This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Aether Realm, Alkymist, An Autumn For Crippled Children, Ancient Burial, Black Pestilence, Funeralopolis, Havok, Kurnugia, Mike Tramp, Monolith, Resent, River Cult, Umbra Vitae, Volturian, Witchcraft and Witches Hammer.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Aether Realm – Redneck Vikings From Hell (Napalm)
For their third album Redneck Vikings From Hell, the North Carolina melodic death metal band Aether Realm have signed with Napalm Records. While the opening title track embraces their southern roots both lyrically and musically (you’ll hear some banjo), the rest of the album has a more European flair.
Tracks like “Goodbye” are catchy and melodic, with both harsh and singing vocals. Symphonic elements add atmosphere to the intense “Lean Into The Wind” while the ballad “Guardian” is the album’s most accessible song. Aether Realm move easily between midtempo melodeath and thrashier, more aggressive moments. There are folk influences, but melodic death is the predominant style on an album that should garner them wider exposure.
Alkymist – Sanctuary (Indisciplinarian)
Danish progressive doomsters Alkymist go deep on their second album Sanctuary with lyrics about subjects such as metaphysical questioning, soul searching and the quest to achieve redemption.
Like their debut, the songs on Sanctuary are lengthy and eclectic. Heavy doom and tranquil interludes meld seemlessly. “Draugr” has an urgent pace while “Desolated Sky” has a more plodding tempo. No matter the pace, the tracks are dynamic and loaded with emotional heft. While similar to their debut, this time around Alkymist have written more impactful songs, making for a more memorable release.
An Autumn For Crippled Children – All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet (Prosthetic)
The Dutch post black metal/shoegaze trio An Autumn For Crippled Children have been prolific in their decade of existence. All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet is their eighth studio album, and they’ve also issued a handful of EPs.
Their songwriting chops are razor sharp, building up tension and intensity with harsh, black metal sections and then easing back with pastoral and introspective parts. There’s a constant ebb and flow between melodic yet morose shoegaze and aggressive black metal with the vocals buried deep in the mix. It’s a streamlined release, clocking in at under 40 minutes and burrowing deep into the listener’s limbic system. It’s one of those albums where there’s not necessarily a track or two that stand above the rest. It’s consistent, and consistently good.
Ancient Burial – Beyond the Watchtowers (Signal Rex)
Over the past decade, the Portuguese underground metal scene has become the birthplace of many raw metal bands, and most of them have been well received by fans of this genre. Among the newest bands is Ancient Burial, which has entered the scene with their striking debut album Beyond the Watchtowers.
When it comes to black metal music, what matters the most is how the band’s music can be resolved in the wicked darkness and awaken the entity of demonic force behind it. By using the classic look of a black metal band, with corpse paint, black robes, spikes and shrieking vocals, Ancient Burial depict a dark, chaotic world that is merged into the darkest white noise and create a possessed cold scene. Fans of raw black metal will enjoy Beyond the Watchtowers to the fullest.
Black/thrash is nothing new. Within this style one can find a number of bands such as Absu, Witchery and Nifelheim. Calgary, Canada’s Black Pestilence bring a fresh take to the sound, though. Hail The Flesh, the band’s sixth full-length album is a blackened crossover punk-thrash album. It sounds old school, yet very 2000s at the same time.
Hail The Flesh is primarily a punk/crossover record with a smoldering, black crust. One aspect that really makes this a punk album is their use of bass solos. The bass is upfront in the mix and leads the charge on “Hellfire” and “True To The Dark.” “Cloven Division” is mostly a blasting black metal song with a couple of thrash parts. “Godless” features some of the best blackened speed picking on the album. Municipal Waste, Impaled Nazarene, Toxic Holocaust fans take notice.
Funeralopolis – …of Deceit and Utter Madness (Memento Mori)
After a demo, an EP, and two compilations, Swiss death dealers Funeralopolis, a name inspired by an Electric Wizard tune, are set to release their full-length debut in …of Deceit and Utter Madness, a title in keeping with their fondness for starting albums with an ellipsis. Toiling underground for roughly a decade, Funeropolis have had ample time to fine-tune their grungy death metal sound, which, ultimately, results in a sufficiently heavy homage to the genre gods.
