This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from 1349, Alter Bridge, Armagedda, Babymetal, Birdeatsbaby, Chaos Motion, Coffin Rot, Dark Station, Dismemberment, Infected Rain, Joseph Tholl, A Killer’s Confession, Konkhra, Necronomicon, Negator, Rexoria, Valcata and Xoth.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
1349 – The Infernal Pathway (Season Of Mist)
More than 20 years into their career, Norwegian black metal veterans 1349 still maintain plenty of edge and intensity, evident from their seventh studio album The Infernal Pathway. It’s their first new record in five years.
From regal, midtempo parts to crushing black metal, 1349 run the gamut of extremity. Drummer Frost (Satyricon) is the engine that powers the mighty beast, sometimes bludgeoning other times creative and dexterous. Tracks like “Enter Cold Void Dreaming” and “Deeper Still” are packed with riffs, and Archaon delivers a variety of solos throughout the album. It’s topped by Ravn’s harsh but understandable vocals. The brief “Tunnel Of Set” instrumentals from Demonoir return with installments VIII, IX and X that offer mellow respites before the brutality resumes. They aren’t breaking new ground, but fans of old school black metal will appreciate the album.
Alter Bridge – Walk The Sky (Napalm)
The members of Alter Bridge have been keeping busy with other projects. Frontman Myles Kennedy released his debut solo album last year, and there was a new Slash release. Guitarist Mark Tremonti’s band also released a new record in 2018, with drummer Scott Phillips’ Projected issuing a new album a couple years back. Their main band is back with Walk The Sky, their sixth studio album.
After a mellow intro, the band’s patented brand of uplifting hard rock/heavy metal kicks in with “Wouldn’t You Rather.” It’s packed with radio-friendly tracks like “Godspeed,” “Take The Crown” and “Pay No Mind” that deliver memorable hooks and singalong choruses. Kennedy has one of the most unique and powerful voices in rock and metal, and his prowess is on full display. With 14 songs clocking in at 60 minutes, it feels a couple songs too long, but I couldn’t tell you which songs to cut, because there’s not a weak track on the record.
Armagedda – Only True Believers (Nordvis)
From 2002 to 2004, Swedish black metal group Armagedda had a hell of a run. Multiple EPs and splits, plus three full-length albums, were the legacy they left after disbanding in 2004. Only True Believers is the second of their three albums, and arguably their most complete record. With help from Watain founder Erik Danielsson on drums, Armagedda put a grimy polish on the icy ferocity established on their debut The Final War Approaching (which was given a similar re-release by Nordvis earlier this year).
Unlike that one, the re-release of Only True Believers features two bonus tracks, including a worthy cover of Satyricon’s “The Night Of The Triumphator.” It’s true this album has been re-released a bunch of times already (as recently as 2017), but this is the first physical release in a decade to include these hard-to-find extra tracks, making it a necessary purchase for those yet to experience one of the finer black metal albums of the early 2000s.
Babymetal – Metal Galaxy (Cooking Vinyl)
Seen as a novelty by some when they first burst upon the scene, Japan’s Babymetal have become a worldwide sensation, albeit a polarizing one, over the past few years. Metal Galaxy is their third album, and first with two main vocalists instead of three.
Like their first two releases, Metal Galaxy juxtaposes metal riffage with pop melodies. Babymetal explore some different musical pathways, with some Middle Eastern flavor on “Shanti Shanti Shanti” and Latin influences on “Night Night Burn!” They bring aboard some guest vocalists, including Sabaton’s Joakim Brodens on the goofy, folk metal song “Oh Majinai,” Arch Enemy’s Alissa White Gluz on “Distortion” and Tim Henson and Scott LePage from prog rockers Polyphia on the only slightly proggy “Brand New Day.” It’s an album that will satisfy Babymetal’s legion of fans, but probably won’t convert their detractors.
Birdeatsbaby – The World Conspires (The Sign)
For ten years now, Brighton’s Birdeatsbaby have been enthralling us with their dark, cinematic version of progressive rock. The World Conspires is their fifth full-length over that span of time, and it is a sprawling fifteen song, 68 minute epic release that sees the quartet fully realizing their vision.
Birdeatsbaby cite influences as wide-ranging as Muse and Tool, and it shows. Throw in a touch of Kate Bush and a drop of Diablo Swing Orchestra, and you’ve got a rough approximation of their sound. But to top it off, they write great songs, from heavy metal-tinged numbers to eerie piano dirges and synth-driven churns. The World Conspires is a superb dark prog album, and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s just going to keep getting better with more listens.
Chaos Motion – Psychological Spasms Cacophony (Transcending Obscurity)
Based in France by way of Mexico, Chaos Motion is a perfect name for this tech-death band. Look at the album title: Psychological Spasms Cacophony is a nonsensical phrase. So are many of their song titles, such as “Absorption Disastrous” and “Perturbation of a Spin.” And that album cover – wow. It all says one thing: randomness.
