New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: heavy metal

Get a Killer Heavy Playlist, Save an Iconic London Venue

[Editor’s note: stranger things than an album mysteriously disappearing from the web have happened over the past year. But isn’t it suspicious that a charity compilation whose proceeds benefit a UK live music venue would suddenly vanish without a trace? Such a campaign, after all, goes completely against the lockdowners’ interests. In the New Abnormal, the arts are illegal, and the only entertainment is online, where it can be surveilled. If and when this returns to the web, this page will be linked to the audio]

The Black Heart is a beloved, intimate music venue located in London’s Camden Town, and home base for the wildly popular, annual Desertfest. It’s also one of the city’s top spots for heavy music. And since the Boris Johnson regime turned the UK into North Korea, the Black Heart has been cold and dead. There’s a crowdfunding campaign going to keep the venue from shutting its doors forever, and an incredibly diverse, mind-opening 38-track compilation, Countershock, streaming at Bandcamp [but now conspicuously missing] and available as a name-your-price download with all proceeds going to help the club.

It’s an amazingly eclectic playlist, something for everyone: many different extremes of heavy psychedelia, plenty of doom metal, stoner boogie, thrash, a little death metal and postrock too. Cool as it is that so many well-known touring bands have come out in support of the club, this is also a great way to discover some of the UK and Europe’s best undeservedly obscure talent while helping a good cause.

The obvious stuff is as good as you would hope: none of these bands phoned in their contributions. Year of the Cobra‘s chromatic dirge The Battle Of White Mountain is a prime example, especially when the bass rises and circles behind an oscillating guitar break about five minutes in. Most of these songs are long: the shortest one is Sasquatch’s My World, but it’s a galloping, fuzztone riff-rock gem. And Chingus, by ZED, makes a great segue.

Heavenly Manna, by Salem’s Bend is another killer cut, a mix of sledgehammer riffs and ominous, enveloping, lingering calm, with an incisive wah guitar duel over an unexpectedly lithe pulse. Also on the heavy psych tip, Ritual King‘s Dead Roads has twin fuzztone bass/guitar leads, unexpected tempo shifts and tantalizingly short guitar and bass solos.

So many of the more obscure tracks are just as relentlessly strong. Skraeckoedlan contribute Universum, shuffling heavy biker-ish rock in the R.I.P. vein with tasty downtuned chordal bass and a new dawn fade of a bridge. Miss Lava‘s shapeshifting, funereal The Wait also has more than a hint of Joy Division, especially as the bass pierces the gloom. And the way Morag Tong‘s We Answer slowly closes in on the abyss is one of the album’s most mesmerizing moments.

You want great drums? Try Possessor’s unexpectedly nimble Coffin Fit. Heavy, heavy funk? Mount Kong, by Purple Kong goes off the scale. Carnatically-inspired wailing over bludgeoning riffage? Ashurbanipal’s Request, by Lowen is for you. The Lunar Effect reward your perseverance with the most obvious and hilarious Sabbath homage as the next-to-last track here. It’s impossible to think of a better payoff than the screaming solo that winds up Butcher in the Fog‘s Electric Van Gogh to close the mix on a high note. Once we overthrow the lockdown – which we’re going to have to do, otherwise it’s New Abnormal forever – these bands make a good bucket list to check out when we get unrestricted, unsurveilled concerts going again.

A Strangely Anthemic, Crushing Blend of Styles From the Aptly Named Evil Drive

If you’re a metal fan, you probably wouldn’t think that death metal vocals, ornate Iron Maiden-style tunesmithing and retro 80s guitar flash would make much sense together. Evil Drive’s new album Demons Within – streaming at Spotify – is a mashup of all of that. It’s the kind of record where your first reaction is WTF. Forty-tive minutes and ten tracks later, it suddenly hits you that you’re still listening.

Take this evil drive and you’ll get it. The intro to the first cut is so predictable it’s funny – except that’s stiletto heels stalking the pavement, not leather boots. Frontwoman Viktoria Viren does the nails-down-the-throat rasp in English over the thrash of guitarists J-P Pusa and Ville Viren, bassist Matti Sorsa and drummer Antti Tani, until they slow down for a second for the chorus.

Track two, Chains is a strangely catchy blend of hardcore/thrash rhythms, peak-era Maiden and sly, showoffy 80s guitar tapping. It’s easy to imagine Bruce Dickinson doing his operatic thing over the ornate, symphonic changes of the title cut, peaking out with an Arabic-tinged guitar solo midway through.

