This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from The Bleeding, Blut Aus Nord, The Devil Wears Prada, Iron Age, Kadavar, Lacuna Coil, Life Of Agony, Lindsay Schoolcraft, Michael Sweet, Mortiferum, Municipal Waste, NecroticGoreBeast, Sammath, Screamer, Unleash The Archers and Vanden Plas.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
The Bleeding – Morbid Prophecy (World War Now)
Morbid Prophecy is a concept album about descending into the depths of hell, and then returning to relay the horrors of the abyss to skeptics. UK extreme metallers The Bleeding bring this concept to life through a mix of death metal and thrash. Thrash is their main focus, but death metal often rides shotgun. The shrieking lead vocals sound organic and the lyrics are easily heard. Lower registered death metal growls tend to harmonize with the lead voice. The title track, however, features more isolated growling.
Morbid Prophecy includes fast drumming sure to pummel and palpitate eardrums. There are many catchy guitar riffs, too, including a galloping stride on “Maelstrom.” The bass cuts through the mix with standout parts on the groove of “Sadistic Saviour” and the straight-ahead attack of “Storm of Hellspawn.” Acoustic interlude “Repentance” and an Eastern melody introduction on “Demonic Oath” further animate this album sure to appeal to fans of Goatwhore, Kreator and Revocation.
Blut Aus Nord – Hallucinogen (Debemur Morti)
For a quarter century, the French band Blut Aus Nord have been changing and evolving, exploring different styles and pushing boundaries. With their thirteenth studio album Hallucinogen, the title points the way toward their current musical direction.
It’s a deliberate and introspective album with as the title suggests, some psychedelic and dreamy sections. The songs unfold slowly, with most in the 6 to 7 minute range. Black metal does make an appearance on tracks like “Nebeleste” and “Anthosmos,” alternating with melodic and ambient parts with a lot of atmosphere. “Sybelius” and “Mahagma” are heavier and more direct. The vocals on the album are buried in the mix, with the musicianship and songwriting at the forefront. It’s a dynamic and engaging release, a trip whose colors and shapes become clearer with subsequent listens.
The Devil Wears Prada – The Act (Solid State)
For their seventh album The Act, metalcore veterans The Devil Wears Prada have signed to a new label, Solid State. It was produced by keyboardist Jonathan Gering, who also wrote lyrics for some of the songs.
Frontman Mike Hranica alternates passionate harsh vocals with smooth melodic singing. Melodies are front and center on “Chemical,” while the intensity ramps up on songs such as “The Thread.” The single “Lines Of Your Hands” includes some female vocals, which add variety. There are a lot of slow and mid-tempo tracks on the album, though they crank up the pace on songs like “Spiderhead.” The pacing gives it a different vibe than the typical TDWP album, but the songwriting is razor sharp.
Iron Age – The Sleeping Eye (20 Buck Spin)
20 Buck Spin has re-released Iron Age’s 2009 sophomore album, The Sleeping Eye, which is also the last full-length the Austin, Texas group has put out to-date. Ten years later, their amalgamation of hardcore, thrash, doom, and sludge metal hasn’t lost an ounce of strength. It doesn’t help that plenty of bands are doing this style of music nowadays, more so than there were back in 2009. It’s entirely reasonable that albums like The Sleeping Eye paved the way for that wave.
Electronic ambiance (“Materia Prima”) and dramatic flairs (the two-part “Arcana”) are coupled with the aggressive vocal barking and scorching twin-guitar leads. The entire album raises the anticipation for closer “The Way is Narrow,” which is an eight-minute bundle of every sonic component of Iron Age’s being. While Iron Age never broke big, The Sleeping Eye is an important release in the expansion of what hardcore/thrash could be.
Kadavar – For The Dead Travel Fast (Nuclear Blast)
The title of the latest album from German rockers Kadavar is inspired by a gothic poet, and For The Dead Travel Fast has a darker vibe than previous releases. The band says old horror soundtracks and Werner Herzog’s Dracula had a huge impact on the album.
While there are some ominous atmospherics, this album is still driven by the riff. From stoner to doom to psych rock, guitar is front and center. That makes tracks like “Evil Forces” and the retro-sounding “Poison” extremely catchy. In addition to first rate axe work, Christian “Lupus” Lindemann also delivers a wide ranging vocal performance. From deliberate doom to trippy psychedelic rock to blazing hard rock, Kadavar cover a lot of territory on this album.
