This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Behemoth, Brother Firetribe, Carnation, Dynfari, Finntroll, Fires In The Distance, Heathen, Make Way For Man, Orochen, Plague Years, Raven, Serum 114, Tygers Of Pan Tang, Varg, Voracious Scourge and The White Swan.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Behemoth – And The Forests Dream Eternally (Metal Blade)
And The Forests Dream Eternally was originally released in 1995 as a five song EP. It was in the early days when Behemoth played raw, black metal. The 2020 reissue include the original EP plus live versions of the tracks ranging from a few years ago all the way back to 1996. There are also rehearsal and pre-production versions of the songs.
The EP opens with “Transylvanian Forest,” a fast and raw slab of old school black metal. “Moonspell Rites” is moderately paced with “Sventevith (Storming Near The Baltic)” ratchets up the intensity. “Pure Evil And Hate” is a nod to bands like Bathory. There are three different live versions, and you can certainly tell the band’s skill level has improved from 1996 to 2017. The rehearsal and pre-production versions are even rawer, as you’d expect. For a glimpse into Behemoth’s early, black metal era, And The Forests Dream Eternally is an interesting blast from the past.
Brother Firetribe – Feel The Burn (OMN)
If the past six months have left you feeling down and out, fear not! Finland’s Brother Firetribe are here with their fifth album, Feel The Burn, to take away all your worries and replace them with warm synthy fuzzies. If you long for the days when Survivor ruled the airwaves and Sylvester Stallone was winning boxing matches (or if you just wonder what those days sounded like), here you go.
Once again, Brother Firetribe bestow upon us anthem after keyboard-laden anthem of good old-fashioned anthems that could fill up any Rocky soundtrack. Feel The Burn might be a great title for a weightlifting playlist, but these airy, upbeat songs are more hand-clappers than fist-raisers. Yet another solid offering of ’80s hard rock a la Journey and Survivor. Go ahead, let yourself smile!
Carnation – Where Death Lies (Season of Mist)
Belgian bastions of bludgeoning, Carnation strike slow and hard with their sophomore release Where Death Lies. This is the kind of European death metal that hearkens back to the days when Bolt Thrower were calculating their next strike with less overall groove and more all out pummeling.
Carnation do a great job of keeping the tempo in the middle range allowing for ample headbanging to tracks like “Spirit Excision” and “Malformed Regrowth” while the drums pound in your skull on the fills. A solid death metal album if you prefer a flair for the old in 2020, because skull bashing death metal never tires, especially when it’s done right.
Dynfari – Myrkurs er þörf (Code666)
For the past ten years, listening to Iceland’s atmospheric black metal band Dynfari has always been an unusual musical encounter, because what happens in their music seems to have not only its roots in metal music and its subgenres, but also comes directly from Norse ancient history, literature and mythology. Their music always seems to be a modern musical adaptation of Poetic Edda.
Myrkurs er þörf, Dynfari’s fifth studio album, is no exception. It cannot be considered a specific genre. Black metal is woven in strong elements of post rock, and in its underlying tone, light themes of folk and doom metal can be felt, which its endless atmospheric soundscape creates a grand emotional theatrical scene of human conditions. And in the end, the spirit that lies in the core of the album narrates a somber musical exploration through philosophy of life and death. Myrkurs er þörf reflects the power of a band that has masterfully incorporated the glory of Norse literature into their musical pillars.
Finntroll – Vredesvävd (Century Media)
It has been more than seven years since Finntroll‘s last studio album. Anticipation is high for the Finnish blackened folksters latest opus, Vredesvävd, which translates to “wrath-woven.”
After a cinematic intro, the album kicks in with “Att Döda Med En Sten.” It has a darker vibe that contrasts with “Ormfolk,” a rousing, uptempo track. Finntroll know how to blend folk, symphonic and black metal, varying the equation to add balance and variety.
Elements like the acoustic intro on “Vid Häxans Härd” also add diversity. It’s a skillful blend of memorable riffs and melodies contrasted with intense vocals from Vreth and augmented by a symphonic atmosphere. Minimal filler and quality songwriting from top to bottom make Vredesvävd one of Finntroll’s strongest efforts.
