This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Aittala, Alluvion, Black Star Riders, Dead Head, Eclipser, Ethereal Riffian, Liv Sin, Mizmor, Pinewalker, Reflex Machine, Rockett Love, Rottendawn, Runespell, Sleeping Ancient, Sonata Arctica, Visions Of Atlantis, Vitriol and Year Of The Goat.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale. For more information about our writers, go here.
Aittala – False Pretenses (Curtain Call)
The North Carolina band Aittala have been around since the early ’90s, but have only been releasing music for a decade or so. False Pretenses is their fifth album.
The band’s sound is difficult to pigeonhole because they incorporate a variety of styles. The common element in all the songs is the potent groove. On tracks like “Black Coffin” and “Afterthought” stoner/doom is at the forefront, while songs such as “Disowned” have a more traditional metal vibe. There are progressive influences on “How Much Longer,” while the closer “Debt” is a piano based ballad. Even with so many disparate styles, Aittala bring everything together into a cohesive whole.
Alluvion – The Secret’s Out (Over The CounterCulture)
Post metal by way of Virginia is the recipe for Alluvion, and The Secret’s Out is their third outing. But post metal only in an overarching sense. There’s a ton of melody and hooks present. These four fellows are more interested in crafting catchy songs than meandering through obscure arrangements.
There are plenty of punk and stoner influences on The Secret’s Out, and it all adds up to immediately accessible songs. In fact, any song on the first half of the album could easily find its way onto a mainstream chart – yet still retains the heaviness we all crave. Alluvion show themselves a band that can’t really be pigeon-holed into a single genre, in a good way.
Black Star Riders – Another State Of Grace (Nuclear Blast)
Black Star Riders have been around for a while now, after originally being formed by members of Thin Lizzy to record new music. For their fourth album Another State Of Grace there have been some lineup changes. Original members Ricky Warwick (vocals) and Scott Gorham (guitar) remain along with bassist Robbie Crane. The newest additions are guitarist Christian Martucci (Stone Sour) and drummer Chad Szeliga (Breaking Benjamin, Black Label Society).
The new lineup has jelled quickly, as the songs are extremely catchy. They are generally straightforward hard rock with a few twists. There are some Celtic flavors on the title track, and songs like “Ain’t The End Of The World” are instantly memorable. “Underneath The Afterglow” amps up the heaviness and Warwick adds a little more edge to his singing. “Why Do You Love Your Guns” is a protest song, written in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. Pearl Aday guests on “What Will It Take?, with Warwick sounding a bit like Elvis Costello. There’s not a bit of filler on Another State Of Grace, with the ten songs clocking in at under 40 minutes. It’s Black Star Riders’ strongest album to-date.
Dead Head – Dream Deceiver (Hammerheart)
Dead Head released Dream Deceiver in 1993. Now, Hammerheart records are reissuing a fully remastered version of this sophomore album by the acclaimed Dutch thrash/death metal group. The re-released version not only contains the original tracks, it also has label demo tracks and Shark Tapes. Shark Tapes is a four-song demo the band recorded after signing to a new label that never saw the light of day. With all the bonus material, the reissued version of Dream Deceiver offers listeners over an hour-and-eighteen minutes of metal.
Dream Deceiver is stylistically similar to bands such as Rigor Mortis, Sadus, Sepultura and Death. These bands mashed up death metal and thrash. The vocals are comprehensible, and come straight from the mouth of thrash metal, but with a rough, death metal edge. Each track is well-composed with plenty of speed, catchy riffs and pounding drums. Dream Deceiver is a hidden Dutch gem that will deserves more attention across the pond.
Eclipser – Pathos (Noise Salvation)
This ruinous debut album from Canadian black metal group Eclipser stampedes out of its tight sonic cage early on and keeps that pace going for 30 strong minutes. Pathos isn’t just a soulless blackened abyss, but comes with deeper religious lyrical messages than what may be expected (the band only waits until opener “On Mournful Waves Of Eternal Dusk” to quote from Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy).
Efficiency is essential to Eclipser’s technique, as these seven songs have the means to nail an unsavory vibe without becoming unbearable to listen to. The production values are perfect, right in the line between raw noise and polished audibility. It’s still black metal to the core, and they don’t try to step away from that; however, Pathos still leaves a dent in a jam-packed genre.
Ethereal Riffian – Legends (Robustfellow)
Ukraine’s Ethereal Riffian perform impactful doom on Legends, their third full-length release. There is no shortage of heavy hitting riffing to be found on this disc, making the band’s name quite accurate. It’s interesting how the band has lined up some of the most poignant, yet short songs near the beginning of the release. The purpose of this is certainly to draw the listener in so they can enjoy some of the longer tracks that appear towards the end of the album.