The band go back to the thrashy verse/lushly orchestral chorus template for Revenge, with gritty, scrambling leads and tricky rhythmic changes. We Are the One – an original, not the punk classic by the Avengers – is a big, stampeding Run to the Hills-type anthem, the longest and best song on the album.

Stun-gun staccato and searing twin leads threaten to take Too Wild off the rails. Lords, the next track, is the big hit, a more crazed take on gloomily anthemic European stadium metal.

The machinegunning assault reaches a peak with more than a hint of horror surf in Bringer, then with the ninth track, In the End, we finally get a fractured ballad – who would have expected to find elegant twelve-string picking on an album like this? They close it with Ghost, which with its stampeding drive and total Powerslave-era Maiden guitar duel is anything but ghostly.

There isn’t a single idea on this record that hasn’t been used before, but nobody’s figured out how to put them all together like this band. Raise your lighter to the hope that we can see them in one of those stadiums they ought to be playing this summer.

Raise Your Lighter to Durbin’s Metal Archetypes and Fearsome Guitar Solos

The opening track on Durbin‘s new album The Beast Awakens – streaming at Bandcamp – is titled The Prince of Metal. “Raise thy horns, bang thy head, the Prince of Metal!?” Is this from a cartoon movie?

No, but it could be – if the directors don’t mind a song that will steal your attention with a searing guitar solo and wildly operatic, multitracked vocals from frontman James Durbin. “The fall of the kings of the land will be remembered!” Maybe there’s actual political subtext here.

The rest of the record runs the gauntlet through crunchy riff-rock like Bad Company on crank, densely multitracked post-Maiden grand guignol, made-for-Eurovision drama and more than one theme nicked from Blue Oyster Cult. The energy goes to redline and stays there for most of the songs, especially where the guitar solos are concerned, panning the speakers, barreling through tantalizingly short volleys of tremolo-picking or tapping. The ending is a letdown: the rocket fuel has run out.

The album’s loose narrative thread is pure Spinal Tap, a “defender of the realm” up against the bad guys…or maybe just the Evil Eye. Maybe that has political subtext too.

Heavy psych fans are going to find this album’s predictable verse/chorus dynamics, punkishly charging rhythms, catchy changes and heroic posturing completely over the top. This is music for people who drink mead (or Capri Sun) out of their helmets. Hopefully they’ve taken a pause from the battle (or the screen) to rinse their headgear first.

Joel Hoekstra’s 13 Reanimate an Extinct Breed of Dinosaur Metal

In olden days, before Odin delivered the runes which ordered the gods of metal to fixate on Viking regalia, pagan myths and the apocalypse, there was a strain of heavy rock that was pretty goofy. It was party music: catchy pop melodies played with loud guitars and a lot of winkingly comedic flourishes. Joel Hoekstra’s 13 come out of that late 70s school. He’s a great pop tunesmith, he loves volume and he knows this music inside out. His latest album Running Games – streaming at Spotify – is a prime example.

It’s a concept album about – gasp – a breakup. Who knew these leather-clad rogues had hearts that might not have been totally blackened, whether in a deal with the devil or by flying too close to the sun? The central metaphor is a race: themes of escape and the sobering possibility of a crushing loss permeate these otherwise very upbeat and adrenalizing tunes.

Guitars play ridiculously fast tapping solos over the steady gallop of the bass and drums. Divebomb effects, the occasional acoustic passage or grandiose keyboard break pop up in places. Hoekstra’s vocals have the requisite bombast, sometimes edging toward fullscale operatic drama. Don’t take this the wrong way, but the choruses on this album are straight out of Blondie, Bachman-Turner Overdrive or…Abba. No joke. Meanwhile, you half expect David Lee Roth to come swinging down to the stage on a couple of guidewires, wAAAAAAAAoooooh, wearing a yellow jumpsuit.

Serious fans will dismiss this as a parody, self- or otherwise, or 7-11 parking lot music for the under-15 crowd who haven’t discovered Sabbath or Led Zep yet. Yes, this is comic-book rock…but it’s a well-drawn comic book. Dare you to spin the tenth track, Cried Enough For You, without laughing at the faux-Floyd and faux-Zep touches…and then when Hoekstra takes a solo, he takes your breath away. And makes you laugh again. In the grimmest year in human history, we still need to smile sometimes.

