This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Ascension Of The Watchers, Empress, Gargoyl, Greg Puciato, Hagathorn, Helion Prime, Hellripper, Horrible Earth, Johansson & Speckmann, Necrophobic, Ocean Gates, Sinner’s Blood, The Troops Of Doom, The Waymaker and Yatra.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Ascension Of The Watchers – Apocrypha (Dissonance)
Fear Factory’s Burton C. Bell and John Bechdel (Fear Factory, Ministry, Killing Joke, Prong) return with Ascension Of The Watchers‘ sophomore album, Apocrypha. The ambiance and melodies of Bechdel’s keys and Bell’s harmonized vocals create a dreamy, hallucinogenic effect, which help realize the album’s central theme on the beauty of existence.
Bell utilizes effects such as delay to create vivid, audio tracers. His voice is most souped up on the slumbering “Honoree,” which sounds cybergenetic, while he utilizes an acoustic guitar and strips away the effects for his most organic performance on “Sign Your Name.” “Ghost Heart” is a strong opener with a genuine goth club sensibility. Not to be left out of the conversation, Jayce Lewis’s drumming is exquisite on tracks like “The End Is Always The Beginning” and the title track. Apocrypha is encased in atmosphere with introspective lyrics that will inspire a sense of awe and take minds to a higher plane of thinking.
Empress – Premonition (Petrichor)
It’s been a tough road for Canada’s Empress, with the loss of bass player Brenden Gunn a year ago, but their debut album Premonition is finally out this week. It was ready earlier this year, but the band was deservedly signed by Petrichor, delaying the release. As one might suppose, Premonition is an emotional and cathartic experience, dealing lyrically with mental health and seeing musical contributions from all three band members.
Premonition is a riffier, more aggressive, and dare I say catchier version of Elder’s music. Progressive arrangements intermingle with earworm guitar and bass riffs (“Sepulchre,” “Passage”), and the occasional blast beat and harsh vocals (“Trost”) serve to keep things interesting. The wait was worth it: fans of prog/doom/sludge/stoner metal will love Empress.
Gargoyl – Gargoyl (Season of Mist)
Sometimes it’s not enough to have stellar performances, solid production and a strong conviction at your disposal. Sometimes it simply doesn’t work. The eponymous debut from avant-garde prog-rock outfit Gargoyl is one such mismatching.
I understand that avant-garde, in essence, isn’t supposed to play by any sort of rule book – breaking boundaries and playing to the ‘extra-ordinary’ is sort of the point. But there’s only a certain level of incongruousness I can bear before things become grating.
Over 11 tracks and just under an hour, Gargoyl show off great performances – particularly from the drumkit – and a decent space of gothic-laced production to show them off in. But the tracks themselves lack a sense of memorability. Partly due to Luke Robert’s grand vocals sitting uncomfortably atop the harsh and frequently off-kilter riffs and equally due to the lyrics tripping themselves up in effort to fit the melodies, any tension conjured from the skillful instrumentalism is often sucked dry by a deflating hook or a wince-inducing melody.
Greg Puciato – Child Soldier: Creator Of God (Federal Prisoner)
Greg Puciato’s versatility is unquestioned. From the complex intensity of the Dillinger Escape Plan to the electronic stylings of The Black Queen, he embraces many different styles of music. His debut solo album Child Soldier: Creator Of God expands that musical palette even more.
There are mellow acoustic tracks like “Heaven Of Stone” alongside aggressive, extreme songs such as “Fire For Water.” “Temporary Object” is a pop song, while “You Know I Do” is a peaceful ballad. Many tracks mix aggression, melody and experimentation. Puciato handles all the instruments except drums, which are provided by his former bandmate Chris Pennie, current Killer Be Killed bandmate Ben Koller (Converge) and Chris Hornbrook (Poison The Well). At 65 minutes, the album is a bit long, but there’s so much diversity that it’s only a minor issue.
Hagathorn – Hartwold (Nordvis)
Hagathorn’s soothing folk is the product of musician Will Ott, who handles all the instruments on the band’s debut album, Hartwold. This album is the definition of understated, as none of the eight songs reach any sort of crescendo or tipping point. Percussion isn’t used much, and the only vocals are a few chants on closer “Birch Lore.” Hartwold is instrumental folk music rich in lore and delivered with authenticity.
