Welcome to Heavy Music HQ’s final weekly reviews of 2020. Our lists of best albums, best progressive albums and more are coming soon. This week’s reviews include releases from Asmodina, Boris, Cro-Mags, Deathorchestra, Demonstealer, Domkraft, Engulfed, Folterkammer, Grayceon, Heretical Sect, Horna, Merzbow, Satans Fall, Silent Skies, Summoner and Yashira.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Asmodina – Inferno (Apostasy)
Asmodina were a German death metal band who were around for about eight years in the ’90s and released one full-length album. Their claim to fame is that their vocalist was Angela Gossow, who would go on to join Arch Enemy a couple years after Asmodina ended. Their 1997 album Inferno is being reissued.
It’s old school and raw with primitive production. There are some intriguing tracks, such as “Impregnate The Beast Inside.” In addition to the original seven songs, there are three bonus tracks. If you’re a Gossow fan, it’s worth checking out, plus you can help out a charity by buying it. Gossow is donating her share of the album proceeds to a charity project for children.
Boris With Merzbow – 2R0I2P0 (Relapse)
There have been a lot of Boris collaboration albums over the years, and several of those have been with the noise project Merzbow. Their latest collaborative album is 2R0I2P0, which translates to “2020 R.I.P.”
The songs are lengthy and eclectic. From the serene and pastoral opener “Away From You” to the doomy “To The Beach” to the noisy and chaotic “Love,” the combination of Boris and Merzbow incorporate something different on each track. With artists unafraid to be experimental and push boundaries on their own, when the two unite they create compositions are more than the sum of their parts. At 75 minutes, it’s a lot to absorb, but fans of previous Boris and Merzbow collaborations should enjoy this one as well.
Cro-Mags – 2020 (Mission Two)
After a 20 year gap between albums, hardcore legends Cro-Mags released In The Beginning earlier this year. Just as their tour to support the album was to kick off, the pandemic hit, so they decided to write some new music. 2020 is a six song EP clocking it at 20 minutes and 20 seconds, chronicling some of the events of the year.
Tracks like “Age Of Quarantine,” “Violence And Destruction” and “Chaos In The Streets” describe what life was like during a year unlike any other. The songs are groovy and intense with Harley Flanagan’s harsh vocals and some gang choruses on songs such as “Life On Earth.” Closer “Cro-fusion” is an instrumental ending with sounds of a riot. Thankfully 2020 will soon be in the rearview mirror, but albums like 2020 will live on as a reminder of this period in our history.
Deathorchestra is a collaboration between Russian death metal band Buicide and the Olympic Symphony Orchestra, the purpose being to give Death songs a symphonic makeover. Recorded back in May 2019 in Saint Petersburg, Symphony Of Death has seven songs that span Death’s catalog, with an emphasis on their latter era. Three songs from The Sound Of Perseverance, including a fantastic rendition of “Voice Of The Soul,” and two songs from Symbolic are included.
This material seems fit for an orchestral presence, as these songs have a rebirth of sorts. Keeping them instrumental was a good move, as vocals would’ve been a distraction. The other two songs, a stirring take on Individual Thought Patterns’ “Destiny” and a heightened version of “Pull The Plug,” showcase the endless possibilities from this artistic undertaking. A trumpet solo added to “Pull The Plug” is the kind of left-turn move for Deathorchestra that could be exciting to play around with on songs from Death’s early albums.
After releasing a full-length in 2018 with numerous collaborators, Mumbai-based Demonstealer (Sahil Makhija) is releasing the four song solo EP And This Too Shall Pass. It’s his first truly solo effort since 2008.
The EP blends death, black and thrash metal into a concoction laced with plenty of extremity and harsh vocals, but also some catchy and melodic moments evident on songs such as “This Crumbling Earth.” Closer “From Flesh To Ashes” features almost exclusively melodic singing, and is downright catchy. The two other tracks are more intense and aggressive. It’s a nice mix of styles and showcases the versatility of Demonstealer and whets the appetite for the next full-length.