Haunting, Epic Minor-Key Art-Rock From Empyrium

Empyrium play a somber, stark, tersely constructed blend of Mitteleuropean folk noir and 70s-style art-rock with tinges of metal and the High Romantic. How high does their latest album Uber den Sternen (Over the Stars) reach? For the rafters, mightily, here and there. Elsewhere, it’s a beautifully gloomy record, streaming at Bandcamp. Not a single substandard cut here: it’s awfully early to be talking about best-of-the-year lists, but this one’s high among the best albums of 2021 so far.

The first track, The Three Flames begins as a slow, subdued waltz, Markus “Schwadorf” Stock’s spare fingerpicked guitar mingling with cello, then the drums kick in and the race is on – he plays pretty much everything here. Thomas Helm’s operatic baritone is a surreal contrast; buzzy lows from the guitars and mellotron flute at the top complete the sonic picture. There’s a plaintive, artfully fingerpicked interlude to survey the wreckage of some unnamed society, then the staggered waltz beat returns and the layers of guitars rise with a symphonic intensity. It sets the stage for the rest of the record.

Track two, A Lucid Tower Beckons on the Hills, comes across as a variation on the theme: same sad waltz tempo, louder guitars, bitterly heroic twin leads, and is that a cimbalom echoing morosely from the back of the mix? The Oaken Throne is not about a medieval latrine; instead, it’s a terse, elegant dirge which seems to concern some kind of forest spirit.

Moonrise, an instrumental, has a web of nimbly fingerpicked acoustic guitars over drifting ambience. The Archer (yeah, these archetypes are kind of World of Warcraft) is a Steppenwolf character roaming the valley in this slowly swaying minor-key anthem.

The Wild Swans has the album’s most metalish vocals but also its most symphonic architecture: gorgeously brief classical guitar solo, hazy mellotron interlude, crushing guitar orchestration and an unexpectedly hypnotic detour. The most unselfconsciously beautiful moment here is the instrumental In the Morning, with its spare classical piano and strings. The album ends with the titanic title track, shifting from jackhammering intensity, to starlit rapture, operatic longing and an unexpected sense of triumph: a hard-won victory maybe, but victory nonetheless.

R.I.P. Deliver a Scorching Mashup of Punk Rock, Surf and Thrash Metal

R.I.P. call themselves a “street doom” band. In the crowdedly monstrous world of heavy rock, they’re unique: thrashy, macabre and as influenced by punk and surf rock as Black Sabbath. They keep their songs short, they like minor keys and have an unusually nimble rhythm section for such a heavy band. Their latest album Dead End is streaming at Bandcamp.

They open with the synthy horror-film instrumental Streets of Death and then launch into Judgment Night, a headbanging mashup of horror surf, hardcore punk and an action movie theme. John Mullett’s  slurry bass kicks off the album’s title cut, guitarist Angel Martinez supplying a muted fuzztone attack over drummer Willie D’s lithely sinewy groove: it’s the missing link between the UK Subs and Sabbath.

Nightmare has a heavy biker rock assault much like the band’s Riding Easy labelmates the Death Wheelers. Ominous doom metal chromatics take a backseat to a relentless series of punk rock chords as One Foot in the Grave stomps along, up to a tantalizingly venomous tremolo-picked solo.

Death Is Coming – the featured track on Riding Easy Records’ free Xmas playlist – looks back to Bon Scott-era AC/DC and Judas Priest.

The band move from a catchy cinematic riff to a haphazard, menacing gallop in Moment of Silence. They follow the ominously Doorsy instrumental Buried Alive with the hard-swinging, 70s-flavored riff-rock tune Out of Time. They slow down hard to close with Dead of the Night, the most doom metal-flavored track here, with a vampirish vocal cameo. Not a single weak track on this album.

A Heavy Psychedelic Afrobeat-Metal Suite From Here Lies Man

Here Lies Man are a spinoff of legendary second-wave Afrobeat band Antibalas. Their first couple of records basically metalized that Fela-inspired sound, with mixed results. Their new album Ritual Divination – streaming at Bandcamp – is where the rubber really hits the road.

They’re found themselves here: if you have to hang a name on what they’re doing, you could call it heavy psychedelia. Rhythms shift suddenly, dubwise touches filter through the mix occasionally, guitars roar and stab. Because much of this album is basically a suite – or a Fela-style sidelong jam separated into shorter tracks – it’s best enjoyed as a whole. And it’s a long album, sixteen songs, mostly instrumental: you could say that after awhile it all sounds like one long song, but it’s a good one.

