle play a brand of throwback heavy rock that is predominantly influenced by Black Sabbath. On Departed Souls, their third album, they expand their influences beyond those legends, incorporating feel and style from a wider variety of bands including Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, and Judas Priest.
It all adds up to a compelling, fun romp through the glory days of the ’70s. Songs range from pure doom to anthemic hard rock, to psychedelic interludes. Throughout Departed Souls, singer Brendan Radigan rages in controlled enthusiasm, a bit like a cross between Bon Scott and Ronnie James Dio. Fans of retro hard rock will love this album.
A New Revenge – Enemies & Lovers (Golden Robot)
The always in demand Tim “Ripper” Owens was part of Three Tremors (along with Sean Peck and Harry Conklin) that released their debut album earlier this year. Last month his Spirits Of Fire project that also includes Chris Caffery and Steve Di Giorgio issued their debut. Now, yet another Ripper fronted project is releasing their first album. A New Revenge‘s lineup also includes guitarist Keri Kelli (Alice Cooper, Night Ranger), bassist Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot) and drummer James Kottak (Warrant).
Enemies & Lovers has the ’80s influence you’d expect from the lineup with massive hooks, catchy choruses and plenty of guitar, but with enough modern vibes to avoid being retro. It’s packed with uptempo tracks like “The Way,” “Glorious” and “Fallen” along with ballads such as “Only The Pretty Ones.” The musicianship is tight, Owens’ vocals are potent, and the songs are really solid, making for an album that exceeded my expectations.
Nightrage – Wolf to Man (Despotz)
Greece’s Nightrage are a melodic death metal band that has weathered the sands of time for a while. Being that Wolf to Man is their eighth album, there should be a refined sound to be found here. There is certainly the feeling that this band has been around for a while in their distinctive flavor, but their sound is still somewhat generic and derivative, which is unfortunate. Still, this is some very active and vibrant melodic death metal. The songs are tuneful and full of melody.
There just seems to be an overriding feeling of this having been repeated too many times. Nightrage even sound sort of like Arch Enemy at times. The band has its own sound, but it is heavily derived from other similar groups. It is still an enjoyable recording nonetheless and one that is very fun around every corner and very exciting to listen to. If you can get over how derivative this is, there is a very enjoyable album to be found underneath.
Nordjevel – Necrogenesis (Osmose)
Nordjevel hail from Norway and were formed by Doedsadmiral and Nord in 2015 and their astonishing self-titled first album was released a year later, which was undoubtedly one of the best albums of that year. Now joined by Dominator and Destructhor, Nordjevel deliver their second album Necrogenesis, 47 minutes of pure annihilating black metal.
Necrogenesis follows the same path as Nordjevel, which in a brief comparison you will find that nothing new happened on this album, and it still deals with the typical black metal elements. But Necrogenesis’ dynamic songwriting made the album a route between Dark Funeral and Emperor. This effort has made Nordjevel’s music into one of the major black metal second wave hot spots.
Section H8 – Phase One (Flatspot)
Section H8 are a hardcore/punk band from Los Angeles, California that formed in early 2018. Even though they haven’t been together long, they released an EP, Phase One, on Bandcamp last November. That EP is now getting a wider release this year. What Section H8 puts into their music is an earnest passion against everything and everyone. Vocalist Mexi launches out words like a street poet, throwing out lines in millisecond delivery, while the music perpetuates this nastiness.
Then there are the samples; a lot of samples, in fact. For an EP that clocks in at under 10 minutes, each of the five songs has one, some taking up more time than expected. They do tie the EP together as a whole piece, yet turn out to be inconsequential. Phase One is clearly a prelude to what may come next, as announced by the line “The end has only just begun” at the conclusion of the title track.
Sermon – Birth Of The Marvellous (Prosthetic)
The anonymous British band Sermon come out of the gates strong with their debut album Birth Of The Marvellous. It’s a theological concept album, though the band is neither pro or anti-religion. Instead, they say it’s about equilibrium.
The band’s progressive style will draw comparisons to bands like Katatonia, especially in the clean vocals. Tool and Opeth are other musical touchstones. Tracks like “Chasm” utilize melodic vocals exclusively. While singing is the prevalent vocal style, there are some periodic harsh vocals on songs such as “The Drift” that add variety. The arrangements are atmospheric with a lot of twists and turns, but Sermon prove with songs like “Festival” that they can inject catchy hooks as well. Equally adept at compact tracks and more epic songs like “The Preacher” and closer “The Rise Of Desiderata,” Sermon deliver a dynamic, cinematic and yes, marvelous debut.
Vltimas – Something Wicked Marches In (Season Of Mist)
The term “supergroup” is tossed around pretty loosely, but in the world of extreme metal, a lineup consisting of Rune “Blasphemer” Eriksen (Mayhem, Aura Noir), David Vincent (Morbid Angel) and Flo Mounier (Cryptopsy) fits that description. The trio’s new band Vltimas are unleashing their debut album Something Wicked Marches In.
Each member brings a different extreme music background to the table. Mounier delivers a punishing performance with technical prowess, while Eriksen’s guitar work injects both groove and iciness to the proceedings, and Vincent’s unmistakable vocals are harsh and intense. They vary the tempos, from the regal mid-pace of “Monolith” to the pedal to the metal “Total Destroy.” The three members of Vltimas complement each other very well, resulting in an album that has influences of their past work while creating a unique and compelling sound of their own.
Whitechapel – The Valley (Metal Blade)
Deathcore veterans Whitechapel have had a few drummers over the years. For their seventh studio album they recruited Navene Koperweis (Animals As Leaders, Animosity) to fill in after the departure of Ben Harclerode. The Valley refers to where frontman Phil Bozeman grew up in Tennessee, with the album’s lyrics focusing on hardships he endured as a child.
Whitechapel bring the downtuned heaviness and extremity you’d expect on tracks like “Brimstone” and the breakdown-laden “We Are One,” but also surprise with moody, acoustic songs such as “Hickory Creek” that feature clean vocals from Bozeman. The transitions are a bit abrupt, but add diversity and depth. “Third Depth” is an intriguing combination of both styles. The Valley resonates both musically and emotionally, with the band delivering their signature sound while also exploring some new directions.
Witherfall – Vintage (Century Media)
Late last year the L.A. progressive/power metal band Witherfall released their second full-length album A Prelude To Sorrow. Just a few months later they are issuing the companion EP Vintage, which is actually 40 minutes long, longer than some full-lengths.
The band’s acoustic side is very prominent on the EP. Tracks like the three song “Vintage Medley” are mellow, but still feature some impressive vocal acrobatics by Joseph Michael. “Ode To Despair” from A Prelude To Sorrow is done fully acoustically. This isn’t an unplugged album though, with electric sections in “A Tale That Wasn’t Right” and the epic 11 minute closing title track that’s still less intense than the 2018 version. They also cover Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” transforming it from a driving rocker to an introspective acoustic dirge. If a band is going to do a cover, they might as well put their own spin on it instead of doing a karaoke version. Witherfall’s approach on the Petty track, and the EP as a whole, is an interesting one.