This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Airbourne, Alcest, Botanist, Cathubodua, Dark Station, Dawn Ray’d, Edenbridge, Jinjer, Karyn Crisis’ Gospel Of The Witches, Moon Chamber, Motorhead, Ogre, Ordoruin, Swans, Timelost and Vastum.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Airbourne – Boneshaker (Spinefarm)
For their fifth album Boneshaker, Australian hard rockers Airbourne relocated to Nashville to work with superproducer Dave Cobb. He’s a Grammy winner best known for working with country artists such as Chris Stapleton, Zac Brown Band and Shooter Jennings, though he has worked with rock acts such as Rival Sons and Chris Cornell as well.
Don’t worry, Airbourne fans, they have not gone country. This album sounds exactly like their first four: good time rock and roll in the vein of AC/DC with melody and swagger. The songs are simple, straightforward and catchy as hell. There’s not a lot of subtext in songs like “Sex To Go,” “Backseat Boogie” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll For Life,” nor does there need to be. They blast through 10 tracks in just over a half an hour, and if you want to keep the party going, just hit repeat.
Alcest – Spiritual Instinct (Nuclear Blast)
France’s Alcest (a duo comprised of drummer Winterhalter and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Neige) return with their sixth album, Spiritual Instinct, the follow-up to 2016’s Kodama. It is also the band’s first release on Nuclear Blast, which sometimes signals a shift in sound or style for bands joining the label.
In the case of Spiritual Instinct, we see the band not so much shifting as evolving their glistening take on shoegaze-y post-black metal to stunning effect. At a mere six songs and 42 minutes, this is not an album with any fat to be trimmed, and each song stands strongly on its own as a compelling and emotional journey. Spiritual Instinct is Alcest at their most engaging, and is quite possibly their strongest, most complete record.
Botanist – Ecosystem (Aural)
For their latest album Ecosystem, the avant-garde green metal collective Botanist delve into the topic of redwood forests and their ecosystem on the West Coast of the United States. Written and recorded by the band’s live lineup, it is anchored by Otrebor (vocals, drums, hammered dulcimer). Davide Tiso (Howling Sycamore, ex-Ephel Duath) plays bass.
As you’d expect from a Botanist album, the only constants are change and dulcimers. The songs shift and move from beauty to destruction and back again. Tracks like “Alluvial” and “Abiotic” have mellow melodic singing, while “Harvestman” and “Sphagnum” are more frantic with harsh vocals. Unpredictable and experimental, the songs still are able to gain traction and connect emotionally.
Cathubodua – Continuum (Massacre)
Cathubodua is a well-known character in Irish mythology, a goddess whose name means “raven of battle” or “battle crow.” However, the band Cathubodua are not from Ireland, they hail from Belgium. Continuum is their debut full-length.
They play symphonic metal with an epic scope along with violin that does give some of their songs a folky, Celtic vibe. It’s a concept album driven by guitars, sometimes with a bombastic symphonic atmosphere and other times a more introspective feel. Sara Vanderheyden gives a diverse performance, able to sing with an operatic soprano or a rock style alto. She shows a lot of versatility, especially evident on songs like “Hydra” that have a lot of dynamics. The album is a bit long, and it’s a crowded genre, but Cathubodoa are off to a promising start.
It takes some bands years to release an album after they get together. Not so for the southern California crew Dark Station. A little over a year after their formation they are bursting upon the scene with their debut album Down In The Dark.
Their style can be characterized as hard rock, but they incorporate different approaches to the genre. Tracks like “Heroes” are relatively straightforward, while “Ryse” has more electronics and vocal effects. “No Life” and “Hollow” are radio-ready with hooks aplenty. Melodic vocals are prevalent, but heaviness and harsh vocals are evident on songs like “Ghost.” Dark Station have delivered an eclectic debut, and now have the challenge of cutting through the clutter of a crowded genre.
Dawn Ray’d – Behold Sedition Plainsong (Prosthetic)
Anti-fascist black metal with a folksy underbelly remains the focus for Dawn Ray’d on their second album, Behold Sedition Plainsong. The technique — glimpses of violin and acoustic guitars breaking through the screeching riffs and contemptuous vocals — hasn’t received a major upgrade since 2017’s The Unlawful Assembly. The refinement comes with the incorporation of the folk with the black metal; a far more fruitful collaboration on this go-around that includes a wonderful acoustic-led jaunt in “A Stone’s Throw.”