Fires In The Distance – Echoes From Deep November (Prosthetic)
Members of the melodic death metal band Archaic Decapitator have formed Fires In The Distance, which lets them explore a doomier frontier on Echoes From Deep November. They haven’t dropped the “melodic” moniker from their sound, pushing further into it with loads of keyboard work that includes forlorn piano work and pulsing electronics. It’s done in a way that may resonate with fans of latter-day Anathema.
Fires In The Distance aren’t as subdued as a group like Anathema can be though, letting the guitars blaze with smokey solos and relying on searing vocals to punctuate the inner discord the lyrics express. With the exception of the upbeat closing instrumental, “Sundial,” the other five songs hover around seven minutes each, giving the band ample chances to expertly juggle vast sonic moods.
Heathen – Empire Of The Blind (Nuclear Blast)
Long running thrash metal band Heathen have not released a full length since their critically acclaimed comeback album The Evolution Of Chaos in 2010. Long revered for their technical play alongside bands like Toxik, Realm and Paradox, they always stood out with more complex song structures than their other peers.
Empire Of The Blind is a bit more of a streamlined approach to thrash than their previous three efforts, one that sounds a bit more like Sacred Reich’s 2019 release Awakening, especially on the vocal side. If you are a fan of bands like Testament, Exodus, among other legendary thrash metal bands, you should feel right at home with Empire Of The Blind, a modern sounding take on a genre of yore.
The music performed on Make Way For Man‘s EP Rites is largely metalcore in nature, but has a slight djent as well as progressive aspect to it. Periphery comes to mind when listening to the band, though they are more metalcore than that. One can find a high dose of melody and some very catchy moments here. A lot of the songs build up from an intro into a crescendo of sounds and this makes the album interesting.
Make Way For Man definitely has some commercial tendencies and for me this brings them down a notch. Still, with such excellent musicianship, they are still far better than more commercial acts of a similar nature. The songs have an ability to stick in your head and this makes them poignant. Rites is a very solid collection of songs well worth your time. Fans of metalcore or progressive music will enjoy this.
Orochen – Thylacine (Suicide)
Thylacine is the third EP (second this year) from Gothenburg’s Orochen. The music this quartet produces is hard to categorize, as they deftly blend genres from folk to post-rock, from hardcore to alt rock. One thing is for sure, though, this stylistic concoction gives Orochen a unique and easily recognizable sound.
The four songs on Thylacine are a bit depressing lyrically, dealing with the current state of the world, and the music has an almost hypnotic quality to it. Rhythmically, the music has a percussive, tom-heavy style that lends a certain foreboding feel to the EP, while the vocal melodies have a distinctive earworm quality to them. Combine the two and we have an incredibly catchy “heavy post-folk” EP that is definitely worth checking out.
Plague Years – Circle Of Darkness (eOne)
Take the reckless nature of death metal, throw in the head-snapping bounce of crossover thrash, and Circle Of Darkness is what comes out. Plague Years doesn’t skimp on the catchiness, as these songs aren’t whizzing by without marking their imprint on a listener. This is a riff lover’s dream, whether the band is playing as fast as they can or sticking with a mid-tempo stomp.
Whichever mode the group is in, they keep the music distinguishable enough to not fall into a trap of repetition. They subvert expectations on closer “Urge To Kill,” which seems low-key based on the first 30 seconds of cleaner-sounding guitar until the track engages with one of the fastest riffs on the whole album. This regular shock to the system is one that Plague Years avoids overusing on Circle Of Darkness.
Raven – Metal City (SPV/Steamhammer)
NWOBHM legends Raven formed in 1974, released their influential debut Rock Until You Drop in 1981, and remained prolific throughout the ’80s and ’90s. After a gap of more than a decade, they released new albums in 2010 and 2015. Metal City is their fourteenth full-length.
More than four decades into their career, Raven still display plenty of energy. Opener “The Power” shows that frontman John Gallagher can still hit the high notes. The album is packed with rousing NWOBHM tracks that honor the band’s past without being stuck there. Songs like “Top Of The Mountain” and “Battlescarred” pack a punch while also having hooks and melodies. “Motorheading'” is a nod to Motorhead, and after mostly uptempo songs, the album closes with the ballad “When Worlds Collide.” With Metal City, Raven prove they’ve got plenty left in the tank.
