This week’s Heavy Music Headquarters reviews include releases from Baptists, Bleeding Through, Candlemass, Djevelkult, Graveyard, Hex, Limb, Micawber, Midnattsol, Millennial Reign, Monument, Rotten Sound, Svalbard, Thunderwar, Wayfarer and Witch Mountain.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Baptists – Beacon of Faith (Southern Lord)
Listening to anything new from Baptists always makes listeners confront a chaotic musical experiment. Even though they have put mayhem up front, they have kept order underneath their music, staying in touch with classic hardcore tunes. After releasing two acclaimed albums, Baptists are back with Beacon of Faith, another collection of intense sludgy hardcore.
Despite Beacon of Faith’s solid presence of bleak, furious and atmospheric hardcore, Baptists have occasionally offered some melodic parts and slow to mid paced doomy sludge metal songs, making it more dynamic and vigorous. Another point about the band which is interesting is how the visual art direction of Baptists has become an inseparable part of their music’s personality, each completing the other. Beacon of Faith has followed the same path and same image of the two previous albums, yet it depicts the band’s maturity and more coherent musicianship and production.
Bleeding Through – Love Will Kill All (SharpTone)
After disbanding a few years back, five of the six members of Bleeding Through decided to resume making music. The result is Love Will Kill All, their first album since 2012 and eighth studio album overall.
The metalcore veterans pick up right where they left off. Expertly blending intense metal with melody while injecting symphonic and hardcore elements, Love Will Kill All doesn’t find Bleeding Through resting on their laurels. They still have plenty of energy and emotion. It’s uncompromisingly heavy, but with no shortage of memorable melodies. The songs are streamlined, mostly in the three minute range, and get directly to the point. Fans that grew up with the band in the 2000s will be able to jump right back on board.
Candlemass – House Of Doom (Napalm)
It looked like 2012’s Psalms For The Dead would be the swan song for the seminal Swedish doom band Candlemass, but thankfully that has not turned out to be the case. It was the end of the Robert Lowe era, but they have continued to make music. 2016’s Death Thy Lover was the proper debut of vocalist Mats Leven (Yngwie Malmsteen), who returns on the EP House Of Doom.
The four tracks clock in at just under 20 minutes. The title track and “Flowers Of Deception” are vintage Candlemass with downtuned riffs and soaring vocals. The tempos shift from slow and crushing to catchy and upbeat, giving them plenty of diversity. “Fortuneteller” is an acoustic ballad, while the closer “Dolls On A Wall” is a sludgy instrumental. Candlemass is set to release a full-length this fall, and the House Of Doom is a nice appetizer while we await the main course.
Djevelkult – Nar Avgrunnen Apnes (Saturnal)
Having risen from Norway, the notorious birthplace of the blasphemous black metal scene, Djevelkult are back to unleash their newest opus Nar Avgrunnen Apnes, four years after their debut album, I djevelens tegn.
Nar Avgrunnen Apnes follows the familiar musical pattern of Norwegian black metal, and the songwriting mostly suffers from a lack of originality you may try to find in their music. But on the bright side, the title track completely fulfills expectations. As to what Djevelkult’s music is all about, the songs’ raw and unpolished production keeps their sound close to true Norwegian black metal. which is satisfying for old school black metal fans.
Graveyard – Peace (Nuclear Blast)
Swedish rockers Graveyard announced they were splitting in late 2016, but the hiatus only lasted a few months. They regrouped with a new drummer, Oskar Bergenheim, for their fifth full-length, Peace.
Like their previous releases, Peace features hard rock tracks soaked in blues and psychedelia. The vintage sounding songs have ample variety, ranging from heavier tracks like “It Ain’t Over Yet,” “Please Don’t” and “Cold Love” to mellower songs like “See The Day” and epic jams like the closer “Low (I Wouldn’t Mind).” Utilizing both Joakim Nilsson and Truls Morck on vocals gives it even more diversity. Graveyard’s songs have a ’60s/’70s aesthetic, appealing to those who like their rock with an extra dose of “classic.”
