SHORT REVIEWS Our eighteenth edition of Short Reviews for 2023 finds us picking through the first salvo of May’s new releases. I’ve done my best to showcase the most interesting works that I come across while still presenting some decent variety here but choices boil down to what sticks, what inspires or what is worth writing about. These are more easygoing than longform reviews, so relax and think for yourself — If you find something you dig go tell the band on social media and support them with a purchase! If you’d like your music reviewed, read the FAQ and send promos to: firstname.lastname@example.org
At some point in 2020, likely the release of ‘Mind Freeze‘, a part of my brain clicked and I’d felt like I’d heard enough of what Trevor William Church (Beastmaker) had to say in his solo heavy metal project Haunt, very much a prolific institution of the NWOTHM in the United States with an exuberant, anthemic heavy rock influenced style. As he’d explore slower melodic pieces, balladry, acoustic takes on favorites, and even some synthesizer-sided rock within several releases I’d reserved my interest, still fixated on the expectations ‘Burst Into Flame‘ and ‘If Icarus Could Fly‘ built up back in the late 2010’s. So, naturally I’m picking up ‘Golden Arm‘ alongside the suggestion that that particular side of Church‘s songcraft feels livened and up for a bigger showing here on album number eight. The appeal of this record is damned simple, catchy inspirational songs delivered with an honest sort of finesse that tows the line between mid-80’s melodic heavy metal and late 70’s heavy rock. The direct nature of each piece here makes for a very easy to pick up, quick to get to the goods kind of record which feels more packed with hooks than much of what’d been found on their trio of 2020-released records. I’ve definitely found myself wandering back to the singles on this one and it bodes well for this one having some staying power.
Impending Triumph is a traditional ‘epic’ heavy/power metal project from French writer/musician François Blanc (Angellore, Abduction) alongside prolific extreme metal musician Déhà. This debut EP takes some clear inspiration from late 80’s/early 90’s power metal, providing a certain whip to their melodic reach alongside the steadfast thump of groups like Manowar. Their sound is still at least somewhat formative with a few too many layers floating amidst the core statement of each song but their craft is effective enough in its high fantasy heavy metal statement as tuneful guitar driven songs which spin a yarn worth following. The lyrics concern themselves with Puritania, “a fictional empress who claims to be a true defender of liberty but really is a tyrant in disguise” as the main protagonist, the anti-hero subject matter gives them a chance to explore the tribulations of free will and its worth in an indirect way. I’d expected something a bit more rushed than this final result and for the most part they’ve pulled off something more-or-less convincing here. The riffs could use a bit more interest in relation to the vocal harmonies and some of the songs bleed together in terms of their rhythms but these folks have put together a worthy enough first strike that suggests they’re contenders and not just tourists.
Bloodgutter is a Swedish styled death metal band from members of Danish death metal groups Dawn of Demise, Temple of Scorn, and Crematoria. They’ve focused on steady, simple and readable stuff in the usual tradition for the most part as their focus on groove makes up the bulk of the riffs here. There are a few pieces which slip into grinding, Autopsy-esque bursts of speed but for the most part their sound is entirely straight-forward chunking Stockholm-sized death metal groove with a big, loud production value in hand. Above average sound but an entirely standard experience for the most part.
New Orleans, Louisiana-based sludge/post-metal metal quartet Fauns introduce their slow-drawn and heavily atmospheric sound with this two song ~22 minute EP. With big, broad shouldered grooves and deeper nigh death/doom metal sized vocals one could easily mistake their first impression for extreme metal but upon closer inspection these are essentially post-metal pieces with an imposing vocalist and a plodding atmospheric doom metal pace set, particularly in view of “Fault & Falter”. Between the dark allure of the album artwork/layout, the forlorn tonality of their riffcraft and the heft of the production values the first impression made was very strong but I’d found “Ashen” far superior to the opening piece, partially due to the three minute break during the middle third of “Fault & Falter” which didn’t bring much to the song. Check them out if you’re a fan of earlier Pallbearer, Thou, and Indian.
Sentinel Sirens is a classic thrash metal inspired project from Uppsala, Sweden-based musicians Andreas Engman (ex-Searing I drummer) and vocalist Heval Bozarslan of Sarcasm who bring a 50’s science fiction themed narrative to their take on a mid-to-late 80’s style of thrash metal. Their style bears some very light melodic death/thrash traits but their sound and approach to songcraft feels genuinely classic-era without adhering to the tenets of thrash metal too strictly, they’re allowed a bit of extra personality on this conceptual record. Strong emphasis is placed upon declarative vocals, plenty of melodic patternation and good ole gang-shouted emphasis. ‘Orbithon Wave‘ feels energized throughout and it felt like they’d put a lot of work into the presentation of this album without falling into the trap of anything too pretentious as far as thrash metal concept records go. I’d appreciated how approachable their themes were, even if I really don’t like the look of the sloth creature on the cover art, and the whole gig reeks of the weirding late-era of thrash metal. For the thrash fanatic the genuine sound of this recording and the unique melodic notions of the vocals here should keep the mind engaged, particularly if you are a fan of Nuclear Assault, Airdash, and I.N.C.‘s ‘The Visitor‘.
It is a rare thing that I’d recommend a 40-minute instrumental full-length but the meaningful movements which Oslo, Norway-based trio Kanaan realizes on their fourth album once again feel like a notable leap made within their jazz fusion inspired merger of multi-generational psychedelic rock ideals. Much like Earthless‘ more recent output ‘Downpour‘ thrives within its jammed-out and rambling-on spaces, ~6-7 minute vignettes which take inspiration from 90’s stoner rock bustle and the greater laissez-faire boon of modern jammed-at groups. This is a bit different from their previous record ‘Earthbound‘ which’d felt more intrigued by fuzz and heavier tension whereas most of this record is entirely laid back. We do get a bigger, doomed feeling later on per “Orbit” but that isn’t the major focus of the song compared to the thunderous ride of “Solaris Pt. 2” or opener “Black Time Fuzz”. I’d appreciated how they spread out heavier interest and focused on a free-form feeling throughout the record, kept me guessing even if it didn’t all feel entirely cohesive as a longplayer. Side B would be my preference if I had to choose.
Nightmarer is a dissonant death metal band formed in 2014 by former members of German metalcore band War From the Harlots Mouth who’ve brought on various musicians since, including Keith Merrow and Brendan Sloan today for these recordings. Their sound is generally polished to a nearly djent apropos level of polymer sheen and their style on ‘Deformity Adrift‘ is presented in an entirely economical sense within ~3-4 minute songs that feature a minimum of experimentation or accoutrement beyond a few guest spots, which incorporate some variation. Hints of industrial and death/doom metal spark up around the fringes of the moderately riff intensive experience of the full listen and I’d say those end up being the most memorable portions of the album for my taste whereas the spectacle of such a high fidelity recording will likely sustain interest for most. Though I tend towards the more raw and exaggerative side of dissonant death I appreciated the clean and readable striking of this record and its erratic grooves.
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