This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from All That Remains, Architects, Cancer, Cripple Bastards, Einherjer, Evoken, Myopic, Psycroptic, Red Dragon Cartel, Sadist, Stellar Circuits, Stephen Pearcy, Third Storm, Thomas Giles, Ultar and Wald Krypta.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
All That Remains – Victim Of The New Disease (Fearless/Razor & Tie)
Less than a month ago, guitarist Oli Herbert, a founding member of All That Remains, tragically passed away at the age of 44. That casts a large shadow over their ninth album, Victim Of The New Disease.
The album follows in the path of recent ATR releases, combining crushing metal tracks like opener “F–k Love” with radio friendly songs such as “Everything’s Wrong” and the ballad “Alone In The Darkness.” Many others blend the two, incorporating both extremity and harsh vocals with melody and clean singing from Phil Labonte. Asking Alexandria’s Danny Worsnop guests on the power ballad “Just Tell Me Something,” which has radio hit written all over it. The songwriting is strong, and it’s a definite step up from last year’s Madness.
Architects – Holy Hell (Epitaph)
Holy Hell is Architects‘ first album since the 2016 death of guitarist and main songwriter Tom Searle, who succumbed to cancer at the age of 28. His twin brother, drummer Dan Searle, says this album “is about pain, the way we process it, cope with it, and live with it.”
It’s an emotional and cathartic album, beginning with opener “Death Is Not Defeat.” Their brand of metalcore is dynamic, transitioning easily between crushing riffs and smooth melodies. Songs like the title track and “Damnation” have a lot of catchy moments along with intense, pit-worthy sections. Sam Carter gives a passionate and varied performance. As you’d expect, there’s a lot of sadness, anger and regret on display, but there’s some hope as well. As Dan Searle says, “There’s value in pain. It’s where we learn, it’s where we grow.”
Cancer – Shadow Gripped (Peaceville)
Few bands come to mind when you mention UK death metal. Sure you have Bolt Thrower and Carcass, however to the untrained ear Cancer will slip by people. Their trio of albums To The Gory End, Death Shall Rise and The Sins of Mankind are all classics but much less known than Necroticism or Realm of Chaos.
Cancer released one more album before breaking up in 1996 and then another album in 2005 before splitting again. Enter the last five years and what led to Shadow Gripped, which features a totally disgusting and revitalized John Walker, and the riffs feel right at home with the time period where Cancer released their most consistent material. Riffs run rampant through this album and subtlety is lost on songs like “Ball Cutter,” which comes as advertised. This is the album that both Memoriam albums were not; classic, no frills British death metal.
Cripple Bastards – La Fine Cresce Da Dentro (Relapse)
Italian grind unit Cripple Bastards have toyed with different sounds, but now closely resemble the frantic pace of Brujeria and romance language paced death metal meets hardcore. This is album number seven for the band and their second for Relapse, a move that has secured a larger following, especially in the U.S.
The songs on this album range from bursts that last a few seconds to more conventional ones of more than five minutes, sort of paying homage to genre progenitors Napalm Death and their penchant for three songs in 12 seconds. That doesn’t mean of course that the band doesn’t know how to slow down, because some of their best riffs await listeners on “Passi Nel Vuoto” where you get a feel for riffs that usually is brought on by Wormot and the like. Grind fans will enjoy this album thoroughly.
Einherjer – Norrøne Spor (Indie)
Norwegian Viking metal veterans Einherjer return with Norrøne Spor, their first album of new material in four years (2016’s Dragons Of The North XX was a re-recording of their 1996 album).
They get off to a rousing start with “The Spirit Of A Thousand Years,” mixing uptempo tracks like that one and “Doden Tar Ingen Fangar” with more moderately paced and ominous songs such as “Mine Vapen Mine Ord” and “Mot Vest.” Catchy melodies and accessible riffs are contrasted by Grimar’s mostly harsh vocals, although there is some melodic singing on tracks like “Av Djupare Rotter.” Viking metal fans will be well pleased with this effort.
Evoken – Hypnagogia (Profound Lore)
One of the progenitors of the American death/funeral doom scene, Evoken return from a five year absence with Hypnagogia, their sixth full-length in the past twenty years. It is also the band’s first concept album, dealing with a World War I soldier’s dying thoughts inscribed in a journal which, if read, causes the reader to fall into despair. Seems appropriate subject matter.