If a listener wants atmospheric sounds or great meditation music, Hartwold is solid on those fronts. However, all the passion in the world can’t make these modest compositions perk up. It’s that way on purpose obviously, but the album could’ve used a track or two that was at least a touch upbeat. Liveliness is the jolt missing from Hartwold.
Helion Prime – Question Everything (Saibot Reigns)
Very upbeat power metal with a female vocalist is what is to be found on Helion Prime’s third full-length release Question Everything. The band’s style is similar to Unleash the Archers. We find a more standard sound here, however, with more catchy sounding portions. The music is very melodic and easy to grasp, which means it’s very accessible. Power metal fans will find a lot to like here with such a fun sounding recording.
The very pleasant vocals complement the rest of the music and make if very smooth sounding. This is still somewhat cheesy, but it is a very fun recording. It is one that power metal fans will easily lap up. These enthusiasts will find a great deal to like here. All the songs are fun, but “Reawakening” certainly stood out amongst the lot. All in all, this is a strongly recommended listen for fans of the power metal genre.
Hellripper – The Affair Of The Poisons (Peaceville)
The one-man Scottish black/speed metal outfit Hellripper issued their full-length debut in 2017. After a couple of splits and an EP since then, Hellripper (aka James McBain) have signed with Peaceville Records for The Affair Of The Poisons.
It’s not 100% McBain, as he brought aboard some guests for additional vocals and lead guitar parts. Tracks like “Vampire’s Grave” and “Blood Orgy Of The She-Devils” mix Motorhead with black metal, while songs such as “Beyond The Convent Walls” bring speed metal to the forefront with blazing tempos. It’s raw and groovy, with the harsh vocals adding edge to the melodies of the guitar. It has an old school feel, inspired by bands ranging from Venom to Metallica.
Horrible Earth – Discography 2013-2019 (HPGD)
Boston, Massachusetts death metal/grindcore act Horrible Earth decided to release a compilation that covers all the works they’ve done from 2013 to 2019. Discography 2013 – 2019 contains their debut self-titled demo, Typical Human Behavior LP, songs from the split with Psycho, and a bonus GG Allin cover, recorded live at Maryland Deathfest.
What Horrible Earth do in their music is combine and process death metal and grindcore into a single musical object. Although death metal is their main focus, this processing takes shape in their music in such a way that each of these two genres complements the other in structural content. In the meantime, touches of hardcore punk can be traced here and there. For those who are unfamiliar with Horrible Earth, Discography 2013 – 2019 is a good guide. Although no profound changes happened in their songwriting, it clearly shows the path Horrible Earth have taken over the past six years.
Johansson & Speckmann – The Germs Of Circumstance (Soulseller)
Extreme metal legends Rogga Johansson (Paganizer, Ribspreader, Megascavenger) and Paul Speckmann (Master) joined forces in 2013, and even with all their other band obligations, have managed to churn out an album every two years or so. The Germ Of Circumstance is Johansson & Speckmann‘s fifth release.
While Speckmann’s fierce vocals and Johansson’s excellent guitar work are in the spotlight, drummer Brynjar Helgetun also delivers a first-rate performance. The Germs Of Circumstance is meat and potatoes old school death metal with a mostly rapid fire pace, with some tempo shifts for variety on songs like “Take The Lions Share.” It has plenty of rawness and aggression along with excellent musicianship, which will be right in the wheelhouse of death metal aficionados.
Necrophobic – Dawn Of The Damned (Century Media)
The Swedish death/black metal band Necrophobic have been around for more than 30 years, with quite a few lineup changes. Drummer Joakim Sterner is the lone remaining original member. For their ninth studio album Dawn Of The Damned, they have yet another lineup change, with bassist Allan Lundholm (Moondark) joining the fold.
The current lineup is a strong one. Vocalist Anders Strokirk, who appeared on their 1993 debut, has been back in the band for a few years now, and delivers a potent performance. Guitarist Sebastian Ramstedt is the main songwriter, and has composed songs that shift from straightforward to sophisticated, with something interesting always right around the corner. They also adeptly shift from compact tracks such as “Tartarian Winds” to more lengthy numbers such as the seven plus minute “The Infernal Depths Of Eternity.” 2018’s Mark Of The Necrogram was a strong return to form, with Dawn Of The Damned continuing that momentum.