Though the violin work may get attention, the core of Dawn Ray’d is rebellious and ready to revolt against oppression at every turn. The band asks tough questions like “Can you imagine the horror/Of a fence they won’t let you through?/Another country refusing help/What if that was you?” with no clear-cut answers. That’s up to those rightfully enamored by Dawn Ray’d to discover for themselves.
Edenbridge – Dynamind (SPV/Steamhammer)
Fans of the long-running Austrian symphonic power metal band Edenbridge have had a lot of releases to enjoy over the past few years. After 2017’s The Great Momentum there was a live album, a box set collecting their first five albums, and now their latest opus, Dynamind.
For more than two decades composer/multi-instrumentalist Langvall and vocalist Sabine Edelsbacher have been delivering melodic, bombastic albums. This time around they explore some Celtic flavors with “On The Other Side,” an interesting contrast to their usual symphonic style. The ten tracks are memorable, with a lot of hooks along with interesting arrangements. The tour-de-force is the 12 minute “The Last Of His Kind,” an epic and cinematic song. In addition to the regular album, there’s a second disc with instrumental versions.
Jinjer – Macro (Napalm)
Djent is a very difficult genre to pull off. Jinjer switch up between Tatiana Shmayluk’s harsh and clean vocals on Macro, their fourth full-length album. The result is a vibrant mixture of sounds that ends up traversing a number of different styles quite effectively. The music structures are often complex and take some time to unlock. Still, the effort is worth it as this is very innovative and unique music.
There are a variety of time changes which make the djent tag quite appropriate, but this is only a small part of the music. It also has a heavy hitting aspect that is not unlike Fear Factory or Meshuggah. There is an undeniable variety that makes the album very compelling to listen to. However, there could be a more interesting nature to the music than there already is with more focus on the progressive tendencies of the outfit. A bit more depth would have been appreciated and it it is sometimes too dissonant for its own good. Still, this is one of the more interesting albums I’ve come across in some time and it deserves to be heard.
Karyn Crisis’ Gospel of the Witches – Covenant (Aural)
Covenant is the follow up album to Karyn Crisis’ Gospel of the Witches’ 2015 debut, Salem’s Wounds. Crisis once again takes a more melodic approach to Gospel of the Witches compared to the rawer, more metallic compositions of her former band, Crisis. Crisis were more violent than Gospel of the Witches, while her current band offers mysticism not apparent on Crisis. Even though the high squeals don’t seem to be a part of this band, Crisis still provides a dualistic approach to her vocals.
Covenant embraces the light and dark aspects of nature. At one moment, she croons mellifluously, and growls with angry impetus the next. Her former mate in Ephel Duath, Davide Tiso provides doomy dirges and melodious ringing strings and keys (also programming). Fabian Vestod of Skinlab beats the drums hypnotically, and impressively fills in time gaps. Covenant is sure to spellbind its listeners and satisfy longtime fans of Karyn Crisis.
Moon Chamber – Land Of The Lore (No Remorse)
Blazing the ears with splintering speed metal through Crystal Viper, singer Marta Gabriel is showing a new side of her talents with Moon Chamber and their debut Lore of the Land. Teaming with Rob Bendelow, founder of British classic rockers Saracen, Moon Chamber focus on sounds the of ‘70s and folk rock, but with guitars providing a warm, modern edge. Lore of the Land will remind listeners of the Renaissance laden Blackmore’s Night, the rockier side of Fleetwood Mac, and even a little modern Nightwish.
Gabriel’s diverse range and attitude shine throughout the record as harmonious guitar parts and arrangements allow her to sing with strength and bring a genuine glow when the mood allows it. She even takes on the bass duties while Pagan Alter’s Andy Green holds down the drums. Whether it’s the folksy bounce of “Ravenmaster,” the dreamy and atmospheric “The Goddess And The Green Man,” the strange, occult, Black Sabbath vibed “The Nine Ladies” or the colorful and catchy “Only,” Lore of the Land is a magnificent debut and demands many repeated listens.
Motorhead – 1979 Box Set (BMG)
Even though it’s much easier to record an album these days, most bands take a few years between releases. Back in the day, an album a year was the norm. Back in 1979, Motorhead released two incredible albums: Overkill and Bomber. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of those albums, BMG is reissuing the albums separately, along with a deluxe box set combining material from both.
