This week’s reviews include releases from Angerot, Behemoth, Bonfire, Breaking Benjamin, Crematory, Expulser, Holy Grove, Killer Dwarfs, Ledger, Leila Abdul-Rauf, Møl, Our Place Of Worship Is Silence, Scorched, Septic Tank, Skeletal Remains and Spider Kitten.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Angerot – The Splendid Iniquity (Black Market Metal)
My home state of South Dakota is not known as a hotbed of metal, but there are some quality bands that hail from there. One of them is Angerot, a new band with veteran members who have been playing death metal since the late ’80s. The Splendid Iniquity is their debut album.
The band’s style is steeped in the classic Swedish ’90s era of the genre. Even though that style is ingrained in their DNA, the production is modern and they are anything but a nostalgia act. The dynamic songs range from mid-tempo crushers to more uptempo and frenetic blazers. The guitar work is top-notch, with memorable riffs throughout and some creative solos on songs such as the title track. Guest appearances from legends like LG Petrov (Entombed) and James Murphy (Death, Obituary) add even more credibility to what’s already an impressive debut.
Behemoth – Messe Noire: Live Satanist (Metal Blade)
It has been more than four years since Behemoth released the very well received The Satanist. As fans await the next studio album, they can enjoy a live version of that album plus numerous other tracks with the DVD/CD Messe Noire: Live Satanist.
The CD includes the album played live front to back, recorded in Warsaw in 2016. The Blu-ray/DVD has that entire show, which also includes six other songs, along with their set from the 2016 Brutal Assault festival. All six music videos recorded for The Satanist are also part of the package. Behemoth are a potent force, and the album played live is even more ominous and powerful.
Bonfire – Temple of Lies (AFM)
It’s been more than thirty years since Germany’s Bonfire released their first album. Back in the 1980s this band rivalled the Scorpions and Accept for popularity. Dozens of albums later, and after cycling through a number of vocalists recently, they have delivered Temple of Lies. Bonfire’s style remains intact: melodic hard rock that sounds like it comes straight out of 1988.
Temple of Lies is all about accessible riffs, catchy choruses and plenty of tasteful keyboards. The album is well produced and performed, and aside from a couple of songs that are weak vocally, it’s a great example of what some of us elder statesmen lovingly refer to as “dad rock.” However, the songs here don’t have a lot of staying power, resulting in a pleasing yet forgettable experience.
Breaking Benjamin – Ember (Hollywood)
After taking a break for a few years, Breaking Benjamin returned in 2015 with a new lineup (frontman Benjamin Burnley was the lone holdover) and their first new album in six years. Dark Before Dawn was a resounding success, topping the Billboard 200 album chart and spawning three number one rock tracks.
They continue that momentum with Ember. It’s packed with memorable songs primed for massive radio play, with “Red Cold River” already climbing all the way to number one. Even though there are plenty of accessible tracks, the band isn’t afraid to amp up the heaviness on songs like “Blood.” It’s a dynamic album, and time around they add more electronic moments, giving additional texture and depth. It adheres to the style the band has had so much success with over the years while still incorporating new elements that keep moving them forward.
Crematory – Oblivion (SPV/Steamhammer)
In their quarter century of existence, the German gothic metal band Crematory have had a few lineup changes. The only constant has been drummer Markus Julich. Their latest album Oblivion features a new bassist, Jason Mathias (Palace.)
Vocalist Felix Stass has been around since the early ’90s, his style gruff but understandable. Clean vocals are supplied by guitarist Tosse Basler. That combination, along with catchy songs and industrial elements, serves them well. As you’d expect from a gothic album, the mood is dark and melancholy, but there are peeks of sunshine on songs like “Stay With Me,” which has all melodic vocals. The production is pristine, and though there aren’t many surprises, it’s a well rounded and effective album.
Expulser – The Unholy One (Greyhaze)
In the early ’90s, Expulser came from the same Brazilian metal scene that gave us Sepultura and Sarcofago. Their debut album The Unholy One didn’t gain much prominence when it was released in 1992. However, that may change with this year’s reissue.
The gross misogynistic lyrics, especially in the album’s second half, don’t hold up well, but the sloppy death/thrash approach is bolstered by it being remastered. The inclusion of their excellent Fornications EP, originally from a 1990 split, is the essential group of songs on here.
Holy Grove – Holy Grove (Ripple)
There is no shortage of female fronted doom metal/occult rock bands these days. Holy Grove hail from the Pacific Northwest, a hotbed for the genre. They have been around for several years, and after a couple of demos are issuing their self-titled debut album.
With such a glut of bands, standing out from the crowd is a major challenge. Having a vocalist like Andrea Vidal helps. Her powerful pipes and soulful delivery bring the songs to life. Fuzzy Sabbathian riffs are the engine that drive the tracks that run the gamut from the deliberate “Huntress” to the blazing “Caravan.” The upbeat songs are more memorable than the slower ones, but they deliver quality at all tempos.
Killer Dwarfs – Live, No Guff! (EMP)
One of Canada’s most beloved and underrated metal acts from the 1980s, the Killer Dwarfs enjoyed brief success during heavy metal’s heyday before being overtaken by the grunge movement, like many other bands. The band released five albums between 1983-1992, as well as one more a few years ago, all in the straight-up, no frills metal style of the era.
Live, No Guff! was recorded over a number of Canadian tour dates and features all of the band’s most popular songs, most predominantly from Big Deal. The band still sounds amazing, with stellar axework and Russ Graham still sounding exactly as he did 30 years ago. Fans of the band will love this live collection, and those who aren’t familiar with them would be doing themselves a favor by checking out Live, No Guff!