Having released excellent music consistently over the past two decades, expectations are high for Hypnagogia, and the band delivers. Musically and vocally, the six long songs (the title track is a short instrumental, as is one other) rise from the depths of subconsciousness, heavy and bleak but also endowed with a beauty not often found in this genre – strings and atmospherics pervade the music, and melody often takes precedent over brutality. A worthy addition to Evoken’s catalog.
Myopic – Myopic (Grimoire)
American band Myopic have been around for seven years now, releasing a couple of EPs and a split in that time. Now they drop their eponymous debut full-length, and the emphasis for this band, who started as a straightforward death metal outfit, is growth.
The growth is evident throughout much of Myopic. Throughout the eight songs here, the trio demonstrates a variety of songwriting skills, giving us songs ranging from the straightforward death metal to doom and even post-metal, much of it quite engaging. Sure, the vocals are still very raw, but they are appropriately low in the mix and don’t detract from the band’s overall quality. Myopic are a group to keep an eye on, and this debut is an album worth spinning.
Psycroptic – As The Kingdom Drowns (Prosthetic)
For nearly two decades, Australian crushers Psycroptic have been bringing technicality and impressive musicianship to the table, and that continues with their seventh studio album As The Kingdom Drowns.
Things get off to a potent start with “We Were The Keepers,” which incorporates a symphonic feel and some melodic moments alongside devastating death metal. The Haley brothers are front and center throughout, with Joe’s seemingly endless supply of riffs and Dave’s punishing performance on drums. From uptempo galloping songs like “Frozen Gaze” and “Beyond The Black” to mid-paced groovers such as “Directive” and “Upon These Stones,” Psycroptic’s dazzling musicianship is on full display, while not forgetting melodies and groove. While the back half isn’t quite as strong as the first part of the album, As The Kingdom Drowns is a ferocious dose of death metal.
Red Dragon Cartel – Patina (Frontiers)
Patina is the second album from Red Dragon Cartel, formed by legendary guitarist Jake E. Lee (Ozzy Osbourne, Badlands). Funky, bluesy dissonance with flower-power-mellow-yellow harmonies accenting tasteful and sometimes atonal raucous lead guitar portions. Sound complex? Not so much, since after the fifth song or so the pattern is familiar and it is difficult to distinguish anything significantly unique between tracks. In a way, that is this record’s brilliance and also, paradoxically, its downfall, depending on point of view.
To be clear, if one likes funky, catchy rhythm tracks, richly produced with a snap on the bottom like a crispy Heath bar, the record succeeds. If listeners want strange surprises in the chord-changes and lovely harmonies in the slow-downs after the verse-work, amen. The issue is that instead of the given catchy “hook,” we get what becomes rather generic choruses that together, make themselves forgettable. If you like the sound from the get-go you’ll love the album, but if you’re looking for a hit single or a standout, it isn’t for you.
Sadist – Spellbound (Scarlet)
Italian veterans Sadist perform a very skewed and strange form of progressive death metal. It is odd and wonderful at the same time. The band has some of the tendencies as mid period Death and Atheist among others, but stick to the more weird tone nicely. Sadist are technical, yet not overly indulgent and keep things grounded with solid songwriting. The problem is that they aren’t able to really dazzle the listener and thus the album takes its place below the top tier of progressive death metal greats.
The music is often too irregular for its own good and goes into different territories that are hard to grasp. This is still very innovative music that knows exactly what it wants to do. The band traverses sounds never heard before and does so in a fairly interesting manner. I just wish the songwriting was a little tighter and more potent, despite being quite good. The songs are effective, but not overly memorable either. All in all this is a pretty solid disc, but not a great one. With music as off kilter as an Arcturus album, Sadist make their impact felt.
New to the scene, American progressive rock band Stellar Circuits release their debut album Ways We Haunt this week. Stellar Circuits have a style much like Australian contemporaries Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus: melody, atmosphere, and feel dominate the music. This is progressive metal with a heavy alt-metal influence.