There is a doom laden element to the music, even though it is high powered. The songs are constructed in a fashion that brings out the pizzazz the band has to offer. This will also be great for the classic doom fan as the songs have that undeniably catchy element that bands like Black Sabbath maintain. Legends loses a bit of steam as it progresses, but is still some fine doom metal that fans of the genre are sure to lap up.
Liv Sin – Burning Sermons (Despotz)
Burning Sermons is the second album from Liv Sin, the band formed by Liz Jagrell after the end of the Swedish band Sister Sin.
The band’s sound has evolved a bit from their debut. The songs are still hard-hitting and melodic with Jagrell’s distinctive vocals, but they added more keyboards this time around. They provide depth and atmosphere without sanitizing the band’s gritty sound. Tracks like “Chapter Of The Witch” deliver searing guitar solos, while songs such as “Hope Begins To Fade” have a more dramatic approach. The latter features a guest appearance from Bjorn “Speed” Strid (Soilwork, The Night Flight Orchestra). The orchestral elements and vocal pairing makes it one of the record’s best moments. Burning Sermons is a rousing and anthemic album.
Mizmor – Cairn (Gilead)
Many one-man bands are studio only endeavors, but that’s not the case with Mizmor. Mastermind A.L.N. handles all instruments and vocals on the albums, but the live edition of the band is a quartet. Cairn is Mizmor’s third studio album, but there have also been a plethora of splits, EPs, compilations and a live album.
Cairn consists of four lengthy tracks ranging from 10 to 18 minutes long. Slow, foreboding doom is contrasted by traditional icy black metal, with songs like “Desert Of Absurdity” also incorporating mellow instrumental sections. The album’s longest song “Cairn To God” maintains a deliberate pace throughout while shifting intensities to provide variety. Closer “The Narrowing Way” does the same thing. The other two songs are more compelling as they vary both tempos and textures.
Pinewalker’s Migration is the band’s way of paying tribute to loved ones who have lost their lives to cancer. This tragic disease can rip apart even the healthiest of people, and the band expresses this outrage with passionate sludge metal. Each of the three guitarists also provides vocals, giving the album a triple attack on multiple fronts. Loss and hopelessness are the overwhelming factors driving Pinewalker.
From all these weighty emotions come glimpses of serenity. Out of the combustible command of “Burning Earth” is a low-key reprise in the opening minutes of “Maelstrom.” The centerpiece of Migration is the eight-plus minute instrumental “Space Witch,” an ambitious saga with a poignant acoustic-led section. The Iron Maiden-inspired finish to “The Thaw” ends Migration, the great debut album from Pinewalker, on a roaring note.
Reflex Machine – Interzone (Over The CounterCulture)
My first spin through Interzone left me disoriented. Was it punk? Hardcore? Progressive metal? Post metal? I couldn’t put my finger on what Reflex Machine, a duo hailing from Columbus, Ohio, were getting at. But one thing I did know was that this odd genre mashup worked, and I immediately hit replay.
Reflex Machine are simple on paper – drums and bass, with both fellows contributing vocals. But the music is superbly complex, full of twists and turns that make one think of everything from At the Drive-In to Neurosis. On top of the well-executed music, Interzone is a concept album centered on a cop facing up to his unsavory past. All that and more makes this a compelling debut, and Reflex Machine a band to look out for in the future.
Rockett Love – Greetings from Rocketland (AOR Heaven)
Swedish hard rockers Rockett Love are back with their second record, Greetings from Rocketland. The album features heavy riffage, memorable choruses, and driving beats. While it’s nothing groundbreaking, it delivers most of what you’d expect in a decent hard rock album. It’s pretty one-dimensional, but there are enough good moments within to make it a worthwhile listen.
That being said, Rocketland is more of a throw-it-on-for-a-barbecue kind of record than something to play for yourself and focus too much on (otherwise it’d get boring pretty quickly). It’s an album that your dad would definitely like, but your cool uncle would probably need something with a bit more color. If you haven’t gotten enough of straightforward, catchy rock this summer, give this one a shot.
Rottendawn – Occult (Saturnal)
Rottendawn consist of veteran members of the Finnish metal scene, Pasi Äijö (vocals, bass) of Unholy and Mikael Arnkil of Impaled Nazarene (drums). Tempos are slow, although not at the crawling pace of funeral doom. Rottendawn play a mix of traditional doom, death metal and heavy metal on Occult, although “Ode to Pjotr” stands alone in this sense, which is a grindcore track kick started by a Äijö bass solo.
Just as Äijö showcases his bass talents on the above-mentioned track, Arnkil brings the album in on with speed, even if the opening burst lasts just under 20 seconds. Ringing chords ensue with melancholy and trepidation. This track and much of the album follow the conventions of death/doom bringing to mind titans of the genre (early) My Dying Bride and Anathema. There are moments of traditional doom/heavy metal and keyboards add atmosphere. Groove is a major component, too. Fans of doom metal’s various forms should give Occult a spin.