Hex – Hex (Hummus)
Hex’s eponymous debut album is drawn into hair-raising synths and jarring industrial sounds. A limited vocal presence puts the music in the forefront, as stretches of uninterrupted jamming are the norm. Once these songs get into a particular mindset, where every member of the band is involved as a collective group, it leads to a hypnotic effect.
Sometimes this singular unit takes a few minutes to develop, as “Metaheaven” and “Highrise” can attest to. Then there’s “Collider,” where the spacey leap starts in the initial seconds without subsiding. This album is best experienced with a person’s undivided attention, where the electro nuances become more visible.
Limb – Saboteurs Of The Sun (New Heavy Sounds)
After releasing their first two albums in the span of about a year and a half, the British sludge/doom outfit Limb took a little extra time to put together their third record, Saboteurs Of The Sun.
Their core sound is still thick and heavy with brisk tempos and extremely catchy melodies with melodic but gruff vocals from Rob Hoey. Songs like “Death In Absentia” and “Rising Tides” are instantly memorable. Limb also venture into new territories, adding more atmosphere and experimental moments on tracks such as “Survival Knife” and “Astronaut.” The result is a noticeable leap forward. The production from Russ Russell (Napalm Death, At The Gates) captures both their rawness and accessibility.
Micawber- Beyond the Reach of Flame (Prosthetic)
Micawber love guitar solos and their third album, Beyond the Reach of Flame, has plenty of shredding and screeching wails from the hands of vocalist/guitarist Leighton Thompson and guitarist Derek DeBruin. These rousing displays of guitar mastery create buzz in every instance they appear, while also generating ample tension as they rumble and soar for extended periods.
It is the time between the end of the last solo and the beginning of the next one where the album loses its enlightened features. Their polished death metal fits with how a regular listener of the genre expects a modern album to sound in 2018. There are few revelations beyond that, but the promise of another dazzling guitar solo keeps Beyond the Reach of Flame in rotation.
Midnattsol – The Aftermath (Napalm)
It has been seven years since the symphonic/folk metal band Midnattsol released The Metamorphosis Melody. Their latest album The Aftermath sees a couple of lineup changes. Guitarist Stephan Adolph (Stillborn) joins the band, as has vocalist Liv Kristine (Leaves Eyes). Kristine is not replacing her sister Carmen Elise, but is now sharing singing duties.
Both have excellent voices on their own, but their harmonies are what are really noticeable on the album. There are a lot of regal, bombastic songs along with mellower tracks like “Vem Kan Segla.” The ethereal vocals of the Espenaes sisters are contrasted by gruff male growls on the dark “Herr Manelig,” the album’s longest track at 9 minutes. There are a lot of different styles on display, which along with dual vocalists and a combination of English and Norwegian lyrics makes this Midnattsol’s most wide-reaching and diverse album to-date.
Millennial Reign – The Great Divide (Ulterium)
Millennial Reign perform music in the vein of early Crimson Glory that has very high pitched vocals on The Great Divide, their third full length. Indeed, the vocals on the album take over and shine through the most of any element of the music. The singing is sweet and syrupy and makes for a good deal of ear candy. However, there is also a nice distinctive guitar performance to back these up. The overall effect of the album is a pleasant one with a nice upbeat vibe that straddles the line between traditional and power metal.
There is also a very old school feeling to the songs that lends it nicely among the classics. It’s not as outright good as something like Transcendence, but has enough of an impact regardless. Comparing it to that album brings out the shortcomings in the album. They are simply not able to rise up to the best of Crimson Glory (few are), though they are still good. Fans of that band should still find something to like with The Great Divide.
Monument – Hellhound (Rock Of Angels)
London-based Monument are steadfast purveyors of the NWOBHM sound. They love to keep things traditional on Hellhound, their third album, by singing about things like pirates, chalices and motorcycles while employing guitar harmonies and occasional high-pitched wails. Their sound is primarily founded on Brave New World-era Iron Maiden – in fact, the title track sounds eerily similar to “Ghost of the Navigator.” But treading too close to a legend is likely to have negative repercussions.