Conjuring the filth and malaise spewed forth by their forebears Asphyx, Autopsy, Obituary, and Incantation, Funeralopolis deliver an ugly, churning premiere with no shortage of trudging, doom-soaked riffs slathered in dense, gravely tones. Appropriately, the production is thick and cavernous, the vocals deep and tortured, and the pace shifts from a corpse-dragging lurch to a crusty, punked-up jaunt. It’s rather standard yesteryear fare for the most part: well-played mid-paced doomed-out death with evil vibes and plenty of head-bangable moments. An assist to the eye-catching cover art by Mark Cooper.
Havok – V (Century Media)
Simply titled V, on their fifth album Colorado-based thrashers Havok offer more of the new wave of thrash their fans have come to expect. V has plenty of odes to the oldie classics like Metallica, Sepultura and Testament. Havok pull off a Metallica “Harvester of Sorrow” influence on “Ritual of Mind.” The track is enjoyable even if a bit derivative.
V is a well-composed album. “Fear Campaign” makes use of stereo effects. A speed metal riff jumps from speaker to speaker while the bass and drums pound the middle. Their lyrics paint a dismal picture of society, which seems to culminate on the final track, “Don’t Do It.” This song about suicide conveys undulating frustration that builds in momentum. Clean, ominous harmonies collide with crunchy, Testament-like grooves. It culminates in speed but ends with somber twin acoustic chords. “Don’t Do It” is a “testament” to a raging album that only gets better in the end.
Kurnugia – Forlorn and Forsaken (Memento Mori)
The Ohio death metal band Kurnugia have a very aggressive and uncompromising sound on their full-length debut Forlorn And Forsaken that is very hard to dislike. There is a feeling of early Suffocation to be found within the riffs as they make use wisely of razor sharp guitar playing. The pummeling nature of the riffs is shown through their jackhammer pacing that adds nicely to the feeling of the record.
Forlorn and Forsaken is definitely an album that has a spicy nature and stirs up a lot of angry emotions in the listener. The style is still relatively primitive, however, and has a lot of elements that borrow from the earlier days of death metal. Though this is only the band’s first full length, they show promise. The songwriting is razor sharp and features riffs that repeat, but have a very addictive nature to them. The entire affair is a solid death metal experience and one that is worthy of many repeated listens.
Mike Tramp – Second Time Around (Target)
The older among us remember Mike Tramp as fronting the ’80s metal band White Lion, purveyors of such hits as “Wait” and “When the Children Cry.” Tramp’s charismatic vocals and good looks were exactly what metal was built on in those days. While White Lion have been dormant for quite some time, Tramp has released a hefty number of solo albums which have been fairly popular in his native Denmark.
Second Time Around is a compilation of many of Tramp’s favorite songs from his solo career, rebuilt here. For those unfamiliar, Tramp sings in a lower register now, and without the somewhat smoky rasp of his White Lion days. The songs on Second Time Around are slick hard rock fare, well-played, but nothing that serves to stand out from the crowd. A fun, harmless record that’s easy to play on summer nights.
Monolith ZA – Lord Conspirator (MMD)
There have been more than two dozen metal bands named Monolith over the years. This version are from South Africa and are known as Monolith ZA. After a couple of EPs, Lord Conspirator is the death metal band’s full-length debut.
Thankfully the band’s music is a bit more original than their name. Their brand of death metal is sometimes brutal, other times groovy. Progressive sections emerge on songs like “The Profound Wells Of Fire.” There’s no lack of intensity on tracks like “The Descent,” which also inject melody and some catchy riffs. Multiple band members provide vocals, some in the traditional death metal vein, but there are also some black metal style deliveries that help add variety.
Resent – Crosshairs (Dry Cough/Nerve Altar/Rope Or Guillotine)
Resent’s apparent goal with their debut album Crosshairs is to make a listener squeamish. This is the most extreme form of sludge metal, with progression marked by how much feedback is emitted. The very idea of moving beyond a crawl is viewed as offensive to the group, and they make no qualms about the unpleasantness that runs through Crosshairs.
The album doesn’t even have to be played to know where the group’s head is at. Song titles like “Degenerate” and “Wallowing In Filth” do their job in explaining how grim this gets. It will take a certain listener to give themselves to Resent’s coarse nature, but the band’s dedication to discordance on Crosshairs is admirable in an unsettling manner.
