This week’s Heavy Music HQ album reviews include releases from Bad Bones, Chevelle, Fight The Fury, Hate Eternal, Hissing, Icarus Witch, Languish, Megaton Leviathan, Northward, Nothgard, Rising, Sirenia, Skepticism, Striker and Unleashed.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Bad Bones – High Rollers (Sliptrick)
Bad Bones have a grasp on the hard rock end of things on High Rollers, their fourth full length album. This is an impassioned work that has strong strains of the type of music that Guns N’ Roses perform. It is more modern in nature, but this is a perfect example of party rock music, high in adrenaline and tries to get the blood pumping. Yet it is mid paced and never becomes overly ambitious at any point. Instead, the band is content to settle for songs that are straightforward and easy to absorb.
The band isn’t pushing the envelope and this is just very good rock music and nothing more. The stripped down style does lead to a great deal of enjoyment, however, and Bad Bones really are having a good time performing their music. The feel good approach is infectious. It isn’t anything overly new and the music does get a bit generic, however. Still, High Rollers is an entertaining endeavor that makes for a good party listen.
Chevelle – 12 Bloody Spies: B-Sides and Rarities (Epic)
Chevelle have had a long and successful career with numerous number one singles ranging from “Send The Pain Below” to “Face To The Floor” to “Take Out The Gunman.” Their last studio album, 2016’s The North Corridor, landed in the top 10 of the Billboard 200. As fans await the next studio album, 12 Bloody Spies: B-Sides and Rarities compiles rarities and b-sides from throughout their career.
From older material like “Until You’re Reformed” from the Wonder What’s Next sessions in 2002 to “A Miracle” from the North Corridor sessions, there’s a variety of material, which also includes acoustic, cover and instrumental tracks. As you’d expect from a compilation, the quality varies, but there are some worthwhile songs to dig into while waiting for a new record.
Fight The Fury –Still Breathing (Atlantic)
2018 is the year for Skillet side projects. Earlier this year drummer/vocalist Jen Ledger released an EP, and now frontman John Cooper has teamed up with Skillet guitarist Seth Morrison along with guitarist John Panzer III and drummer Jared Ward to form Fight The Fury. Their debut is Still Breathing, a 5 track EP.
It finds Cooper exploring heavier and more metal musical pathways. Tracks like opener “My Demons” and “Still Burning” have plenty of hooks and melodies, but also ‘core elements and some harsh vocals. “Dominate Me” has a Disturbed vibe while closer “Lose Hold Of It All” has Five Finger Death Punch influences. Cooper is a big metal fan, and Fight The Fury is an entertaining passion project that gives him a chance to delve into more extreme (but still accessible) music.
Hate Eternal – Upon Desolate Sands (Season Of Mist)
For two decades now, Hate Eternal have delivered consistently good death metal. And while their music has been consistent, their lineup has been a bit more fluid. That’s the case for their latest opus Upon Desolate Sands, which features new drummer Hannes Grossman (Triptykon, Blotted Science).
Erik Rutan’s guitar and production prowess are well established, and that continues on Upon Desolate Souls. Crushing heaviness prevails, combining oppressive and dense sections with groovier, driving riffs and periodic shredding solos. Rutan’s death growls are straightforward but effective. The arrangements are creative, and subtle atmospheric touches on songs such as the title track add depth to the extremity.
Hissing – Permanent Destitution (Profound Lore)
Hissing’s Permanent Destitution is a brisk, calculating death metal record, one fascinated with noise and industrial sounds. They aren’t the main factor in these six songs, but they pop up in a few intros and outros to offer the band’s idea of a reprieve. This idea is not one of relaxation, but a seething inundation of lifeless dissonance meant to keep the listener trapped in Hissing’s private hell.
Permanent Destitution doesn’t skip on the punishment, with the trio locked into a cavernous tone. Hissing aren’t all about having the tempo on maximum speed, with “Eulogy in Squalor” toying around with pacing in a satisfying way. Songs like this are a sign that the group isn’t content with hyperactive blasting and monotonous riffs.
