This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Arch Enemy, Astrophobos, Leach, Magnum, The Mound Builders, Phlebotomized, Raven, Switchfoot, The Three Tremors, Trollfest, Woorms and Wristmeetsrazor.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Arch Enemy – Covered In Blood (Century Media)
Arch Enemy’s last studio album Will To Power was released just over a year ago. As fans await new material, the band has compiled cover songs from throughout their career. The 24 songs on Covered In Blood feature all the band’s vocalists: Johan Liiva, Angela Gossow and Alissa White-Gluz.
The first 11 tracks have White-Gluz on vocals, with covers of artists you might expect like Judas Priest along with out of the box choices like Tears For Fears’ “Shout” and Mike Oldfield’s “Shadow On The Wall.” Liiva’s contributions include songs from Iron Maiden and Europe. The Gossow fronted songs range from Scorpions to KISS to Queensryche. While not essential, it’s an enjoyable mix of familiar songs and more obscure tracks.
Astrophobos – Malice Of Antiquity (Triumvirate)
Five years after their full-length debut, the Swedish black metal band Astrophobos return with their sophomore effort Malice Of Antiquity. The trio incorporates ample melody alongside intense black metal. They generally keep things at a medium pace, speeding up from time to time.
In addition to traditional Swedish black metal, Astrophobos incorporate acoustic parts on tracks like “The Summoning Call,” adding variety. Closing track “Imperator Noctis” also has acoustic moments along with guest vocals from Elisabetta Marchetti (Inno). There are old school influences, but the production is crisp and modern, and the musicianship is first-rate.
Leach start off Hymns for the Hollow, their second album, with “The Untouchables,” a upbeat metal jam complete with aggressive piano. It’s a strong opener; at least, until two minutes in where it seems the band left an outtake of the singer coughing and telling someone in production to bring the track back. It has to be intentional (and if not, oh boy), but it threw this writer off.
Thankfully, the band doesn’t include any vocal production issues in any of the other ten songs, which range from jaunty anthems to fist-raised attitude adjusters. Leach settle into a comfy position musically, and the one-note vocal delivery fits the punk/metal mix. The acoustics and electro flair of the title track saves the experimentation for the very end, a move that they should play up more.
Magnum – Live At The Symphony Hall (SPV/Steamhammer)
Magnum‘s 2018 studio album Lost On The Road To Eternity was one of their most successful releases since their ’80s heydey, cracking the top 25 album chart in several countries, including number 15 in the UK. On the heels of that comes their latest live release, Live At The Symphony Hall, recorded in April of last year in Birmingham, England.
The 15 songs on two CDs span the band’s career. The four tracks from “Lost On The Road To Eternity fit well alongside older material like “When The World Comes Down” from 1986’s Vigilante and “Don’t Wake The Lion (Too Old To Die Young)” from 1988’s Wings Of Heaven. Vocalist Bob Catley still sounds great, and the guest spot from Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia) on “Lost On The Road To Eternity” is one of the set’s highlights.
The Mound Builders – The Mound Builders (Failure)
Turn up the volume on The Mound Builders’ self-titled debut and you’ll swear you’re listening to old Black Sabbath. The guitar tone is a mirror image of Tony Iommi’s early work, but one can hear faster influences such as Crowbar and Motorhead in the songs as well. Regardless of tempo, Brian Boszor’s guitar playing is the main attraction here.
The sticking point on The Mound Builders will be Jim Voelz’ vocals. His unhinged hardcore delivery is definitely an homage to early Iron Monkey releases, meaning if you love that style, this album is for you. If not, it will be hard to get beyond the aural destruction Voelz rains down upon our ears.
Phlebotomized – Deformation of Humanity (Hammerheart)
Phlebotomized perform a symphonic take on the death metal genre that is very interesting on Deformation Of Humanity, their third full length. There is a cascading array of riffs that makes each song compelling in its own right. The songs are given a classical feeling that is right in line with what Septic Flesh has going for it. This type of metal has been done before, but Phlebotomized do this style very well. The album is very lively sounding due to a variety of instrumentation. It’s epic while remaining rooted in traditional death metal.
They stick to an effective songwriting template, but struggle to find an identity. The songs aren’t that adventurous and remain fairly standard throughout. This leads to a strong album that could have been improved in some facets. The album does get stylistic at times like on “Desideratum” or on the title track, but it often plays it too safe. This is still some worthwhile material that symphonic fans should give a listen.
