This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from The Amity Affliction, Biff Byford, Demons & Wizards, Discharge, Framing Hanley, Innards, Ozzy Osbourne, Primeval Mass, Ritual King, Scalpture, Secret Rule, Skyforest, Slaughter Messiah, Terrifiant, Torpedo and Wrekmeister Harmonies.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
The Amity Affliction – Everyone Loves You… Once You Leave Them (Pure Noise)
The Australian metalcore band The Amity Affliction have been extremely popular in their native country for over a decade, having released four consecutive number one albums. They are also making waves in the rest of the world, with their last few albums charting in the U.S. as well. Everyone Loves You… Once You Leave Them is their seventh studio album.
Like 2018’s Misery, you’ll hear a lot of radio friendly tracks with clean vocals mixed in such as “Soak Me In Bleach” and “All I Do Is Sink.” “Aloneliness” is a straight up pop song with all melodic singing. There are songs with heavy moments and plenty of harsh vocals such as “Catatonia,” but the melodies carry the day with a lot of memorable hooks and choruses. There are electronics, though the guitars don’t relinquish their prominence on the record.
Biff Byford – School Of Hard Knocks (Silver Linings)
After making music with Saxon for more than four decades, the band’s frontman Biff Byford is finally releasing his first solo album. His backing band for School Of Hard Knocks includes guitarist Fredrik Akesson (Opeth), bassist Gus Macricostas and drummer Christian Lundqvist.
Byford takes a mostly hard rock approach on the album, but there’s metal to be found as well. The songs have a classic approach and are jam packed with hooks and singalong choruses. Tracks like “Welcome To The Show” and “School Of Hard Knocks” are simple and straightforward, but very effective. The arrangements are more sophisticated on tracks such as the 7 minute “Pit And The Pendulum” and “Throw Down The Sword.” He also puts a new spin on the classic “Scarborough Fair” that shows his vocal prowess. Byford explores some different musical pathways along with some that are similar to Saxon, making his initial solo foray a varied and enjoyable affair.
Demons & Wizards – III (Century Media)
Fifteen years have passed since Demons & Wizards released Touched by the Crimson King. Now, the power metal super group consisting of Jon Schaffer (Iced Earth) and Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) return with their third studio offering. Simply titled III, it once again blends Schaffer’s signature guitar techniques—chugs, gallops, acoustic harmonies—with Kürsch’s grand, mellifluous voice.
The duo have a knack for creating epic compositions and some of the best songs on the album are fairly lengthy. The eight minute single, “Diabolic” begins with ominous harmonies that crescendos into a massive hook characterized by gritty gallops and celestial-grabbing vocals. “Timeless Spirit” and “Children of Cain” hearken back to earlier acoustic songs like “Fiddler on the Green” with huge dynamics. “Wolves in Winter” and “Split” are two of the more aggressive tracks with stout chugging. The songwriting isn’t quite as powerful as the first two records, but III is still a worthy addition to Demons & Wizards’ discography.
Discharge – Protest And Survive: The Anthology (BMG)
British hardcore punk rockers Discharge released their first album Realities of War 40 years ago. To commemorate this 40th anniversary, the band is releasing Protest And Survive: The Anthology. The compilation consists of two discs containing a total of 53 tracks and nearly two hours of music.
Starting in 1977, Discharge are hailed as not only the inventors of D-beat and one of the fathers of anarcho/political punk rock, their raw sound influenced a wide range of subgenres from thrash to black metal to grindcore. For example, Anthrax covered “Protest and Survive.” This compilation showcases the band’s many directions from their 1977 demo of British punk songs influenced by the Sex Pistols (“I Love Dead Babies, “No Time For Romance,”) to hardcore (“The Realities of War,” the title track) to metal crossover (“Corpse of Decadence,” “MAD”). The 53 songs are a good overview of the band’s career with demo and live versions one would expect from such a sprawling collection.
Framing Hanley – Envy (Thermal)
Nashville hard rockers Framing Hanley released three albums and had some rock radio airplay before hitting the pause button in 2015. Three years later they regrouped, and emerge with a new album Envy. There have been a couple lineup changes, with vocalist Kenneth Nixon the lone remaining original member.