All three original members of Motorhead (Lemmy, Fast Eddie Clarke and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor) have passed away, but songs like “Overkill,” “No Class” and “Bomber” will live forever. In addition to the original albums, the box set also includes two double-live albums of concert material from that era and lots of other goodies. There has been a lot of Motorhead material released since Lemmy died, some of it worthy, some not. These reissues are definitely worthwhile with the additional material, and superfans will want to spring for the box set.
Ogre – Thrice As Strong (Cruz Del Sur)
Thrice As Strong continues Ogre’s tradition of penning songs with elements of heavy blues and ‘70s hard rock elements. Black Sabbath immediately comes to mind, and British metal is at the forefront of their sound. Iron Maiden-like gallops signal verse lines on “The Future. The guitar intro to “Judgment Day” has a definite Diamond Head feel. “Blood of Winter” has a diabolic, down tempo quality similar to “Black Sabbath.” One of the lyrics even mentions heavy tri-tones.
While Sabbath will be on the tongues of listeners, vocally the group has more in common with AC/DC’s Bon Scott. Another aspect of Ogre that separates them from other bands in the traditional doom fold is the lyrics. Ogre pens thought-provoking lyrics on historical topics (“The Future”), science fiction (“Cyber-Czar”) and even Stephen King (“King of the Wood”), the most famous resident in their home state, Maine. The album title suggests perseverance, a quality that can’t be ignored on Thrice As Strong.
Orodruin – Ruins Of Eternity (Cruz Del Sur)
It has been 16 years since Orodruin released their debut album Epicurean Mass, and the time between that and Ruins Of Eternity has done nothing to hinder their emotive doom metal. A genre like doom metal has a timeless quality, so even though so many years has passed, this album doesn’t feel like it’s struggling to fit with an era or audience besides those enamored by their top-tier first album.
Orodruin have a tendency to loosen up their tempos on songs like “Forsaken” and “War On The World,” but they find their niche in the forlorn churn of “Voice In The Dark” and the title track. Ruins Of Eternity is a great traditional doom metal album, in a music climate where that can be hard to track down.
Swans – Leaving Meaning (Mute/Young God)
Two years after Michael Gira dissolved Swans, the experimental rock group finds itself reformed (in a manner) and releasing the 94-minute Leaving Meaning. And by reformed, we mean that Gira is composing a number of tracks and eliciting the help of select musicians to bring his visions to life.
Here on Leaving Meaning, he is supported by some former Angels of Light and Swans band members, along with The Necks, Anna and Maria von Hausswolff, Baby Dee, and many others. The plethora of musicians adds slight flavor to Gira’s typically eerie, hypnotic tracks, but make no mistake, this is still very much a modern Swans album. Meaning for the adventurous amongst us, it is a very strong and emotionally impactful release.
Timelost – Don’t Remember Me For This (Golden Antenna)
Timelost are a collaboration between Set and Setting guitarist Shane Handal and Woe bassist Grzesiek Czapla, who perform all the instruments themselves on their debut album Don’t Remember Me For This. Whatever a listener knows about either of those bands is not reflected in Timelost’s music, which aims into dream pop, punk and dark wave. The hazy aura of the first half of the album is swapped for a direct punchy approach, making for a creative disparity.
Both aspects of Timelost work in their favor, though there’s something about the lively final four or five songs of Don’t Remember Me For This that has the best reach of impact. Those songs will probably get the metalheads’ attention, especially the driving nature of “Heart Garbage,” though the lush shoegaze of something like the title track shouldn’t be brushed aside either.
Vastum – Orificial Purge (20 Buck Spin)
Bay area death metal collective Vastum are back with a vengeance on their latest release Orificial Purge. The slow death crawl begins with “Dispossessed In Rapture (First Wound)” and there is little in the way of subtlety, just more excellent mid-paced death metal with riff after riff pacing Daniel Butler’s growls and rasps.
The six tracks on display here showcase a band that has songs long enough to encapsulate the listener and surround them with spoken word vocals, growls, riffs and atmosphere. It’s a truly well-crafted experience all around. If you want death metal that never gets too fast and is chock full of atmosphere, you would be hard-pressed to find a better example of all of these combined than with this excellent release.