Lacuna Coil – Black Anima (Century Media)
Over the years, Lacuna Coil‘s sound moved in a more accessible direction, with some of their songs receiving airplay on rock radio. 2016’s Delirium saw more heavy moments, and that continues on their latest effort Black Anima.
Tracks like “Sword Of Anger” and “Under The Surface” are typical Lacuna Coil songs, with melodic vocals from Cristina Scabbia and growls from Andrea Ferro. He also sings melodically on some songs, but the balance is tilted toward harsh vocals. There’s a gothic vibe to some of the songs, some industrial/electronic elements and on “Now Or Never” Scabbia delivers a very In This Moment vocal style about halfway through the track. Scabbia delivers an excellent performance with a lot of diversity. She channels Kate Bush on the opener “Anima Nera” and delivers some operatic soprano at the beginning of “Veneficium.” Black Anima is a compelling mix of metal and melody with memorable songs and the band’s patented vocal interplay.
Life Of Agony – The Sound Of Scars (Napalm)
After a dozen year gap between Broken Valley and A Place Where There’s No More Pain, only two years have elapsed between that record and Life Of Agony‘s latest, The Sound Of Scars.
It’s a concept album, continuing the narrative of the band’s 1993 debut River Runs Red. Though the lyrics revisit that era, the music is in the vein of their more recent releases. It’s heavy and melodic with a crisp production. The songs are straightforward with catchy choruses and memorable riffs. There are a lot of tempos and textures, from the grunge moments in “Lay Down” to the heavy rock of “Stone” to the drum-driven “Eliminate.” It’s a potent record, laden with emotion and powered by an engaging concept.
Cradle of Filth keyboardist/vocalist Lindsay Schoolcraft stays within the gothic mindset with her solo album Martyr, though this is more of an Evanescence sort of gothic sound. Having their former drummer Rocky Gray as co-writer on the album, as well as playing most of the instruments, might have also swayed things. There’s that influence on the first few songs, where chunky riffs meet Schoolcraft’s eloquent vocals.
These derivative tunes give way to more striking affair, like the solemn ballad “Blood from a Stone” and the heightened orchestral work on closer “Lullaby.” They come off far better than out-of-place tunes like the aggressive “See the Light,” which features harsh vocals from Xenoyr (Ne Obliviscaris) and comes off like a metalized “Bring Me to Life.” Martyr is at its apex when all the pageantry is stripped out and the focus is solely on Schoolcraft.
Michael Sweet – Ten (Rat Pak)
Between Stryper, collaborations with artists such as George Lynch and his solo material, Michael Sweet keeps extremely busy. Over the past five years alone there have been two Sweet & Lynch albums, a few solo records and a couple Stryper discs. As the title indicated, Ten is Sweet’s tenth solo effort.
This album is very guitar driven, with Sweet bringing aboard some well-known axemen to lend their talents to the record. That’s evident from the opening track “Better Part Of Me” which features Arch Enemy’s Jeff Loomis. Others making an appearance include Firewind’s Gus G, Fozzy’s Rich Ward, Whitesnake’s Joel Hoekstra and LA Guns’ Tracii Guns. They each add something unique and distinctive to the songs on which they appear, with Sweet’s singular vocals making things cohesive. Queensryche’s Todd LaTorre guests on the closer “Son Of Man,” one of the few vocalists that has the chops to keep up with Sweet.
Mortiferum – Disgorged from Psychotic Depths (Profound Lore)
Save for a tiny acoustic interlude, Mortiferum’s Disgorged from Psychotic Depths is a frightful debut album from this Pacific Northwest death/doom group. They vacate the darkest sonic corners, using the template of formative bands in the genre (especially those from Finland) to sanctify their bestial ways. There’s an equality between the blunt battering and churning crawl, and the transitions from one to the other are flawless.
Most of the songs occupy a seven-to-eight-minute space, though the band throws a surprise out with the chaotic “Inhuman Effigy” coming out of the lurching opener “Archaic Vision of Despair” like a panther out of a cage. No other song is as direct as that one, and its immediacy makes it an early favorite. The rest of Disgorged from Psychotic Depths may take longer to embrace, but its raw touch is worth the sacrifice.
Municipal Waste – The Last Rager (Nuclear Blast)
Longstanding party-thrash contingent Municipal Waste are back with the four track EP The Last Rager, in full alignment with their past releases. Puns like “Rum For Your Life” are funny enough and the execution of Ryan Waste’s riffs are spot on, all with Tony Foresta’s trademark chant.