And that’s what we get here. This debut album just might be one of the most chaotic, frenetic pieces of music I’ve heard all year. There’s no denying the talent involved: my brain can’t even comprehend the insane stops, starts, and changes of direction that permeate each song. Depending on the listener, Chaos Motion have delivered either a completely unlistenable plate of trash, or the most extreme technical death metal album of the year. I’m just slightly leaning towards the latter.
Coffin Rot – A Monument To The Dead (Blood Harvest/Rotted Life)
After releasing two demos, one split and one compilation, Portland, Oregon gore/horror-themed band Coffin Rot have returned with their debut full-length album. A Monument To The Dead contains some interesting things that keep the album as a remarkable work.
A Monument To The Dead can be reviewed in two ways. First, this album, like the hundreds of death metal albums that have old school approaches to the genre, may be free of any new and stunning points, and the band haven’t taken a new path. But on the other hand, it must be borne in mind that a new wave of old school death has been around for more than a decade and is growing stronger every year. Although Coffin Rot incorporate clear signs of American style death metal in their music, they strive to pay homage to Swedish death metal elders as well. Sons of Grave, Dismember, Obituary and Autopsy have released a delightful work, but they need to expand their scope of composing.
Dismemberment – Arc Of Ancients (Creator-Destructor)
The fall season is always the busiest time for music releases, especially the October/November months. With so much new music to peruse, it’s unfortunate that albums can sink to the bottom in favor of bigger names. There’s a chance that Dismemberment’s sophomore album, Arc Of Ancients, will meet that fate, but it’s not because of a lackluster product. Arc Of Ancients is one of the more pleasant surprises this year; a thrash and death metal hybrid with an infectious side.
This infectiousness comes from guitars that seemingly want to do nothing but solo at every free moment, especially in a song like “Final Outcome,” which features a lengthy trade-off solo section between guitarists Luke and Jacob Shively. The brothers tag team the guitar work in a way only two related people can, and there’s a dynamic edge to these nine songs. Noteworthy albums like Arc Of Ancients may not get the publicity they deserve, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored.
Infected Rain – Endorphin (Napalm)
Infected Rain hail from Moldova, a former Soviet republic in Eastern Europe. They have been around for a decade or so and released a few albums independently, and have now signed with Napalm Records for Endorphin, which should introduce them to a much wider audience.
The band plays modern metal with crisp riffs and electronics. Vocalist Lena is a powerhouse, combining throat-shredding screams with melodic singing. Tracks like “Symphony Of Trust” and “Passerby” have memorable melodies and also pack a punch. The closing song “Storm” is a subdued number with all melodic singing, a marked contrast to the rest of the album. Lena’s style channels everyone from Maria Brink (In This Moment) to Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) to Ash Costello (New Years Day) to create her own distinctive sound.
Joseph Tholl – Devil’s Drum (High Roller)
After shredding the strings with Sweden’s Enforcer, guitarist Joseph Tholl has set out on his own with his debut solo album Devil’s Drum. Still fronting the ‘70s tinged Vojd (before known as Black Trip), any preconceived notions about being a mix of those bands can be thrown out the window.
Devil’s Drum is mostly contemporary hard rock with a touch of punk. On the outset, this may sound very disappointing, but Tholl’s talent shines through providing exemplary guitar and vocal work. Many piano begun tunes bring a bright atmosphere to the proceedings and Tholl’s lead work is something to behold and reminds why he was such a key component to Enforcer. Drumming duties feature many at the stool including Hellacopters’ Robert Eriksson, Merciless’ Dia Psalma, and former Tribulation member Jakob Ljungberg. Speaking of Tribulation, there are few of those type crescendos and transitions exemplified on their past couple albums. Devil’s Drum is a new shade of the musical talent of Tholl. A most fascinating listen and can’t recommend enough.
A Killer’s Confession – The Indifference Of Good Men (Wake Up!)
The Indifference Of Good Men is the sophomore album from A Killer’s Confession, who are fronted by former Mushroomhead vocalist Waylon Reavis.
Many songs are in the hard rock vein, with tracks like “Numb” and “Angel On The Outside” ready made for radio with ample hooks and melodies and mostly clean singing. They also venture into metal with heavier songs like the Rob Zombie-esque “Trust Me” and “H.C. Tits” that incorporate harsh vocals. While guitar driven, there are also a lot of vocal effects and electronic parts that give it a modern vibe. Fans of electronic-tinged hard rock/metal will find this album right in their wheelhouse.
