Kontact’s debut EP is rather tricky to pin down in terms of style. Voivod makes the most immediate comparison with an aesthetic immersed in similar cosmic theming and the vocals channeling Snake in a similarly manic yet almost robotic sneer. However, the guitar work draws more on Speed Metal gallops and doomy riffs than the high-pitched dissonance that would come with such an association. King Gizzard at their heaviest might also be an applicable reference point though there isn’t quite as much psychedelic fuzz wafting about.Continue reading →
Featuring members of Wayfarer and Blood Incantation, Stormkeep plays Melodic Black Metal with a particularly epic flair. Their first full-length album, Tales of Othertime (Van Records), reflects great deal of influence from such groups as Dissection, Emperor, and Old Man’s Child. The production is claustrophobically atmospheric without getting too raw, the guitar sweeps are flamboyantly choppy, the vocals put in the expected rasps with the occasional cleans shining through, and the keyboards reinforce the theatrical aura without completely dominating the proceedings.
The songwriting also plays a fun game of contrasts with the six tracks consisting of four lengthy runs supplemented by a couple Dungeon Synth instrumentals. ‘The Citadel’ is a particularly striking example of the latter at work, putting in the sort of medieval swells and lonely trickles that would do Summoning proud, while ‘A Journey Through Storms’ makes for the most triumphant showing of the more orthodox Black Metal excursions. The album is very of its influences but with Stormkeep executing these tropes with such sincere fervor, the enthusiasm is contagious.
8 / 10
Wraith – Undo The Chains
Indiana’s Wraith has always been an enjoyable addition to the post-Midnight/Toxic Holocaust school of Blackened Thrash bands riding a gritty formula that is often simple but hard to truly screw up. Their third album, Undo The Chains (Redefining Darkness Records), shakes up the formula with some extra dynamics. Though still featuring a familiar mix of grimy riffs and filthy vocals, the band plays around with tempos more than before.
This is most apparent with the slow grind of the midway highlight ‘Time Wins’ though other tracks like ‘Gatemaster’ and ‘Cloaked In Black’ put in more mid-tempo chugs. Of course, there’s still plenty of fast hearty Thrash to go around and they even snuck a bit of Punk into ‘Born To Die’ and ‘Disgusting.’ Wraith albums always make fun listening for fans of the genre, but Undo The Chains is easily their best rounded effort.
8 / 10
Morgul Blade – Fell Sorcery Abounds
Morgul Blade’s first full-length is driven by a sound best described as Blackened Heavy Metal. The guitar leads and riffing patterns are driven by a dark Mercyful Fate-esque overcast with some tinges of Power Metal-inspired triumph while the vocals are in a near constant tug-o-war between baritone bellows and legible screeches. The production maintains a distant yet coherently grandiose haze all the while and there’s even a couple dedicated spots for some Synth layers to shine.
With these varying elements in a state of integrating and pulling apart, this would raise concerns that Fell Sorcery Abounds (No Remorse Records) is an incohesive listen. While ‘The Morgul Blade’ and ‘A Last Waltz of Gevaudan’ open on the album’s grimmest notes, things soon settle into an ominously anthemic air that comes through the most strongly on ‘In The Grip Of The Dark Lord,’ the Grim Reaper-esque ‘Sons Of The Night,’ and ‘The Five Will Ride at Dawn.’ I must admit the album might’ve benefitted from a consistently more upbeat pace, but this is a fun listen that lays down a neat template to develop even further.
8 / 10
The Night Eternal – Moonlit Cross
Coming off their 2019 self-titled EP, The Night Eternal’s first full-length does a lot to conjure the memory of In Solitude. Their Gothic tendencies are somewhat understated in comparison, but the combination of yelping baritone vocals and dark Mercyful Fate-inspired guitar acrobatics results in a similar blend of Doomy Traditional Metal. The first half is solid enough with ‘Son Of Sin’ putting in a particularly nifty Maiden-esque series of gallops.
The second half is where Moonlit Cross (Van Records) really picks up; ‘Shadow’s Servants’ is an enjoyable mid-tempo rocker and the rhythms on ‘Prison Of Flesh’ boast some forward momentum along with some extra conviction in the vocals that carries over nicely into ‘Closeness In Suspension’ and the closing title track. A rearranged track order might’ve made for an even more cohesive listen, but this is ultimately a fun niche effort.
8 / 10
Tower – Shock To The System
It’s been five years since TOWER released their self-titled debut, but their second album picks up where its predecessor left off. Shock To The System (Cruz Del Sur Music) continues to straddle the line between Hard Rock and Classic Metal with gritty rhythms, flailing twin guitars, and unhinged vocals ala Savage Master and Solicitor.
There’s been some solid developments in the songwriting as tracks like ‘Prince of Darkness,’ ‘Lay Down The Law’ and ‘In Dreams’ benefit from more fleshed out structures while ‘On The Line’ and the closing ‘Powder Key’ make for some hard-hitting rough and tumble Speed Metal. It’s a simple but effective execution that should sit well with old school Heavy Metal fans.
It would be a stretch to call Wolftooth’s third full-length a Doom Metal album, but Blood And Iron (Napalm Records) is a rather methodical listen by their standards. The songs run noticeably longer than their first two efforts, especially when compared to the compact anthems on Valhalla, with the seven-minute runtimes on the opening ‘Ahab’ and the title track being their lengthiest to date. The pacing also seems slightly more lumbering as the faster sequences have a sort of hesitation behind them and the hooks are decidedly more subtle.