They open the album with In These Dreams, a loping minor-key groove with gusts from Marcos Garcia’s distorted guitar and organ from Doug Organ (that’s the dude’s name) over a beat that’s practically reggae until the chorus kicks in. I Told You (You Shall Die), the second track, is a killer minor-key number that could be a heavier Budos Band with a mellotron.

They run the big, brisk riff from Underland over and over, then with What You See they shift up the tempos with it. Can’t Kill It has a circling stoner blues riff, a tricky rhythmic interlude from bassist JP Maramba and drummer Geoff Mann and a big, swirly stampede. Things get swirlier, then more suspensefully gritty in Run Away Children

If Sabbath had played Afrobeat – or if Fela had been a metalhead – you’d have I Wander. There’s a little stoner boogie in Night Comes, and postpunk stomp in Come Inside.

Collector of Vanities has the whole picture: funereal organ, punchy chords, allusive chromatics. Disappointed will not disappoint you with its weird mashup of garage rock, dark dub and a goofy Sabbath reference. Then the band shift between leaden riffage and fleet-footed, organ-spiced Afrobeat in You Would Not See From Heaven.

Strangely, The Fates Have Won is one of the album’s catchiest yet most hypnotic tracks. Out Goes the Night has weirdly undulating rhythms and the trippiest organ parts here. The group finally wind everything up with Cutting Through the Tether, another organ-infused tune and the most trance-inducing one on the album.

Titanic Art-Rock and Metal From the Phantom Elite

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the Phantom Elite’s new album Titanium – streaming at Spotify– is a pop record with heavy guitars. It’s a mix of metal and loud symphonic rock, awash in contrasting textures and guitar multitracks, horror-film synthesizers and all kinds of elegant classical and artsy 70s rock touches. Frontwoman Marina La Torraca’s powerful vocals look back to blues a lot more than opera or classical music, a welcome change from the sound that female-fronted European heavy rock acts tend to reach for. And where so many heavy bands fixate on apocalyptic horror, this group channel defiance and resistance against the evil around us.

Max van Esch’s creepy, doomy guitar chromatics don’t kick in until the vast sonic cloud clears and the chorus of the first track, Conjure Rains kicks in.

A tricky, math-y guitar synth intro opens The Race, a desperate all-hands-on-deck anthem awash in symphonic layers of guitars and unexpected sharp turns. The noir classical piano intro of Diamonds and Dark hints the band’s going to in a menacing Hannah vs. the Many direction, but instead drummer Joeri Warmerdam hits a machinegunning drive and La Torraca bends upward, optimistic amid the orchestral gloom. It’s a good anthem for the worst time in human history.

The synth solo that opens Worst Part of Me is just plain funny, but the song is not: “Victory is so unreachable,” La Torraca laments as she reaches for a “glass of something” to keep her sane from the troll chorus in this doomed anthem. The band take Glass Crown from an action film theme to a darkly catchy fist-pumping stadium singalong. The epic title track is slower and surprisingly optimistic, with a surreal, spacy, icepicking bridge and an unexpectedly successful, blues-infused detour into late-period Jeff Beck.

With its squiggly synths and four-on-the-floor chorus, Bravado is the closest thing to a big pop ballad here. The symphonic angst reaches a peak in the ominous changes of Silver Lining, van Esch slowing down and turning in his most intense solo here.

They follow the brief, blues-tinted instrumental Haven with Deliverance: “Bury all the demons from the past away from me,”  La Torraca orders, the band slowing down into doomy sludge until the pace picks up again. They close with Eyes Wide Open, which seems like La Torraca taking a stab at autosuggestion, to “scream like no one’s listening.” Except that everyone is listening – and it’s about time.

Saluting Lavishly Orchestral European Metal Cult Favorites Royal Hunt

Not to flog a dead horse, but more bands should make live albums. Swedish band Royal Hunt made a massive double live one, sarcastically titled Wasted Time, for their 25th anniversary back in 2016 and validated their reputation as road warriors. If epic drama, gothic imagery, and melodic metal with classical flourishes are your thing, crank this beast. It’s one long album – every song seems to be about eight minutes – and it’s streaming at Spotify.

What’s most impressive is how ornate and orchestral this music is: they don’t really strip much of anything down from their lavish studio productions. A rattle from Andreas Passmark’s bass, a few bursts from Andre Andersen’s string synth, a couple of Jonas Larsen minor-key guitar chords, a few baroque spirals…and the band launch into their classical-metal instrumental Martial Arts. Before you know it, they segue into the galloping River of Pain with its flangey twin guitars, surreallistically icy keyboard flourishes and tantalizingly sunbaked blues.

