This week’s Heavy Music HQ album reviews include releases from Aoratos, Battle Beast, Bloodbound, Burning Rain, Cellar Darling, The End Machine, Imprecation, Iron Griffin, Megadeth, RPWL, Sigils, Terror Oath and Vircolac.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Aoratos – Gods Without Name (Debemur Morti)
Aoratos are yet another project helmed by prolific musician Naas Alcameth, best known as an original member of Nightbringer and the founder of Akhlys. His take on black metal has dabbled in the occult before with a use of synthetic, eerie ambiance, and this path leads through Aoratos’ Gods Without Name. Though this is black metal through and through, accented by the inclusion of Naas Alcameth’s Nightbringer compadre Menthor on the drums, the synths are never far away.
Their inclusion is evident on the multiple instrumentals, which include not only a long intro and outro, but one poorly placed late in the album that could’ve been deflating if it wasn’t followed by an excellent foray into doom/black territory in “Dread Spirit of the Place.” As a side project, Aoratos is fine, though not on par with Nightbringer or Akhlys.
Battle Beast – No More Hollywood Endings (Nuclear Blast)
On their fifth full-length release No More Hollywood Endings, the Finnish band Battle Beast explore a few different styles. Coming off a number one album in their native country, they have a lot of momentum.
There are symphonic elements throughout, but they are used mostly for atmosphere and augmentation, only periodically moving to the forefront. At its core, this is a traditional metal/hard rock album with soaring choruses and memorable melodies. Tracks like “Eden” and “Endless Summer” are catchy with hooks galore. Vocalist Noora Louhimo varies her delivery, showcasing a plethora of textures and emotions. A couple of tracks miss the mark, like the overlong and slightly cheesy “Raise Your Fists,” but for the most part it’s a satisfying collection of accessible metal.
Bloodbound – Rise Of The Dragon Empire (AFM)
Rise Of The Dragon Empire is the eighth album from the prolific Swedish heavy/power metal band Bloodbound, and the first with drummer Daniel Sjogren (Twilight Force, Sabaton live).
Over the past few albums, Bloodbound have increased the symphonic elements in their sound, and that’s also the case here. That gives the songs a bombastic and grandiose sound, but they don’t neglect the guitars, with ample heaviness and some tasty solos on tracks like “Slayer Of Kings” and “Magical Eye.” They even add some folk elements here and there, such as “The Warlock’s Trail.” It’s a nice change of pace that adds some spice to the power metal mix.
Burning Rain – Face The Music (Frontiers)
Burning Rain‘s history dates back to the late ’90s when they were formed by guitarist Doug Aldrich (Dio, Whitesnake) and vocalist Keith St. John (Montrose, Kingdom Come). The lineup for Face The Music, their first release in nearly years, now includes bassist Brad Lang (Y&T) and drummer Blas Elias (Slaughter).
The band’s blues-based hard rock pays homage to the ’70s without being retro. The production is modern, and the songs are heavy with Aldrich’s guitar front and center. Many songs are fairly nondescript, with a few tracks like “Nasty Hustle” and the ballad “Shelter” standing out. The musicianship is tight and St. John’s vocals have just the right amount of swagger.
Cellar Darling – The Spell (Nuclear Blast)
Two years ago we reviewed Cellar Darling’s first album. The band is an offshoot of Swiss folk-metal act Eluveitie, and aim for a more commercial, progressive metal sound. The Spell is the trio’s second album, a concept album telling the tale of searching for meaning in life, who falls in love with death.
Bold, slick, and ambitious are words that can describe The Spell. The album sounds fantastic, and Anna Murphy is an incredible singer. The folk elements of hurdy-gurdy and flute are still present, but accents rather than staples. The songs are loaded with big guitar riffs and huge, catchy vocal hooks. Other than being a bit too long (over an hour), Cellar Darling have delivered another excellent modern-sounding, progressive folk metal record.
The End Machine – The End Machine (Frontiers)
The End Machine is the classic lineup of Dokken with a different singer. Guitarist George Lynch, bassist Jeff Pilson and drummer Mick Brown are joined by Warrant/ex-Lynch Mob singer Robert Mason. However, their self-titled debut album is not Dokken 2.0.
It’s a lot less slick and polished, with more groove and blues influences, closer to Lynch Mob. That makes sense, since Mason is the frontman. Lynch is one of the best in the business, and incorporates numerous styles into his playing, including arena rock, ’70s rock and good old heavy metal. Solos abound, with plenty of shredding on songs like “Hold Me Down” and “Ride It.” The End Machine have defied expectations and created a band that’s anything but a Dokken rehash.
Imprecation – Domnatio Ad Bestias (Dark Descent)
Imprecation trace their roots back to the early ‘90s, so expect old school death metal from these Texans on Domnatio Ad Bestias. Bearing such a title, one can only expect infernal themes, too. “Son of Virgin. Son of Bitch” on the track “Morbid Crucifixion” will surely offend the devout. The title track begins with demonic ambiance before launching into more metallic violence.