Even with a nearly six year gap between records, the band picks up where they left off. There are a host of potential singles, as most of the songs pack enough of a punch to satisfy rock fans while also appealing to the masses. Some of the record’s strongest tracks are on the back half, such as “Puzzle Pieces,” “Throwing Knives” and “Baggage Claim.” It’s an album that will satisfy their existing fans while giving them the chance to draw the attention of a whole new generation of listeners.
Innards – Back From The Grave, Straight In Your Face (Transcending Obscurity)
Although Innards list Entombed as an influence, the group are in no way another Swedish death metal revival band. There are moments of Swedish death metal, but that sound plays a very small part on their 3-song EP, Back From The Grave, Straight In Your Face. Their sound hearkens back to the early days, the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, of death and grind. They pay homage, in particular, to gore grind pioneers Repulsion, Carcass and Impetigo.
Although Innards are newcomers, band founder, Hugo Andremon released the cult classic Macabre Requiems in 1996 via Grog. His debut EP with Innards is a memorable first showing with the band creating so many changes, catchy riffs, Evil Dead samples, and sick vocals. Throw in guest appearances by Kam Lee (Massacre, ex-Death) and Frank Blackfire (Sodom) on “Enlightenment Through Hate” and you have a recording that reaches beyond (the grave) the overused OSDM tag.
Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man (Epic)
It has been a tough year healthwise for the Prince of Darkness, but Ozzy Osbourne keeps persevering, and is issuing his first solo album since 2010’s Scream. The lineup for Ordinary Man includes Andrew Watt (who also produced the album) on guitar, Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses) on bass and Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) on drums.
There are some vintage Ozzy songs such as opener “Straight To Hell” that features a guest appearance from Slash, and the soaring “All My Life.” Elton John plays piano and sings on the title track, which works well. Guest spots by artists from other genres like Travis Scott and Post Malone seem a bit forced, however. “Goodbye” is a highlight with some Sabbathian moments, and Ozzy shows vocal versatility on songs like “Today Is The End.” With several memorable tracks and only a couple misses, Ordinary Man is one of Ozzy’s stronger and most well-rounded recent solo albums.
Primeval Mass – Nine Altars (Katoptron IX)
The Greek one-man band Primeval Mass started off playing a fairly traditional form of black metal, but began incorporating more variety. That’s evident from the first notes of Nine Altars, with thrash riffs galloping out of the gate with “Circle Of Skulls.”
Mainman Orth keeps the tempos brisk, blending the extremity of black metal with thrash grooves. The last few albums Primeval Mass have included at least one instrumental. This time around it’s “Amidst Twin Horizons,” which showcases some excellent musicianship. The tracks tend to be lengthy, but Orth has no problem making the arrangements compelling, even on the nearly 12 minute closer “The Hourglass Still.”
Ritual King – Ritual King (Ripple)
If swampy, psychedelic, riff-heavy blues are your thing, look no further than Ritual King. This Manchester-based trio deliver just that on their self-titled debut album, drawing influence from bands as diverse as Fu Manchu and Elder over the seven songs presented. Make no mistake, though: the band has a progressive style that is all its own, at times even adding some jazz flavor to the proceedings.
Sleek production and sweet tone come standard on Ritual King, and the band’s busy live schedule pays off with tangible chemistry. Top it off with energetic songs and strong vocal performances, and you have an album that will make instant fans of more than just people who enjoy the styles mentioned above.
Scalpture – Eisenzeit (FDA)
Scalpture have a pedigree of old school death metal attached to their music. The riffs on Eisenzeit, their seciond album, are straight out of the old Entombed and Dismember school. The tunes have a groove to them that is unmistakable and very old fashioned. This album brings the old school sound to the modern times with solid structure.
The strong side of the album is in the guitar sound which has a heavy buzz saw type of tunefulness to it. This leads to a nostalgic feeling, but also a powerful one overall. Though derivative, Eisenzeit is a very good album of strong death metal riffs and drumming that is able to bring old school to the forefront in a way that makes sense in the present musical environment.
Secret Rule – Against (Pride & Joy)
The Italian symphonic metal band Secret Rule have been very prolific during their career, issuing a new album on a near yearly basis. Just over a year after The 7 Endless, they are back with Against.