This take of One Minute Left to Live is part grand guignol Mozart, a little Viking chant and a lot of Iron Maiden. Take the distortion off the guitar but leave the wah-wah, get Habo Johansson’s drums to chill and suddenly Army of Slaves becomes a Donna Summer disco-pop hit with a dude (that’s DC Cooper) on the mic.

So far the band haven’t taken a break as they segue into Lies, a surreal mashup of AC/DC, speedmetal and the baroque. They finally do before the album’s title track, a new wave pop song on steroids.

Likewise, there’s an oldschool soul ballad bleeding through the crunch and roar of Heart on a Platter.

The doublebass drum really gets a workout in Flight; but first they kick this Trans-Siberian Orchestra-ish sprint off with a rockabilly shuffle. And just when May You Never Walk Alone seems like it’s going to be a power ballad, the guitars and string synth kick in and take it doublespeed.

The album’s best song, Until the Day, appears toward the end of the show: with its funereal piano, it’s the closest thing to Pink Floyd here. By now, the concert has hit a peak and the band keep it going with the phantasmagorical Half Past Loneliness. The accusatory anthem Message to God makes a good segue from there.

They encore with a comfortable take of the catchy early 80s-style Stranded and close the show in a similar vein with A Life to Die For. Some people will hear this and roll their eyes at this relic from the days when there were big record labels who spared no detail in recording stuff like this…but that’s their loss.

Haunting, Epic Grandeur From the Grimly Mighty Katla

The cover image of Icelandic art-rock band Katla’s new album Allt þetta helvítis myrkur (All This Hellacious Darkness), streaming at Bandcamp, shows a hooded man standing between a huge snowdrift and what could either be a snowed-in bridge, or the skeleton frame of some kind of industrial building. Either way, this haunting song cycle is one of the most darkly gorgeous releases of the year.

To the less familiar, Icelandic folk music has an especially enigmatic, otherworldly quality since some of it veers in and out of traditional western scales. Einar Thorberg Gu∂mundsson’s ominously drifting synthesized orchestration and layers of burning guitars rise and fall over drummer Gu∂mundur Óli Pálmason’s slow, funereal sway. The music here typically follows an arc that has more to do with classical music than any kind of traditional pop verse/chorus pattern. Most of the songs segue into each other. The lyrics are in Icelandic: smartly, the record comes with a lyric sheet.

Gu∂mundsson eventually enters with an angst-fueled intensity over gritty guitar distortion in the opening track, Ást orðum ofar (seemingly a love song), eventually segueing into the slow, enveloping, grim Villuljós (Error Light), a gracefully elegaic, fingerpicked folk riff looping in the distance. The sway grows toward a conflagration as Gu∂mundsson’s guitars pick up and spiral around. There’s a lull for a ticking loop and brooding orchestration, then the music slowly makes its way toward sheer horror in theinstrumental Likfundur a Solheimasandi, a simple funereal drumbeat adrift in the vastness.

Sálarsvefn (Sleep of the Soul) is also a dirge, forlorn belltone guitar over smoldering, anthemic minor-key changes; finally, it hits a gusty peak with the doublebass drum going full tilt in the background. 

A creepy music box-like synth riff kicks off Vergangur, a glacial, disquieting blend of ancient-sounding Icelandic folk themes, peak-era early 80s Iron Maiden, noisy Finnish punk in a Sielun Veljet vein and macabre, droning psychedelia.

Hvítamyrkur (Dark Light) has a somber cello solo amidst desolation, a searingly marching drive and a gorgeous, woundedly ornate guitar solo. The duo finally pick up the pace with an elegant gallop in Húsavíkur-Jón, gathering force from a serpentine drive toward crushing majesty.

The album’s ttle track is an art-rock masterpiece, a twelve-minute snowstorm epic that rises from a surprisingly delicate, Chopinesque intro through dissociative nubulosity and grimly triumphant turbulence. This trek through the wasteland doesn’t seem to end well.

The moment when the nocturnal pastorale that introduces the fifteen-minute Svartnætti (Dead of Night) comes as a shock. From there they sway through a smoldering pagan folk anthem and variations. Ironically, even with the symphonic coda, it’s the simplest and most straightforward song here. A lock for one of the best albums of 2021.