River Cult – Chilling Effect (Tee Pee)
I came out of Chilling Effect feeling simply deflated. When you’re travelling at the arduous slow-to-mid tempos of heavy psych, it is imperative that you instill the soundscape with melodies and riffs that bypass the trudging pace through ruthless innovation; River Cult do not meet these criteria.
As a result, what should only be a minor temporal inconvenience, at just 35-minutes long, feels undeservedly vast. The 11-minute opening title-track shows much promise in its intriguing sci-fi intro and resumes its auspicious start upon the arrival of hearty riffage. Unfortunately, as is the case for many others, Chilling Effect soon devolves into a repetitive slew of uninspired guitar licks and wailing distortion that clumsily taints its belated ending. It’s not without its merits, but what glimmers of hope found in the solid drum performances or well-rounded production sit in the shadow of the album’s overbearing sense of tedium and duplicitously short run-time.
Umbra Vitae – Shadow Of Life (Deathwish)
Current and former members of Converge (vocalist Jacob Bannon), The Red Chord (guitarist Mike McKenzie and bassist Greg Weeks), Job For A Cowboy (drummer Jon Rice) and Hatebreed (guitarist Sean Martin) join up as Umbra Vitae for fevered death metal on Shadow Of Life. Though there are roots of the genre in each of those projects, there’s no question of where this band’s loyalties lie; it’s with the morose and gruesome haze of death metal’s legacy. Single “Return To Zero” steamrolls through its two-and-a-half minutes like every second spent is the last one alive.
This rapid pace defines the first half of the album, though the last few songs allow the band to open up the slightest bit of melody with strong lead guitar work. With a running time around 25 minutes, Shadow Of Life barrels through its ten songs with a snarling attitude intact. This is not merely an example of a group cobbled together, but experienced, confident musicians showcasing their love of death metal.
Volturian – Crimson (Scarlet)
Volturian was formed by vocalist Federica Lanna of the symphonic metal band Sleeping Romance and Federico Mondelli of the power metal group Frozen Crown. You may expect their debut album Crimson to be a symphonic power metal record, but that’s not the case.
It’s mostly in the modern metal vein with ample melodies along with electronics that add atmospheres ranging from pop to gothic. There are some symphonic elements on tracks like “Haunting Symphony,” but songs such as “Broken” are accessible and similar to bands like Amaranthe. Mondelli’s bandmate Giada “Jade” Etro guests on “In A Heartbeat,” a rousing effort with nice guitar and vocal harmonies. Volturian pay tribute to the late Marie Fredriksson with a rocked-up cover of Roxette’s “Fading Like A Flower.”
Witchcraft – Black Metal (Nuclear Blast)
Swedish band Witchcraft have two albums to their credit: 2012’s excellent Legend and 2016’s strong but bloated Nucleus. Since then they’ve been quiet, and this year’s release, Black Metal, is an odd one. It is comprised of seven purely acoustic songs seemingly performed only by singer/guitarist Magnus Pelander, making it more of a solo offering than an actual Witchcraft album.
The title Black Metal really refers to the funeral-like, depressive nature of the album, with songs like “Sad Dog,” “Sad People,” and the mesmerizing “Elegantly Expressed Depression.” However, even with Pelander’s fantastic vocals, seven songs of this nature, just him and an acoustic guitar, can’t be greeted with massive enthusiasm.
Witches Hammer – Damnation Is My Salvation (Nuclear War Now!)
Canada’s Witches Hammer take no prisoners with their debut full-length Damnation Is My Salvation. Formed in 1984, they released a few demos and EP before disbanding in 1990, but they reemerged in 2018 and have unleashed a deadly dose of death/thrash metal.
Sounding like it was recorded in someone’s dirty garage (and I say that as a compliment), Witches Hammer keep the pedal to the metal with furious riffing, blazing through eight tracks in 31 minutes. Listeners know exactly what they’re in for after surviving the furious opener “Across Azeroth” as the album feels like a lost record from the ‘80s when extreme metal was beginning to flourish. The title track features wicked tempo variations while the only slow burner is the tremendous closer “Nine Pillars”. If you love stuff like Razor, Hell Awaits-era Slayer, and Possessed, then be sure to check these guys out!