Domkraft – Day Of Doom Live (Magnetic Eye)
Sweden’s Domkraft are one of four bands (Summoner, Horsehunter and Elephant Tree) to play Magnetic Eye Records’ label showcase at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. These shows were recorded to commemorate the event as a set of exclusive live albums.
Domkraft play plump sludge metal with an emphasis on pedal effects to wash their songs in a sonic sea of psychedelia. Their sound falls somewhere in between Hawkwind, Neurosis and Sleep. Guitars and bass are heavily distorted and fuzzed out. Martin Widholm’s guitar harmonies hang above the abyss of simple, droning rhythms. Martin Wegeland’s bass has an earth-moving impetus. Anders Dahlgren’s drum sound is really hard with attention paid to pounding on cymbals. Vocally, Wegeland’s combination of singing and yelling. The recording captures well Domkraft’s big sound, distortion and all. Domkraft’s contribution to Day of Doom Live should be played loud to feel the band’s deep rumble.
Engulfed – Vengeance of the Fallen (Me Saco Un Ojo/Dark Descent)
Over the past two decades, Turkey has become a powerful hub for the rise of death metal bands. From Kadıköy, Istanbul, Engulfed are one of those bands that moved very quickly towards success with the release of their first album, Engulfed in Obscurity. Their latest EP Vengeance of the Fallen is just as successful and striking.
Four lengthy stirring songs have shaped this EP. The collection seems to have come from the confluence of Incantation, Immolation and Dead Congregation. Although it may seem that Engulfed need more time to achieve an individual sound, what can be heard on this EP is the band’s high authority and ability to keep death doom metal’s spirit alive, and they have been extremely successful as ever. And of course, the remarkable musicianship and powerful production are undoubtedly the highest points of Vengeance of the Fallen.
Folterkammer – Die Lederpredigt (Gilead)
The merging of classical music and black metal hasn’t been tackled much in the way Folterkammer does it on Die Lederpredigt. The group doesn’t rely heavily on synthesized orchestration or hokey concepts, letting the endless range of vocalist Andromeda Anarchia take the lead. Her abrupt turns from operatic highs to roaring screams is initially jarring, but it becomes an integral part of the hyperactive symphony created by the rest of the band, which includes Imperial Triumphant’s Zachary Ezrin.
Though not styled as a whole piece of music, it’s better listened to that way. Whether done on purpose or not, Die Lederpredigt takes a few songs to get a listener in the right mood. By the time the one-two knockout of “Das Sinngedicht” and “Das Zeugnis” rolls in as the album’s conclusion, Folterkammer have reached the apex of their take on symphonic black metal.
Grayceon – Mothers Weavers Vultures (Translation Loss)
Grayceon are a San Fran-area post-metal trio featuring guitar, drums, and cello, with cellist Jackie Perez Gratz also singing. Mothers Weavers Vultures is their seventh release since their inception in 2005, and consists of five tracks of varying length and feel. The songs are at times melodic, primitive, and emotional.
Gratz’ cello adds a certain foreboding dimension to the music, and one really feels a primordial connection with the music here. We’ve heard her work with Neurosis and others before; here she really takes off and is the album highlight, both vocally and instrumentally. This is a progressive post-metal album with a unique twist that almost pushes every button it needs to.
Heretical Sect – Rapturous Flesh Consumed (Gilead)
Cloaked in hoods and residing in the darkness of anonymity, Heretical Sect explore the horrors of religious zealotry on their debut album, Rapturous Flesh Consumed. Grotesque displays of torture and sacrifice surround the themes of this album, which was recorded live in the studio over the course of a few days in April and December of 2019. While we don’t know who is in the band, we do know that they like their sound as murky and gloomy as they can make it.
They take this sound and they add a blackened flavor to it, which drives songs like “Rising Light Of Lunacy” and “The Depths Of Weeping Infinity” into a psychotic state. Their true evilness is in the spotlight on the 10-minute “Baptismal Rot And Ash,” which weaves from tense funeral doom to feral death/doom. Rapturous Flesh Consumed sinks deeply into the seedy sides of spiritual manipulation.