While Angela Di Vincenzo is the star of the show, male vocals on songs like “Shades Of Humanity” add variety. The symphonic and atmospheric elements in Secret Rule’s music augment the arrangements while letting heavy guitars pave the way. Di Vincenzo mostly utilizes a pop/rock delivery (except on songs like “My Last Breath”), giving the bombastic tracks an accessible vibe. Even with such quick turnarounds, the quality of Secret Rule’s albums has not suffered, writing another batch of quality songs.
Skyforest – A New Dawn (Northern Silence)
If you are already familiar with Skyforest’s music, the first thing you will notice after listening to A New Dawn for a few moments is the musical maturation of mastermind B.M. For that reason, interacting with the new album is easier.
The undeniable thing about A New Dawn is that B.M. is writing more coherent epic and sophisticated symphony-fused atmospheric/post-black metal pieces. With more special attentions to production, and with collaboration of Súl ad Astral’s Michael Rumple as clean vocalist, the impact of Agalloch’s music is evident in this album. On the other hand, B.M. sometimes struggles to maintain the momentum within the music of A New Dawn. At times the album’s sound becomes monotonous, because of the similarities in orchestration and the lack of use of diverse structures in songs. However, as the album’s name implies, a new dawn has taken place on Skyforest’s horizon.
Slaughter Messiah – Cursed to the Pyre (High Roller)
After a handful of singles and EPs, Cursed to the Pyre is the debut album from Belgian blackened thrashers Slaughter Messiah. Playing in the same style as forebears such as Venom and Hellhammer, and current-day torchbearers Midnight, these four metalheads hold nothing back, bringing a ton of filthy riffs and blackened vocals to the proceedings.
One big difference between Slaughter Messiah and the bands of yore is musicianship: these guys are actually quite good musicians. The style displayed on Cursed to the Pyre is most definitely a throwback to the early ’80s. Aside from many of the songs going on a bit too long, the songwriting is a step beyond the usual throwback bands these days. Fans of the bands mentioned will definitely be on board here.
Terrifiant – Terrifiant (Gates Of Hell)
Terrifiant’s self-titled debut album captures the essence of the formative years of the NWOBHM movement, as well as the infancy of heavy metal, with its unapologetic, sleazy stride. Unfortunately, it’s all for naught thanks to one of the most obnoxious vocal performances in recent memory. Lord TerrifianT, as he is called in the album credits, has one thing going for him; a high screech that grates on the eardrums.
That screech is a secret weapon he exploits and overuses before the album’s halfway point. It doesn’t help that most songs have lyrics that are repeated over and over to pad out the already-short running time. The band does seem to be having a good time—the constant guitar solos and upbeat tempos could be products of alcohol-fueled writing sessions—but it’s tough to feel the same listening to this.
Torpedo – Mechanic Tyrants (Gates Of Hell)
If we’re talking about bands that conduct themselves in a DIY fashion, Torpedo come to mind with their Mechanic Tyrants demo. Originally self-released last year before getting a wider release on Gates of Hell Records, this was produced, mixed and mastered by the band, with no assistance from any engineers or producers. This had to have helped the band realize the speed metal vision they pictured without any interference.
Mechanic Tyrants falls in line with most demos, as Torpedo uses it to begin working out any kinks in their songwriting. The music for the six songs were allegedly improvised while they were recording the demo, which shows in some of the scattershot ideas they try out. They catch onto a gem or two, like the main riff to “Sons Of Evil” that’s so catchy, Judas Priest could’ve done synchronized choreography to it in the early 1980’s.
Wrekmeister Harmonies – We Love To Look At The Carnage (Thrill Jockey)
Wrekmeister Harmonies have always been a collaborative project, with JR Robinson and Esther Shaw the constants. Their latest album We Love To Look At The Carnage includes guests Thor Harris (Swans) on percussion and Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu) on electronics.
Opener “Midnight To Six” is mellow and introspective, before getting a little more intense towards the end. It’s a very reserved album overall, with ambient moments at the forefront and very little aggression. It’s heavy emotionally, but not musically. The arrangements have a lot of depth, and the electronics add ample atmosphere. “The Rat Catcher” has moments of chaos and tension, but the 10 minute track is also mostly mellow. It’s a compelling listen, but metal moments are few and far between.