In contrast to the mythical themes that defined their first two albums, Seven Sisters’ third full-length presents itself with a more otherworldly sci-fi aesthetic. However, the music on Shadow Of A Fallen Star, Pt. 1 (Cherry Red Records) ultimately sustains the classy approach to Heavy Metal seen on its predecessors. Comparisons could be made to groups like Iron Maiden, Aria, and Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath with some helpings of Power Metal in the vein of Hammerfall and old school Kamelot.
Having established itself with a series of singles since their 2019 formation, Tasmania’s Fierce Deity takes an epic step forward with Power Wisdom Courage (Self-Released). Having three songs total to a thirty-two-minute runtime puts this release on that weird line between an album and an EP and seeing these tracks sprawl to ten-plus minute lengths results in a release with an epic scope and a compact execution. Fortunately, these seemingly contradictory elements end up coming together well to form an incredibly triumphant work of Stonerized Power Metal.
Effectively serving as the second Idle Hands album under a new name, it only makes sense for Unto Others’ Strength (Roadrunner Records) to continue the mix of Classic Metal and Gothic Rock last seen with 2019’s Mana. However, debuting with a sound balancing two distinct styles like this inevitably raises the possibility of a tug o’ war taking place on subsequent offerings. In this scenario, it begs the question whether the band will prioritize their Metal side or their Gothic side. But as they say in that one Taco Bell commercial: “Why not both?”
With nine years spent waiting since the release of their last album, 2012’s Bury The Light, Pharaoh returns in forceful fashion with their fifth full-length. The Powers That Be (Cruz Del Sur Music) could very well be the Power Metal veterans’ most aggressive outing since 2006’s The Longest Night, bringing in a borderline thrash undercurrent with the guitar’s blazing technical runs along with the vocals’ established grit. This is established right off the bat with the title track’s assertive crunch and ‘Will We Rise’ follows up the intensity with some added Classic Metal flavor.
Like 2018’s Becoming A Demon EP before it, Silver Talon’s first full-length album feels like the missing link between Sanctuary and Nevermore. The latter is especially felt with the sweeping layers of Jeff Loomis-style shred guitar, modern tones, and densely arranged vocal melodrama ala mid-era Warrel Dane. There is also an underlying Power Metal spirit throughout is perhaps most rooted in something like Refuge Denied or even classic Queensryche. The band has only doubled down on that spirit with Decadence And Decay (M-Theory Audio).
Having released six full-lengths and other assorted releases in just five years, it’s only inevitable for Haunt’s output to start getting samey. Their first (and probably not last) album in 2021, Beautiful Distraction carries on the polished, synth-laden variant of Heavy Metal last seen on 2020’s Mind Freeze and Flashback. Fortunately, the formula is still enjoyable with tracks like ‘In Our Dreams’ and ‘Face Of Danger’ offering uplifting hooks while ‘Imaginary Borders’ hits. It’s rather strange to see new versions of ‘Hearts On Fire’ and ‘It’s In My Hands’ considering their appearances on prior albums, but their later placements in the track order ultimately amount to inoffensive inclusions. As interchangeable as these albums have become lately, fans will still find their favorite pleasantries on full display.
7 / 10
Witchseeker – Scene Of The Wild
Like 2017’s When The Clock Strikes before it, the second album from Singapore’s Witchseeker offers high octane Speed Metal with a certain Hard Rock sensibility. That latter element is especially pronounced on Scene Of The Wild (Dying Victims Productions) as songs like ‘Rock This Night Away,’ ‘Sin City’ (Not an AC/DC cover), and ‘Tokyo Nights’ among others are packed with catchy singalongs and frolicking beats. Fortunately, there’s still enough rawness to go around with the tempos often opting for total intensity, the vocals having an endearingly untrained quality and a filthy as hell bass tone. It may not be a serious gamechanger but another fun listen for fans of Enforcer and White Wizzard.
8 / 10
Significant Point – Into The Storm
Significant Point’s debut album follows in the footsteps of their countrymen in groups like Loudness and Anthem, but their approach to Speed Metal ends up feeling more German than Japanese. Songs like the opening ‘Attacker’ and ‘Riders Under The Sun’ show strong influence from Running Wild and Walls Of Jericho-era Helloween with their blazing guitar runs, flamboyant harmonies, relentless drumming, and unhinged yet melodic wails.
There’s also room for more Classic Metal leaning fun with ‘You’ve Got The Power’ and ‘Night Of The Axe’ offering some in your face optimism. The more epic touches on ‘Running Alone’ also make for another highlight of a closer. Into The Storm (Dying Victims Productions) may be rather rough and tumble for some fans, especially when it comes to the vocals, but comes strongly recommended to those who like their Power Metal with extra grit.
Of all the bands on the Gothic Rock/Heavy Metal fusion bandwagon, Poltergeist may be the most committed to those Post-Punk aesthetics. The style on their third EP remains closer to Joy Division than Judas Priest with a heavy emphasis on chilling synths, stiff bass-heavy rhythms, and disinterested vampiric baritones. This is especially true on the first two tracks as the opening ‘Electricity’ goes full Synthwave and ‘Through Clouded Eyes’ follows it up in ominously subdued fashion.