Ledger – Ledger (Atlantic/Hear It Loud)
Jen Ledger has been the drummer for Skillet for the past decade, also providing vocals that help define their distinctive sound. Now Ledger is stepping out from behind the kit to front her own project. She’s not straying too far from the Skillet family, with the six song EP Ledger released on John and Korey Cooper’s label imprint. Korey helped with production and songwriting, while John appears on the track “Warrior.”
On Skillet songs, Ledger’s vocal style is generally upbeat and exuberant, joyfully belting out a line or a chorus. This album shows her vocal versatility, with both subtle and textured singing (like on the ballad “Ruins”) and the powerful sound Skillet fans are used to hearing. Musically there is plenty of hard rock, but also tracks with pop and alt rock influences. Ledger has delivered an impressive debut with plenty of memorable songs that shows she has a bright future as a frontwoman.
Leila Abdul-Rauf – Diminution (Cloister)
Leila Abdul-Rauf is known for her work with Hammers of Misfortune and Vastum, among others. Her third solo album Diminution is more post-rock than anything and doesn’t fit the bill for a metal album. The music is extreme in its use of atmosphere, however, so it fits the bill for a review on this site. The music is subtle to every degree and attempts to take your breath away by its vibrancy and color.
The music is a little too laid back for my tastes, however, and I wish there was more bite to these songs. Still, it’s fairly solid work for the type of material it is and makes for a very relaxing recording. The music is haunting enough in its subtlety, but a little too subdued on the overall scheme of things. It’s hard to fault the instrumentation used on the disc as it is very appropriate and used to its full potential. The instruments are too light and difficult to absorb, however. This is a decent recording, but far from a great one.
Møl – Jord (Holy Roar)
The comparisons to bands like Deafheaven and Ghost Bath may be a simple way to pinpoint what the Danish group MØL are doing with their full-length debut Jord, but their music isn’t as transparent as that. MØL place great trust in the shoegaze moments, as they envelop songs in a feverish melodic haze with a confident touch.
Some bands take a few albums to get that aspect down pat, but MØL only needs half a record to be successful. There’s still the obligatory cascading riffs and hyperactive blast beats, but it’s the sublime instances in the songwriting where their true talent sparkles.
Our Place of Worship is Silence – With Inexorable Suffering (Translation Loss)
With Inexorable Suffering is a vortex into a universe where pain is a norm, where the very threat of harm is tantamount to a friendly greeting. What passes for a wave is a clenched fist to the jawline. The sting from the blow is the pleasure of being alive, knowing it could always get worse.
A cavernous groove doesn’t pass for a reprise from the onslaught that channels the most extreme forms of death and black metal. Our Place Of Worship Is Silence‘s use of two unforgiving vocalists exacerbates this extremity. With Inexorable Suffering is abyssal-sounding, unconcerned with appealing to any particular audience.
Scorched – Excavated for Evisceration (20 Buck Spin)
Scorched’s Excavated for Evisceration puts together their 2015 self-titled demo and 2017’s Hymns from the Cellar into one package. The four songs in the 2017 release come first, followed by the seven songs from their first demo, though they could’ve easily been recorded in the same session.
Their surgical death metal is enhanced by various interludes, synth-ridden descents into horrific medical procedures and murky basements. It’s interesting getting the newer material up front, as there’s no marked decrease in quality or performance between the two releases. Excavated for Evisceration makes the argument that Scorched had their diabolical intentions clearly refined early in their career.
Septic Tank – Rotting Civilisation (Rise Above)
Lee Dorrian is a metal stalwart whose work with Napalm Death and Cathedral are legendary. He also runs the exemplary Rise Above Records and is quite an authority on extreme music, so why not revisit some of the roots of the extreme? Septic Tank are a hardcore punk band in the vein of the ‘80s with ample parts d-beat and vitriol to have you reminisce about unbridled chaos. Even though the band has been around since the ’90s, it was dormant for a long time, with Rotting Civilisation their debut full-length.
The whole affair is awash with the in your face attitude of Motorhead and the righteous guitar solos of Discharge to temper the pace. True to form the songs are bite sized pieces of acrimony and detuned to the max. “Victimised” and “Divide and Conk Out” are some of the best ragers to be offered among these 18 tracks which demand repeat attention. If you love d-beat and hardcore of any kind, you’d be hard pressed to find a more honest band than Septic Tank.
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality (Dark Descent)
California death crew Skeletal Remains worship at the altar of Pestilence’s Consuming Impulse and Devouring Mortality is the biggest culprit yet. Vocalist Chris Monroy is a dead ringer for Martin Van Drunen in the best possible way with a dry throated growl which paces furious and chunky riffs. A somewhat new wrinkle for the band are some of the more progressive styled riffs getting thrown into the mix ala the aforementioned Pestilence’s Testimony of the Ancients as well as Death’s Human, two of the greatest albums the genre has ever produced.
Their third album overall and their first with death metal powerhouse Dark Descent is easily their most fleshed out affair and an album that truly puts them into elite company. Horrendous are a band that comes to mind, a recent departure from Dark Descent’s roster and a void that Skeletal Remains amply fill. If the press received during the former band’s tenure with DD is any indication of how high Skeletal Remains can soar, then the sky’s the limit. These guys are the real deal and Devouring Mortality is primed to be one of the best death metal albums of the year.
This four-song album from Spider Kitten is as eerie and diabolical as it is surprisingly diverse. The epic horror movie feel is represented by the massive songs bookending the record with achingly slow, devilish power chords and percussion, laced with terrifying feedback and at times the sound of woeful French horns.
In between, there are shorter works of pastoral folk and scream metal, all playing the listener in the head as much as the spine. The vocals work best in the mid-range, and though the toms and bass drums are buried in the mix at times, this is altogether a scary, beautiful record.