There are moments of brilliance scattered generously throughout Ways We Haunt. Ben Beddick has a fantastic voice, full of emotion and power. What undoes the hard work in many of these songs is Beddick’s penchant for screaming. When the music is this good, and the singing is this good, hardcore screams just ruin the proceedings. Aside from that, Stellar Circuits have a great thing going, and I’m looking forward to hearing what’s next.
Stephen Pearcy – View To A Thrill (Frontiers)
There always seems to be a lot of drama surrounding Ratt, with infighting, legal battles and frequent lineup changes. While they haven’t released a new album since 2010, frontman Stephen Pearcy has been a little more prolific, issuing several solo albums over the years, including last year’s Smash. He follows that up with View To A Thrill.
While Smash was a bit more varied, View To A Thrill has stronger songs and is more in Pearcy’s wheelhouse. It’s packed with sleazy hard rock and catchy choruses. Opener “You Only Live Twice” and “Secrets To Tell” probably would have been big hits back in the day. There are a couple of filler tracks, but I was pleasantly surprised with the number of memorable songs. Ratt fans will find plenty to like on A View To A Thrill.
Third Storm – The Grand Manifestation (Dark Descent)
The Grand Manifestation is the first full-length album from Swedish death/black metal group Third Storm, but their origin dates back to the mid-1980s. They released a few demos during that time, only to break up and reform a few years back. Vocalist Heval Bozarslan is the lone member from that period to return to this current lineup, as he continues the Third Storm name.
Third Storm’s unwavering focus on a blackened assault is a high mark, only stifled by theatrics that fall flat (the digitalized choir used in instrumental “Sapiens Formulae” is the most egregious example). A bit of a doomier vibe to “The Third Thought from the Sun” puts a worthwhile spin onto their music, but it’s the quickness of a song like closer “In Wrath Enshrouded” where the band finds its niche.
Thomas Giles – Don’t Touch The Outside (Sumerian)
It has been a busy past few years for Tommy Rogers. Between The Buried And Me tours a lot and released two albums last year. He also issued a Thomas Giles album in 2016, and returns with another solo effort, Don’t Touch The Outside.
While Thomas Giles albums are progressive, it’s a different style of prog than BTBAM. The songs are shorter, mellower and more focused, incorporating a lot of different styles. “Milan” is atmospheric and melodic with Faith No More influences and guest vocals from Ulver’s Kristoffer Rygg. The sparse “Radiate” has an ’80s feel, while “Mr. Sunshine” has a more psychedelic vibe. In addition to Rygg, other guests include Leprous’ Einar Solberg on “Everyone Is Everywhere” and rapper Carley Coma on “I Win.” Tracks like “Weather Moods Panic Starts” combine experimental, avant-garde parts with more traditional sections. It’s an ambitious and eclectic album that pushes boundaries, and while not everything works, most of it does.
Ulthar – Cosmovore (20 Buck Spin)
It’s not just the experience factor the members of Ulthar possess that helps Cosmovore to excel, but it’s the otherworldly vibes the threesome enhance these songs with. Synths are attached as intros and outros to much of Cosmovore, all leading to the 13-minute monstrous closer “Dunwich Whore.” This is the point the album leads up to for almost half an hour, and the ending doesn’t disappoint.
This is even more impressive considering the band doesn’t rely on lengthy guitar solos. Ulthar keep the attention on the riffs, and considering they are being performed by members who have spent time with Mutilation Rites, Extremity, and Pale Chalice, there’s a surplus of quality in that department. Cosmovore provides death metal fans with a nasty jolt that can’t be quickly shaken off or ignored.
Wald Krypta – Nature Enigma (Eternal Death)
There’s a section of metal fans that can’t stop gushing about how black metal was at its peak when it first came into prominence, as if everything after 1997 was inferior. Those people will fall hard for Wald Krypta’s Nature Enigma, which could be mistaken for a tape from Deathlike Silence Productions. The only thing modern about it is the fact that it can be purchased as a digital copy.
There’s no attempt to appeal to anyone born in the last two decades, as Nature Enigma retains a raw sense of manner and a mind against religion and common decency. Its low-fi approach means awkward finishes to a few songs and a repetitive tempo only broken up by a hint of melody on the “Final Deliverance” instrumental. A person’s admiration for Nature Enigma will vary based on an affinity for the initial years of black metal.