Icarus Witch – Goodbye Cruel World (Cleopatra)
Six years after their last album, the Pittsburgh traditional metal band Icarus Witch have re-emerged with Goodbye Cruel World, their fifth studio album. It’s their first with new vocalist Andrew D’Cagna (Brimstone Coven), and also features drummer Jon Rice (Skeletonwitch, Behemoth).
Even with the extended hiatus and new singer, Icarus Witch don’t miss a beat. The songs are melodic and catchy, and D’Cagna has a varied and potent vocal delivery, channeling everyone from Boston to Queensryche. It’s a diverse album that also has their first instrumental along with a duet with Katharine Blake (Mediaeval Baebes) on the ballad “Antivenom.” While Goodbye Cruel World might sound like an ending, it’s actually a new beginning for Icarus Witch.
Languish – Unworthy (Prosthetic)
Languish is from the minds of two members of sludge band North, a death/grind avenue that affords them a platform to unleash their primitive sides. Unworthy is a series of despair-filled, mini-sized compositions bent in an uncomfortable direction. No song is over three minutes, and not even half of the 15 tunes reach two minutes. This is uncut death/grind delved out with as much anger as possible.
Unworthy starts off with a succession of dense aural blows, as an early chunk of the album whizzes by without a chance to take it in. Only later on do they restrain their tempos, with the instrumental title track taking on a sludgy pace. Languish leave a more vivid impression on these songs compared to the blinding fury that takes over much of their second full-length.
Megaton Leviathan – Mage (Blood)
Megaton Leviathan founder Andrew James Costa has kept expectations of where the band is headed next uncertain since he started the group over a decade ago. This unpredictability is heightened on Mage, as electronics play a hand in the progressive influence on their droning metal. An array of new talent, including vocalist/violinist Andrea Morgan and ex-Lord Dying drummer Jonathan Reid, help this shift come through.
What’s left over from previous albums is Megaton Leviathan’s confined momentum, with songs drifting through placated riffs and weighty synths. Keyboards are a prevalent instrument used on Mage; the massive 16-minute closer “Within the Threshold” has its humble roots in synthwave, which eventually transitions into a sonic LSD trip. That description goes for Mage as a whole, but it’s a trip worth embarking on.
Northward – Northward (Nuclear Blast)
The origins of Northward date back more than a decade, when Floor Jansen was in After Forever. She jammed with Pagan’s Mind guitarist Jorn Viggo Lofstad at Progpower USA back in 2007, and then they wrote an album of material. Last year they regrouped and finally recorded the songs from nearly a decade before.
While most of Jansen’s bands have been symphonic metal, Northward is much more stripped down. The songs are simple, direct and extremely catchy. Tracks like opener “While Love Died” and “Let Me Out” are driving hard rock, while songs such as “Storm Of Glass,” “Paragon” and the acoustic ballad “Bridle Passion” are even more accessible. Floor’s sister Irene guests on “Drifting Islands.” As you’d expect from the style of music, Jansen’s vocals are more straightforward as well, but still powerful and emotional.
Rising – Sword and Scythe (Indisciplinarian)
Haven’t heard of Denmark’s epic metal band Rising? That’s okay, because you’ll know who they are after checking out their excellent fourth album, Sword and Scythe. This is a concept album of sorts, but not to the degree that it detracts from the songs themselves. But it’s a grand concept: it’s about the history of mankind and how that history has a circular nature to it.
Rising write compelling, varied songs, progressive in nature yet quickly to the point, like a more succinct, up-tempo Khemmis. And like that band, Rising features excellent vocals, as heard on standout tracks such as “Empirical” and “Hunger & Exile.” If you love recent output from bands such as Khemmis and Sorcerer, Sword and Scythe will hit you right in the sweet spot.
