Stormkeep – Tales of Othertime
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.
8 / 10