Hellhound is a high-energy album, loaded with gallops, anthems and epics. Sadly, the potential of these songs is undone by a poor vocal performance and thin production. An uninspiring cover of Rainbow’s “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” is included, but neither adds nor detracts from Hellhound. What it all adds up to is an unmemorable take on one of my favorite genres. While Monument may worship the Brave New World sound, they fail to replicate it.
Rotten Sound – Suffer To Abuse (Season Of Mist)
Finnish grindcore legends Rotten Sound return with another adrenaline fueled dose of extremity in the form of new EP stopgap Suffer To Abuse. This twisted play on previous album Abuse To Suffer features seven new tracks of crushing grindcore vitriol clocking in at just under ten minutes, not much shorter than one of their full lengths.
There’s not too much to delve into as Suffer To Abuse is Rotten Sound through and through and no one expects anything other than the consistent devastation they put out with each release. Highlights include the punky “Harvester Of Boredom” and ferocious “One Hit Wonder.” The standout track though is the slow paced “Stressed Mess” and its dramatic meandering riff. Appetites have been whetted for album number eight.
Svalbard – It’s Hard to Have Hope (Translation Loss)
With the political, social and economic turmoil we struggle with on a daily basis, it can be hard to have hope, but Svalbard’s music has no such misgivings. The audacious undercurrent of hardcore, punk and black metal is kept in check with brief outbursts of melodic vocals buried deep underneath the instruments.
Svalbard give a listener a lot to endure, coming off like the step sibling of an Oathbreaker and Trap Them marriage. The blunt nature of the material (songs have titles like “Revenge Porn” and “Feminazi”) leaves no qualms about the band’s opinion or perspective on serious current topics.
Thunderwar – Wolfpack (Lifeforce)
Thunderwar’s Wolfpack EP jumps between significant music styles within its short time frame. On one track, it’s nasty death metal; on the next, it’s a rousing anthem with a formidable scope a la Primordial; then they finish it off with a cover of Darkthrone’s “The Winds They Called the Dungeon Shaker.”
This constant leaping into other avenues of death metal can be slightly jarring, but Thunderwar hold the EP in check so the project doesn’t disintegrate into madness. Current Hate drummer Paweł “Pavulon” Jaroszewicz helps to infuse these five songs with cannon-like energy, though this EP seems like an impasse instead of a defining statement.
Wayfarer – World’s Blood (Profound Lore)
Denver, Colorado’s black/post metal champions Wayfarer are back with their third album, World’s Blood – a pretty prolific pace for a band only entering its sixth year. The album is a blackened yet melodic depiction of the frontier days of Western America. Fans of both black metal and post metal will be interested.
Only five songs comprise World’s Blood, and the standard post metal chord progressions and other tropes are present, all offset by moments of fury and harsh vocals. Wayfarer are a powerful, visceral force, and the first four songs slam you down while the final cut, a haunting acoustic number called “A Nation of Immigrants,” ends the album on a pensive, melancholic, but completely engrossing note.
Witch Mountain – Witch Mountain (Svart)
Lineup changes are extremely common, but it’s always a little trickier when it’s the vocalist. Replacing the face and voice of a group can be a difficult transition. Portland doomsters Witch Mountain released several critically acclaimed albums with Ula Plotkin, who left the band in 2014. She was replaced by Kayla Dixon for their new album, a self-titled effort.
Dixon had plenty of time to acclimate, spending a few years touring before entering the studio to record Witch Mountain. That helped make the transition smoother. She’s a powerful singer with a soulful middle register able to belt out higher notes as well. On songs like “Burn You Down” she displays everything from subtle, reserved crooning to potent singing to aggressive yelling/growling. The five songs on the album range from the brief and mellow 2 and a half minute “Hellfire” to the epic 14 minute closer “Nighthawk.” The current incarnation of Witch Mountain (which also includes new bassist Justin Brown) is just as much of a force as they have always been.