Nothgard – Malady X (Metal Blade)
For their fourth album Malady X, the German melodic death band Nothgard have signed with Metal Blade Records, which may help garner them more North American exposure.
Their brand of melodeath blends melodic guitars and harsh vocals from Dom R. Crey with orchestral keyboard elements that give them an epic sound. There are bombastic tracks like “Shades Of War” along with groovier songs such as “Guardians Of Sanity” and thrashier numbers like “Epitaph.” One of the album’s most memorable songs is “Deamonium I” with guest vocals from Battle Beast’s Noora Louhimo. There are also an appearance from Kalmah’s Veli-Matti Kananen. While incorporating some of the genre’s typical elements, Nothgard also put their own spin on melodic death metal.
Sirenia – Arcane Astral Aeons (Napalm)
Since their debut in 2002, the Norwegian symphonic/gothic metal band Sirenia have consistently released a new record about every two years. They continue that pattern with Arcane Astral Aeons, their ninth studio album and second with vocalist Emmanuelle Zoldan.
While the songs are epic with intricate arrangements and ample atmosphere, they are relatively streamlined, with opener “In Styx Embrace” the album’s longest song at six minutes. Zoldan is even more comfortable this time around, displaying a wide vocal range and a dynamic delivery. Harsh vocals from Martin Veland on songs like “Love Like Cyanide” and “Queen Of Lies” add extremity and variety. While in the vein of previous releases, there are enough new elements to keep things fresh.
Skepticism – Stormcrowfleet (Svart)
Originally released in 1995, Skepticism’s debut album Stormcrowfleet was one of many that helped usher in a whole new sub-genre of metal in funeral doom. Its methodical pacing resembled a grim procession, with the organesque keyboards giving the proceedings a pious atmosphere. Though funeral doom has been finessed and dissected over the last few decades, Stormcrowfleet manages to retain its maddening charm.
There are no bonus tracks or major revelations to anyone who has already heard Stormcrowfleet, though it’s being released on vinyl for the first time. The album has a new mix taken from the initial tape reels, and the band makes sure to explain that nothing was added or changed from the original recordings. This keeps Stormcrowfleet dated in the time period it came from, while the modern equipment used for the remix gives the album enough of a modern makeover to win over a generation not brought up on this classic.
Striker – Play To Win (Record Breaking)
Canada’s metal stalwarts Striker re-enter the fray with their sixth album, Play To Win. The Edmonton quintet play an upbeat and entertaining brand of heavy metal firmly ensconced in the trappings of the late ’80s (and even some early ’80s AOR), but they don’t so much mimic the bands of those days as they do take those styles and make them their own.
You can hear influences ranging from Dokken to Metallica on Play to Win, and it’s all done with masterful songwriting, performances and production. This is a slick, aggressively-mixed record that drips with excitement and replayability. Aside from the odd choice of a closing song, Striker have produced their best record since City of Gold, and all fans of straight-up hard rock and metal need to own this album.
Unleashed – The Hunt For White Christ (Napalm)
The Hunt for White Christ is the thirteenth studio album from the mighty lords of death metal Unleashed, and again they’ve made another great homage to gods of the north, telling the stories of Norse mythology and epic battlefields. As an impressive follow up to Dawn of the Nine which was released back in 2015, The Hunt For White Christ makes everything clear that Unleashed are still in top form after nearly three decades.
On The Hunt For White Christ Unleashed waste no time and attack with “Lead Us into War,” yelling “All hail the son of, Thor lead us into war” as they lead us into their recent perfectly created battlefield, while with “Terror Christ” and “They Rape the Land” they go melodic and groovy and a bit of symphonic. All four legendary members of Unleashed have played together for more than 20 years and nothing is better than knowing each others’ ability and transcending it to highest levels of musicianship and songwriting. Unleashed are standing on that spot for many years and their past few albums, including The Hunt for White Christ are proving it.