Serum 114 – Im Zeichen Der Zeit (Napalm)
There are a few good riffs and some strong vocal chops, but ultimately Serum 114’s Im Zeichen Der Zeit is a laborious plod through some less than inspired punk rock. Bad, it is not, but staggeringly long it unfortunately is. Mediocre German punk rock could be justified if it’s down and out before you’ve had time to translate all the track names, but a whopping 50 minutes of the stuff is bordering on malicious.
It’s a familiar blend of simple, but supposedly catchy riffs with gruff German barks, courtesy of vocalist Esche, but a quick look beneath the labels finds no real reason that this record stands out to any fan of this already well-explored sound. Their following certainly won’t be beset, however, as the band trudges through a mixture of homogeneous riffing and ballads of cheddar that has managed to find them acclaim across the decade. It’s arduously long, it’s been done before and it’s been done much much better.
Tygers Of Pan Tang – Ambush (Mighty)
This week’s reviews feature two notable NWOBHM bands. Raven have a new album, while Tygers Of Pan Tang, who released a new record last year, are reissuing their 2012 album Ambush. It would seemingly make more sense to reissue one of their ’80s era albums instead of one that’s only eight years old, but Ambush is a quality release.
Produced by the late, great Chris Tsangarides (Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne), the album has plenty of the NWOBHM that made Tygers Of Pan Tang successful. It also pushes in other directions, evident on tracks like “Rock’n’Roll Dream.” While there are a couple of filler songs, the majority of the album is strong. The 2020 version is remastered and includes four bonus tracks. Two are live versions of songs on the album, and there’s a demo and studio outtake.
Varg – Zeichen (Napalm)
Just over a year after the release of Wolfszeit II, a re-recording of their 2007 debut, Varg are back with Zeichen. It’s an album that finds them returning to their pagan metal roots.
A soft, acoustic intro quickly transforms into full-on metal on the opener “793.” “Fara Til Ranar,” which includes female melodic vocals alongside harsh male vocals, tells the tale of the Nordic sea goddess Ran. “Wildes Heer” has some of the album’s most memorable riffs, while “Verrater” is the longest song on the record at nearly eight minutes, ebbing and flowing between melody and aggression. Pagan metal is at the forefront on the album, but Varg still incorporate elements of melodeath and black metal into the mix. In addition to the regular edition, there’s also a double disc version of Zeichen available that includes alternate versions of each song with guest musicians.
Voracious Scourge – In Death (Massacre)
The pedigree of talent involved with Voracious Scourge’s In Death legitimizes its death metal exploits. There’s veteran bassist Tony Choy partnered with former Suffocation drummer Mike Smith. Sinister vocalist Adrie Kloosterwaard takes the lead with his sadistic growls, and guest spots come from well-known guitarists like James Murphy and Andy LaRocque. The influence of a band like Death is obvious, from the inclusion of Murphy and LaRocque to the group’s respectable cover of “Born Dead.”
Voracious Scourge’s sound doesn’t step out of bounds or away from the kind of twisted death metal that’s released by the dozens on a weekly basis, but with experienced musicians on hand, it’s performed with finesse. No one’s effort is wasted, so even Choy gets a marvelous solo in on “Mental Enslavement.” In Death has Voracious Scourge in a contemporary frame of mind without forgetting what came before them.
The White Swan – Nocturnal Transmission (War Crime)
The Canadian atmospheric sludge trio The White Swan have been around for about four years now, and so far they have eschewed full-lengths in favor of EPs. Nocturnal Transmission is their fourth EP, and is four songs clocking in at around 20 minutes.
Fronted by Mercedes Lander (Kittie), who handles vocals along with drums, keyboard and guitar, The White Swan deliver expansive songs driven by heavy guitar riffs and smooth vocals. The tempos are slow and deliberate, with the judicious use of synths adding depth and atmosphere, especially on “Purple.” The EP closes with a cover of Tracy Bonham’s “Tell It To The Sky,” making it a bit heavier and doomier. As they continue to develop their sound and improve with each EP, anticipation grows for a full-length from The White Swan.