Konkhra – Alpha And The Omega (Hammerheart)
After a ten-year hiatus, Denmark’s Konkhra return with more groove-infused death metal via Alpha And The Omega. One could take a cursory look at their alumni and determine the group’s chunky countenance. James Murphy (ex-Obituary, ex-Testament), Chris Kontos (ex-Machine Head) and Per M. Jensen (ex-The Haunted) have all kept the band on a chugging course.
Shades of Machine Head and Fear Factory arise from rapid-fire breakdowns, while churning guitars will appeal to fans of Six Feet Under and Gateways to Annihilation Morbid Angel. Song topics often pay homage to ancient gods in songs such as “I Am Ra,” “Bow To Moloch,” and “Thoth.” While the music is moshabile, heavy, and at times technical (listen to the harmonic whistle of the guitars on “Misled”), it lacks the mystique of its lyrics. The subtle choirs of “Thoth” find the mark, but the rest of the album makes me want to hear Nile.
Necronomicon – Unus (Season of Mist)
Canada’s Necronomicon have a Middle Eastern sounding rhythm to their songs on Unus, the band’s sixth full-length release. The songs are beautiful and absolutely punishing at the same time. This is death metal with style and substance, more interesting to me than newer Nile, for example, because the songs are more accessible and smoothly played. The Egyptian element of the songs makes them more prominent than a lot of death metal and certainly catchier.
Though there’s not a lot of new ground broken, it is performed so well you won’t notice at all. The riffs are just so huge and enveloping that one can’t help but get entranced by the performances. The drumming is equally solid and forms a nice backbone for the music. All in all, this is one of the better death metal releases of the year and needs to be heard by all fans of the genre. The songs are so solidly constructed that you can’t help but leave the proceedings with a smile on your face.
Negator – Vnitas Pvritas Existenti (Massacre)
Germany’s Negator return for their sixth studio album of black metal domination, Vnitas Pvritas Existentia. The album’s lyrics are conceptual, based on an actual ritual crafted by vocalist Nachtgarm. Storm samples on “Temple of Light” and “Rite of the Trident” (“Der Ruf der See” appears as a bonus track at the end), set up and tear down the ritual, and paint a picture of malevolent spirits forming in angry clouds.
At a running time of just over 55 minutes, Negator created a well-composed album with many tempo changes. The occasional guitar solo makes it way into the foray, as do buzzing guitar tones and emotional tremolo picking. Death metal growls fill in much of the background, but the album is substantially black metal. “Prophets of Fire” is one of the better tracks with a booming introduction and a mid-tempo change with shades of Gorgoroth. Vnitas Pvritas Existentia is a well-produced, well-planned album that (truly) conjures dark entities.
Rexoria – Ice Breaker (Pride & Joy)
After emerging last year with their full-length debut, the Swedish band Rexoria quickly follow that up with their latest release Ice Breaker.
Melodic metal is the name of the game with songs that are catchy and right to the point. Power and folk influences are also injected into the music. Frida Ohlin gives a versatile performance, adding edge and grit to tracks like “Fight The Demons” and utilizing a more traditional singing style on songs like “Endless Nights.” Male call and answer vocals on “In The Wild” add variety to the proceedings. It’s a rousing album with memorable songs and pristine production.
Valcata is an ambitious project conceived by Brooklyn-based composer Oha Cade. It’s a symphonic metal opera utilizing musicians from across the globe, including eight vocalists (four male and four female). The vocalists include Mary Zimmer (Helion Prime, ex-Luna Mortis), Zuberoa Aznarez (Diabolus In Musica) and Cade.
The songs are intricately arranged and flawlessly produced, with a lyrical concept about the planet Valcata that has suffered mass extinction. With an album of this type, over-long bloated songs might be expected, but these are focused, most in the 3 to 5 minute range with a couple lengthier numbers. Symphonic elements are present, but Valcata also ventures into progressive territory on songs like “Horror Machine” and “Beyond.” The 11 minute “The Termination” is the album’s culmination, a cinematic and engaging song. The numerous vocalists provide a lot of diversity with styles ranging from mainstream rock to operatic baritone and soprano. The female vocalists are much more impressive, however.
Xoth’s Interdimensional Invocations will placate the hunger of gore-obsessed sci-fi freaks who just so happen to also love some rocket-fueled death/black metal. The foursome from Seattle, Washington treat their music like it’s in a tailspin towards an uncharted planet; spinning forward with a maniacal demeanor. The group’s technical acumen is on point, with even the bass guitar getting a solo in on “Mountain Machines.”
Interdimensional Invocations is largely as ruthless as death/black metal can get. All the instruments are sharp and pointed, ready to slice with every riff that comes forward. A few songs, like closer “Melted Face Of The Soul,” give the band the ability to make their sound more elastic without the use of vocals. Xoth’s second album is a delight for sci-fi metal heads.