Ocean Gates – Ocean Gates (Boomland)
Spanish rockers Ocean Gates are new to the scene, having come into being only a few years ago. This eponymous album is the quintet’s debut, an earnest effort in the vein of ’70s classic hard rock, doom, and even a bit of NWOBHM (in fact, the catchiest song on Ocean Gates is a cover of Trespass’s “Stormchild”).
Ocean Gates are a band that practically drips potential. Every song has moments of brilliance, and there is obviously a ton of talent within the band, whether it is the dual guitars of Mito and Ruben or the vocals of Nuria. There is room for improvement, though: tighten up some of the songwriting (too many of the intros drag on too long) and add some polish to the vocals, and we’ve got a strong rock act ready to roll.
Sinner’s Blood – The Mirror Star (Frontiers)
Sinner’s Blood are a new melodic metal band from Chile. Fronted by James Robledo (Renegade, Thabu), the group blends classic stylings with some modern elements.
The songs are catchy and accessible, with guitars that are heavy and melodies that are memorable. Keyboards provide atmosphere, but stay in the background. Robledo sounds a bit like Jorn Lande, but with more grit and edge to his delivery. “Phoenix Rise” has a traditional metal feel, but a brief metalcore sounding section gives it diversity. Power ballads like “Remember Me” are contrasted by aggressive tracks such as “The Path Of Fear.” The songs are streamlined with minimal filler, with the exception being the seven minute “Who I Am,” a more epic composition. It’s a well-performed debut that melodic metal fans should appreciate.
The Troops Of Doom – The Rise Of Heresy (Blood Blast)
It’s not a coincidence that The Troops Of Doom named themselves after the classic 1986 Sepultura song, as the band features original Sepultura guitarist Jairo “Tormentor” Guedz. The EP features four original songs that seem unearthed from the early days of death/thrash, along with faithful renditions of “Troops Of Doom” and “Bestial Devastation.” The Rise Of Heresy could’ve been released between Morbid Visions and Schizophrenia, that’s how much it sounds like that era of the band.
It could’ve been easy for The Troops Of Doom to be nothing but a tribute act to bank off Guedz’s past glories, and the covers may come off that way, but the original compositions are so well done that it’s hard to deny the group has something here. There’s a subsection of fans that wish Sepultura could still write material like this, so Guedz and company are fulfilling that desire with The Rise Of Heresy.
The Waymaker – Kingdom Of Heaven (Black Lodge)
The melodic power metal band The Waymaker has only been around for a little more than a year, but the lineup is made up of veteran musicians. Christian Liljegren (Narnia) and Jani Stefanovic (Solution .45, Shakiah) were both in Divinefire, the Christian power metal band that released several albums.
The trio is completed by Katja Stefanovich, Jani’s wife, who has released solo albums in Finnish and English. All three handle vocal duties on their debut Kingdom Of Heaven. The songs are soaring and melodic with plenty of heaviness. Tracks like “Marching On” are bombastic, while songs such as “The Rain Of Your Love” are more subdued. They also cover the Stryper song “Soldiers Under Command,” which fits in well with the lyrical approach of Kingdom Of Heaven.
Yatra – All Is Lost (Grimoire)
Maryland-based doom trio Yatra return with their third album, All Is Lost. The album follows Blood Of The Night, which was released just earlier this year. The band are fairly standard doom. Their guitar tones are fuzzy and mired in groove. There are hints of black metal, too.
The title track kicks off the album with a slow, black/death riff. This is not to say they are a death/doom band, but there are elements of that sound. Vocally, the band opts for sandpapery, quasi-black metal tones, but there a couple of clean vocal passages on “One For The Mountain” and “Tyrant Throne.” Yatra also present psychedelic hints. “Blissful Wizard” opens with the hallucinogenic chime of a sitar. Also, some of the guitar solos bear a ‘60s psychedelic charm. The drumming should engage the listener. Subtle nuances make the band stand out, but overall, All Is Lost is pretty standard doom that will appeal to that crowd.