Runespell – Voice of Opprobrium (Iron Bonehead)
Voice of Opprobrium is the third full-length recording from Australian black metal outfit Runespell since 2017. Runespell’s output is more impressive due to consisting of a single member, Nightwolf. Voice of Opprobrium is a valiant, grandiose effort. The album is impeccably composed. Guitars and bass merge in brilliant harmony. Acoustic interludes, “Firmament of Blood” and “Wraithwoods” instill a sense of awe and wonderment. The title track and “Ascendant” offer valiant, medieval harmonies and tribal drum sounds, stirring the hidden compartments of the subconscious that crave glory on the battlefield.
Fans of compatriots Destroyer 666, Bestial Warlust and Sadistic Exekution need to set their gaze to the Northern Hemisphere (see Graveland) to grasp Runespell’s style. Voice of Opprobrium certainly borrows from second wave black metal, but what’s contained therein is strong enough to compete with the fathers of Polish black metal on the turntable.
Sleeping Ancient’s origins as an instrumental post-rock group comes out at times on their debut album, There Is No Truth But Death, but those beginnings are consumed by the fury of black metal. Their roots are present in two instrumental tracks, “Keeper Of Wasted Lives” and “A Locked Room,” both of which are deafening cuts with momentous anticipation for explosive power on their side.
Outside of these specific songs, the overall mood of this album is one of perpetual turmoil. The band puts up a wall of static with their guitars, a constant storm of noise that’s broken up with softer melodies that prove to be fleeting in every instance. To Sleeping Ancient, the title of their first album proves to be their calling card, as well as a hardened way to live.
Sonata Arctica – Talviyö (Nuclear Blast)
Sonata Arctica are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, and in those two decades the Finnish band has become one of the cornerstones of the power metal genre.
Talviyö (which means “winter night”) follows down the path of previous Sonata Arctica releases. The songs are dynamic and diverse, featuring both quiet acoustic parts and bombastic power metal. There are also traditional metal and even rock influences, evident on tracks like “Cold” and “A Little Less Understanding.” As always, Tony Kakko’s vocal performance is varied and powerful. This album will appeal to longtime Sonata Arctica fans as it delivers a lot of classic sounds, but some of more accessible songs could bring some new fans to the table as well.
Visions of Atlantis – Wanderers (Napalm)
In their seventh album to date, symphonic metallers Visions of Atlantis have brought their strongest performance yet. Throughout their history, much of their sound has been impeded by numerous lineup changes, but the lineup this time around is the same as their previous release, with the exception of a new male vocalist. As a result, Wanderers is tighter, cleaner, and brings more impressive arrangements than ever before.
One slight downfall of the band in general is how closely their sound strides to Nightwish (especially in the rhythm section). However, that isn’t to say that they’re a complete knockoff or anything like that. One distinctive mark that Visions of Atlantis bear is the 50/50 vocal split between their male and female vocalists, which allows for plenty of rich harmonies and powerful melodies, sort of like you’d hear in a Disney movie. Additionally, despite its closeness to the likes of Nightwish, Wanderers is still a fun listen for any fan of symphonic power metal.
Vitriol – To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice (Century Media)
After releasing an EP in 2017, Portland’s Vitriol caught the attention of Century Media, who signed them for their full-length debut, To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice. The album was recorded as a trio, with dual vocals from guitarist Kyle Rasmussen and bassist Adam Roethlisberger.
The album is dense and brutal, with blastbeats adding to the viciousness. However, Vitriol also inject melody to the proceedings, which are contrasted by the harsh vocals. While crushingly heavy, the musicianship is impressive throughout. They go from chaotic to groovy and back again at the drop of a hat. Those groovy moments provide some respite before the pummeling resumes. The combination of technicality, extremity and quality songwriting makes this an impressive debut.
Year of the Goat – Novis Orbis Terrarum Ordinis (Napalm)
There is always something fascinating about the music of Swedish occult rockers Year of the Goat. Throughout the EPs and full lengths the band have released, you hear a clever mix of different genres of rock and the thing that completes these passionate chants is the band’s wicked and sinister lyrics that invoke the devil out of the dark. On their third album, Novis Orbis Terrarum Ordinis, Year of the Goat once again offer their enchanting potion in their usual way.
Year of the Goat have combined blues rock and psychedelic rock with traditional doom metal, but on Novis Orbis Terrarum Ordinis they have added arena rock/pop rock touches, which have given a fresh and vibrant context to their music. With Thomas Sabbathi’s impressive vocal performance which is always a big part of the band’s musical thrills, and a power ballad like “Ira” and epic closer “Subicio”, Year of the Goat have once again achieved a remarkable opus. This is one of this year’s finest occult rock records.