Early Morbid Angel and Incantation are reference points for the group’s style. The overall sound is very sludgy. Opener “Temple of the Foul” spirit has groove reminiscent of Morbid Angel’s Gateways to Annihilation album. Much of the album churns and grinds in mid-paces moving to beats that batter and bludgeon rather than blast, which remains true even during fast parts. Imprecation aren’t trying to be a modern death metal band. Domnatio Ad Bestias doesn’t convey a polished production. The group keeps it raw, simple and effective. Fans of early ‘90s death metal take notice.
Iron Griffin – Curse of the Sky (Gates Of Hell)
Iron Griffin is the solo project of Mausoleum Gate’s drummer, Oskari Räsänen. In a stripped-down, proto-metal version of that band, Räsänen plays all instruments and enlists the assistance of vocalist Maija Tiljander. Curse of the Sky is Iron Griffin’s first full-length release, following an EP from a couple of years ago that featured a different singer.
Curse of the Sky takes proto-metal to the extreme. These songs are very simple, as is the instrumentation and production. Seven sword and sorcery songs are presented in the rawest glory possible, and Maija sings atop these songs with an unmatched fervor, sounding like Heart’s Ann Wilson if she had no restraint. An interesting album, but one with many flaws.
Megadeth – Warheads On Foreheads (Capitol)
As they continue to work on their next studio album, Megadeth are celebrating their 35th anniversary with the 35 song, 3CD compilation Warheads On Foreheads.
The collection spans the legendary band’s entire career, from their 1985 debut Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good to their latest album, 2016’s Dystopia. There are generally only one song apiece from later albums, but for some reason there are four from Dystopia. The classic tracks are there too, from “Wake Up Dead” to “Hangar 18” to “Symphony Of Destruction.” For those new to the band it’s a nice representation of their career, but with nothing new added and with several previous greatest hits releases, longtime fans will likely already have all the songs here.
RPWL – Tales From Outer Space (Gentle Art of Music)
Germans RPWL have a good grasp of progressive music on their seventh studio album, Tales From Outer Space. Sounding sort of like a cross between Porcupine Tree and Riverside, the music is lush and interesting. Right from the opening track “New World,” the band’s form of progressive music is laid out for all to hear. Vocally, you can hear similarities to Steven Wilson, but the music is more progressive rock sounding, with connections to old Pink Floyd. Still, RPWL manage to stay fresh and current with a diversity of musical styles and a newer sound.
Songs like “Welcome to the Freak Show” have a massive appeal and make use of a vibrant palette to create something memorable. There is some really excellent music to be found here and the album is consistently enjoyable. If these songs had more bite to them, they might be even more effective, but it’s hard to say. Regardless, Tales From Outer Space is a very well-constructed progressive album.
You Built the Altar, You Lit the Leaves has Sigils framed in a traditional style of doom metal. There are no growls or deathly flourishes on the band’s debut album; only melancholic rejection amplified by riffs with sledgehammer levels of heaviness. These four songs range in length from 7 to 13 minutes, though a few are stretched out with outros of feedback or clean guitar melodies. None of them end abruptly or with an extravagant finish, letting things crawl to an ominous end.
Though the music isn’t hostile in terms of its pacing, there’s a lingering shadow of fear that lurks over the album. The lyrics speak of wickedness and rituals that may seem unrealistic, yet Sigils ground these themes into reality with a sense that it is all around us, whether we want to accept the truth or not.
Terror Oath – Terror Oath (Iron Bonehead)
Terror Oath are an international act with members from the United States and New Zealand. Their 2014 self-titled debut EP, now being issued on vinyl, is as mystic and obscure as the band itself.
Terror Oath is about 16 minutes long and it is pure intense, evil and chaotic blackened death metal. Terror Oath’s music blends old school death and thrash metal while the vocals are mostly based on black metal screams, which all resonate throughout each other, making a heavily fuzzy and chaotic atmosphere, both in the foreground and background. But Terror Oath and their debut EP did not go far beyond anything that similar acts are playing, but if you want to hear another blistering wicked blackened death release, Terror Oath is definitely for you.
Vircolac – Masque (Dark Descent)
Vircolac is Romanian for werewolf, which seems like a random fact since the band doesn’t sing about mythical creatures (their preference is more grounded in subjects like warfare); however, imaging the foursome as bloodthirsty monsters suits their debut album Masque well. Death metal as a concept has always had a murderous streak, and Vircolac prove to be capable of this mindset. The lack of flourishes in the production is welcomed as a counterbalance to the overproduction of a lot of modern death metal.
“Titan” is a customary opener for the genre, a whiplash of riffs and percussion with a wicked guitar solo sandwiched between. The album after this point goes in a far more interesting direction, playing into tempos that are far away from the madness of the first track. The avoidance in performing the same song seven times is what turns Masque into a winner.