Horna – Kuoleman Kirjo (W.T.C.)
Five years have passed since Horna released Hengen tulet. After the release of various other media, the Finnish black metal legends return with a studio full-length, Kuoleman Kirjo. Band originator and guitarist Shatraug returns with long-standing vocalist Spellgoth and guitarist Infection. Drummer LRH and bassist VnoM make their first Horna appearance. The lineup may have changed, but Horna’s musical vision remains the same: frigid, ’90s-styled Nordic black metal.
Kuoleman Kirjo can be melodic and slow with folk elements. The string play is dissonant in some places or it can present a trebly, tremolo-picked coldness. LRH’s kick drums and blast beats really keep things moving, especially during droning, dissonant parts. Spellgoth presents harsh vocal tones layered with occasional cleans. I don’t know what he’s saying, but usually their songs are Satanic and these layers add to their evil presence. With Kuoleman Kirjo Horna keep to their malevolent, gnarled roots, once again channeling the spirit of ancient black metal.
Satan’s Fall – Final Day (High Roller)
Traditional, epic metal has seen a huge resurgence in the last few months, with excellent offerings from Eternal Champion, Megaton Sword, Wytch Hazel, and more. Now here comes Satan’s Fall, a quintet from Finland, and their debut full-length Final Day. We will never complain when new bands like this come on the scene, especially when their songwriting shows promise like this.
The eight self-produced cuts here are energetic and enthusiastic fist-pumpers, and vocalist Miika Kokko has just a hint of Udo in his voice, which lends the songs a slightly thrashy feel. Final Day is an album that slots right in just a slight step below some of the year’s greats, and despite its late release it definitely needs to be played.
Silent Skies – Satellites (AFM)
Silent Skies is a collaboration between Evergrey frontman Tom S. Englund and pianist Vikram Shankar. Englund first became aware of Shankar when he posted a piano interpretation of Evergrey’s “Distance” on YouTube. Satellites is a melancholy and emotional album.
It’s mostly piano and vocals, with some cinematic atmospheres added for variety and depth. Englund’s vocals are vulnerable and reserved in places, and other times more forceful. The two mesh very well, with Englund’s style perfect for this type of musical approach. In addition to original compositions, there’s also a cover of the ’80s Eurythmics song “Here Comes The Rain Again,” that’s mellower and more introspective than the original. The album closes with “1999,” but it’s not a Prince cover, it’s a serene instrumental. This is not a metal album, but Evergrey fans may be interested to hear Englund’s distinctive vocals in a different musical setting.
Summoner – Day Of Doom Live (Magnetic Eye)
In November of 2019, Magnetic Eye Records held a Day Of Doom label showcase at St. Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, which included Boston stoner/doomsters Summoner. That set is captured on Day Of Doom Live. It’s one of several Day Of Doom live albums being released this week along with Domkraft, Elephant Tree and Horsehunter.
Summoner’s latest studio album is 2017’s Beyond The Realm Of Light, but just one of the seven songs on Day Of Doom Live is from that album. Three are from 2013’s Atlantian and three are from 2012’s Phoenix. It’s a well constructed set, moving from slower, doom laden tracks to uptempo stoner influenced songs and back again. Summoner make the most of their 40 minutes with a compelling and well-played live show.
Yashira – Fail To Be (Good Fight)
Yashira’s second album, Fail To Be, comes just under two years after the shocking death of drummer Seth Howard from a car accident. That moment could have upended the band for good, especially considering it came only a few months after the release of their first album, Shrine. Instead, the band pushed forward with a new drummer, built upon initial ideas that were written before Howard’s passing, and honed their sludgy death march into a more sustainable form.
This form translates to a tighter focus, with shorter compositions that aim for the gut, as “The Constant” and “Impasse” do. The expanded sonic parts of Shrine do peek into Fail To Be on “Narrowed In Mirrored Light” and “Kudzu,” as cleaner tones allow for respite from the substantial force brought down on the listener throughout the majority of the album. For Yashira, tragedy was not the end for them, but the start of a transformation.