The title track is more crossover thrash with a lyrical focus on the ultimate party, chock full of typical party tropes and riffs. The Waste are a band that is meant to be experienced in bite-sized portions and this 10 minute foray certainly serves that purpose, especially on the latter two tracks, but overall this an unremarkable trip down the annals of memory lane.
NecroticGoreBeast – NecroticGoreBeast (Comatose)
Every year a lot of brutal death metal albums are released that do not offer anything new and have fallen into the repetition of common elements of the genre. But there are bands who are trying to push the boundaries of the genre as far as possible. NecroticGoreBeast are one of those bands that have clearly tried to give a more effective look to brutal death metal genre with their self-titled debut album.
An extremely sharp and powerful production allows the band to showcase their ability to integrate slam/brutal death metal elements, with commendable performances. But this is not the whole show. In the layers of NecroticGoreBeast’s songs, there are a great deal of technical death metal touches, which makes the album a groovy and hyper dynamic work. Featuring additional vocals by Kraanium, Soiled by Blood and Analepsy, NecroticGoreBeast is reminiscent of the thrilling moments of the brutal death metal’s past masterpieces.
Sammath – Across The Rhine Is Only Death (Hammerheart)
Sammath’s war campaigns stretch back 25 years. The Dutch band’s sixth album, Across The Rhine Is Only Death is pure sonic obliteration. Speed and pulverizing drumbeats are a major facet. Even when the band takes a breather, a burst of speed is likely to come in a couple of measures. Jan Kruitwagen picks relentlessly, while drummer Wim van der Valk (ex-Centurian, Inquisitor) creatively taps his cymbals and moves his feet during slower parts.
These rapid tempos are established from opener “Savagery.” Sammath’s use of “Ferocious Mortar Fire” as a single is understandable. The drums actually sound like artillery fire. It’s a classic musical rendering of war. Paired with the occasional growl, Kruitwagen’s voice is akin to slow death in a trench. The drums mimic a wide assortment of blasting battle weaponry. With Across The Rhine Is Only Death, it’s easy to see why Sammath have rose to prominence in the Netherlands.
Screamer – Highway of Heroes (The Sign)
I haven’t heard Screamer before, which is odd, because these Swedes play a style I love; namely, ’80s-honoring NWOBHM music. These guys mash up everything they (and I) love about Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy, and throw it back at us with unabashed admiration here on their fourth offering, Highway of Heroes.
Variety isn’t the spice of life here: Screamer hit us with ten thrash-tinged metal anthems loaded with riffs (“Halo,” “Sacrifice”) and screamy (you guessed it) rockers like “Ride On.” While there isn’t anything earth-shattering here on Highway of Heroes, Screamer manage to drop an infectious album that lovers of ’80s metal will be all over.
Unleash the Archers – Explorers (Napalm)
Canada’s Unleash The Archers have a strong power metal vibe to their music. There is certainly a feel-good element to the music, which makes it appropriate for the genre. Coming two years after their album Apex, the EP Explorers is very short but sweet and features a couple of cover songs. They have bravado and a sweetness to them that is wonderful to behold. It’s hard to judge such an EP because it’s so short, but for the running time it is quite effective. It only gets the juices flowing, however, and I wish there was more here to satiate them.
The cover of the hair band Teaze song “Heartless World” is the stronger track here than the Stan Rogers cover, with a more traditional style and whole lot of power. Brittney Slayes vocals are great and fit nicely atop the tracks. This album had an impact, but I wish it was a bit meatier as there isn’t much to get attached to. This is still performed with the utmost quality and passion and a strong EP for those looking for power metal bliss.
Vanden Plas – The Ghost Xperiment – Awakening (Frontiers)
After the release of their two part Chronicles Of The Immortals opus in 2014 and 2015, German prog veterans Vanden Plas issued a live album in 2017 and also wrote a rock opera that they performed over 60 times in theaters in Europe. Their latest release is The Ghost Xperiment – Awakening.
Based on a documented paranormal experiment, the album is streamlined by Vanden Plas standards, at only 46 minutes long. The songs themselves are lengthy, giving the band plenty of time to explore a variety of tempos and intensities. Catchy choruses give way to extended instrumental passages on songs like “The Phantoms Of Prends-Toi-Gardes” and “Devil’s Poetry.” And while the songs are long, they are compelling. Part two of The Ghost Xperiment is due next fall.