Raven – Screaming Murder Death From Above: Live in Aalborg (SPV/Steamhammer)
I go back a long ways with the unhinged NWOBHM/thrash legends Raven: I’ve got a handful of their early work, which is always a blast to revisit. Evidently the trio thinks so as well: the long-winded Screaming Murder Death from Above: Live in Aalborg is a neat little package that features most of their more popular tracks.
The band still features the Gallagher brothers on bass/vocals and guitar, and they have been joined by Mike Heller on drums. He may not be ‘Wacko’ Hunter (or Joe Hasselvander, who suffered a heart attack prior to this concert), but he holds his own with the maniacs up front. Musically the band is tighter than they’ve ever been, and the vocals as unpolished as ever. Fans of the band will love this live offering, while newcomers will get a good taste of what Raven were all about.
Switchfoot – Native Tongue (Concord)
For more than two decades, California rockers Switchfoot have been releasing successful albums and radio-friendly singles. Their most successful release was 2003’s double platinum The Beautiful Letdown, with subsequent albums also doing well on the Billboard 200 chart. Their last release, 2016’s Where The Light Shines Through landed at number 10.
Native Tongue is Switchfoot’s eleventh studio album, and is in the vein of recent releases. There are plenty of accessible, hook-laden songs like the memorable title track and “Voices.” There’s also a guest appearance from M83’s Kaela Sinclair on the poppy “The Hardest Art.” This album is definitely on the mellow side, with no harder rocking songs in the mold of “Meant To Live,” but there are a ton of catchy alt-rock tracks with minimal filler.
The Three Tremors – The Three Tremors (Steel Cartel)
Back in the day, legendary vocalists Rob Halford (Judas Priest), Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) and Geoff Tate (Queensryche) contemplated teaming up as The Three Tremors. That didn’t happen, and now many years later the concept is being brought into fruition by Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest, Charred Walls Of The Damned), Sean Peck (Cage, Denner-Shermann) and Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin (Jag Panzer).
The 12 tracks are classic metal in the vein of Priest, with vocal acrobatics galore. There are numerous tracks where the trio melds well together, but at times the ear-splitting falsettos get to be a little much. Songs like “Wrath Of Asgard” are nicely balanced, with both lower pitched singing and powerful belting. “The Cause” is a speed metal blazer, while “The Pit Shows No Mercy” supplies more groove. The sheer power of the vocalists drives the album, but doesn’t overpower it, as the music gets its due as well.
Trollfest – Norwegian Fairytales (NoiseArt)
While performing songs about trolls might seem gimmicky, Norwegian folksters Trollfest have made it work for more than 15 years. Their latest album Norwegian Fairytales is a concept album about, you guessed it, Norwegian myths and legends.
The songs are rousing and uptempo, with opener “Fjøsnissens Fjaseri” featuring an appearance from Borknagar/ex-Dimmu Borgir vocalist I.C.S. Vortex. Trollfest vary tempos and intensities, and the addition of instruments like accordion, fiddle and saxophone give it a distinctive sound. It’s an energetic and entertaining album that’s super catchy as well, even if most listeners won’t understand the Norwegian lyrics.
Woorms – Slake (Sludgelord/Hospital)
Louisiana sludge newcomers Woorms have been in existence for less than two years, but have been quite prolific in that time. That being said, Slake is their debut album, and it features massive tone, ponderous riffs, plenty of feedback, and what seems to be a rather odd sense of humor.
On the surface, Slake definitely scratches my sludgy itch. Impeccable production for the genre has me nodding my head appreciatively – until the vocals come in. They’re raw and sort of goofy, much like some of the song titles: “Urine Trouble Now” and “Our Lady of Perpetually Shitfaced” are examples of what seems to be an early identity crisis: a band that can’t seem to decide if they’re heavy, weird, or goofy. They try for all three, with mixed results.
Wristmeetrazor – Misery Never Forgets (Prosthetic)
Wristmeetrazor, an early contender for most tasteless band name of the year, are stuck in a state of emotional turmoil with their Misery Never Forgets debut album. The screams are jagged, the lyrics are the musings from a teenager’s diary, and the music takes its cues from hardcore and screamo genres. The pivots away from this sound, like on the melodic “Come On In, The Water’s Pink” and the slow-roasted “No More Blue Tomorrows” closer, are where the most promise shine for the band.
But then there’s feedback-ridden dreck like “Goodbye Sweet Betty,” a filler track on an album that’s barely 20 minutes long. Most of these songs are short enough to avoid annoyance, though the latter half of Misery Never Forgets begins a trend of indistinguishable sounds that could’ve sunk the album if it went any longer.