Cold Steel Dawn – Amidst The Inferno
The raging inferno of summer might be reducing you and your friends to human barbecue but thankfully a good old slab of cold steel is always there to make this hellish season more bearable this year. Take a shot with the following six 2019 releases before you’re placed under the angry sun.
Lost from the Start
Dying Victims Productions – 2019
It shouldn’t be a surprise that while in the 80’s many now familiar genres had their glory days, our idea of “genre” back then was fairly amorphous. What is say, speed metal after all but an aggressive mish-mash of ideas that would later on be integrated into thrash, power, traditional, and some might argue very early black metal? Australia’s Galaxy capture this sense of hybridization that travels between these sounds (save for the last of them) but do so without becoming a blatant tribute to any of them. A mixture of spirited tempos backed by steady double bass work, slightly nasally mid-range bellowing, and riffing that balances consistent crunch against streamlined agility results in a sound that takes most of everyone’s favourite aspects of the so-called golden era and condenses them into a confident and finely attuned war machine. “Dreaming Out” is an aggressive stomper with satisfyingly confrontational chorus chunk-chords, playing around between that and a set of leads for a while, before throwing a fast turnaround in its second half. “Sons of Titan” on the other hand goes for the jugular off of the bat and is the fastest and nastiest, reminding of Germany’s Paragon but adds some weirdly ominous harmonized chanting for a short moment. By contrast, the staccato Bay Area thrash chug of “Paradise” delivers an ominous and even atmospheric warning, contrasting its dense rhythms with oddly tranquil but eerily unresolved vocal lines that stress and stretch for a ritualistic effect. The seven minute title track is what really steals the show, carefully travelling an arching melodic trajectory, accelerating into crunchier riffing and amazingly ear-shattering shrieks yet ending on a decidedly less fistpumpy drawn out ending of sustained reverberating chords and a simple bittersweet melody woven through them. In essence, their strongest moments are the two longest songs on his album showing a great grasp of structure, build-up, and storytelling though the shorter numbers don’t exactly slouch either. Hopefully a full length will further explore this sort of epic songwriting as they are the best parts of this impressive debut.
Lost from the Start drops September 20th. You can preorder it here.
The Inevitable War
Dissonance Productions – 2019
Hailing to their homeland of England, Amulet deliver it’s most beloved national art of classic heavy metal but with a twist that while slight on paper is immense in practice and somewhat anachronistic in its composition. Playing a riffier sort of heavy metal that borders on earlier power/speed metal, they enhance stalwart riffing with an impressively well-developed grasp of nuanced melodies that avoid more static rhythms that hold many “NWOTHM” bands back. It’s enhanced by an uncommon but equally expertise vocal performance, reminiscent of the higher piercing tone of Attacker’s Bobby “Leatherlungs” Lucas but with an even wider range of character and a fuller and less shrill tone, knowing when to be understated and narrative and when to be powerful and commanding. It’s assisted by nifty basslines courtesy of Sam Mackertich of the now sadly defunct technical power-thrashers Deceptor that while not quite as aggressive and acrobatic as that band, still shines on moments like “Call of the Siren” with its dense plucked chorus riffs and the simple but addictive skipping riffs on “Siege Machine”. On occasion they’ll throw a few structural curveballs too with opener “The Satanist” featuring a semi-progressive structure while “Poison Chalice” transforms from a slower headbang-friendly fistpumper to a fast blast of youthful energy. The eight minute epic “Roundhead” partakes in this as well though it’s somewhat held back by ending on an unnecessarily drawn out ambience for its conclusion. At times this reminds me a little of Helstar’s Nosferatu in the poetic semi neoclassical reminiscent nature of the playing and the refined musicianship that carries it and the fact that it’s much riffier than the grand majority of NWOBHM from that movement’s heyday. A complete and welcome transformation from the 2014 debut and I hope to hear them further upgun their musicianship and songwriting.
Official purchasing options here.
Independent – 2019
While those previously praised brits only hinted at influences of Helstar and their unfortunately rare ilk, Oregon’s Magnabolt delve into the realms of neoclassical rifftacular power metal head-on. If you remember Last Empire which featured their guitarist and vocalist Peter Sylvia, this continues many of the same ideas but without the more modern if well implemented touches such as the harsh vocals and the chuggier guitar work. This sort of USPM exemplifies the more advanced speed/thrash tinged end of its late 80’s to early 90’s form but it downplays that in exchange for something akin to the most exuberant of classic heavy metal given a meaner technical upgrade and filtered through laser-precise riffing and impressively coordinated guitar work. While they’re not as lead guitar focused as The Lord Weird Slough Feg and Mega Colossus, preferring to communicate these strident melodies through riffing, they are easily their equals when the time comes to let the fretboard extravagance fly. One thing that might hold them back however is the vocals and their mixing. Peter’s voice sounds… old, for lack of a better term, with a sort of husky and strained performance that while it has a certain intensity and dramatic desperation, does feel hampered slightly by its sonic positioning. It’s almost but no quite behind the rest of the band and sometimes doesn’t really feel as powerful as it could be, faltering at a few key moments. Thankfully, he’s competent enough of a singer and more than talented enough of a musician along with the rest of the band to deliver head-slicing riff after riff combined with incendiary shred barrages, easily packing some of the sharpest axe-slinging of the last ten years. Essential listening for any disciple of American-style heavy/power metal legends like Liege Lord, Attacker, Prodigy/Oracle, Oliver Magnum, Brocas Helm, Adramelch and Amulance.
You can download this album for free officially here.
High Inquisitor Woe
Independent – 2019
Doom metal fundamentally understands metal when reduced to its most basic ideas; powerful riffs with each one monumental and titanic in its effect. Unfortunately it also is the genre that frequently flops the most in my personal experience even with its commendable strengths and too often turns into vague thudding shapes that I suppose are meant to be riffs hidden behind layers of reverb and trapped in overlong plodding that excuses itself as songwriting. Cue High Inquisitor Woe entering the scene to set the record straight with a beefy and punishing take on the genre’s traditional form and packing enough raw attitude to lock horns with much more aggressive metal styles. While they aren’t hesitant to use bullet time speed death-knell riffs, a healthy portion of the album is midpaced and for this genre very active in terms of riffing with a good deal of dense impact and with a hard rocking, catchy sound that belies just how damn weighty these songs are. Songs like “Kehaar” and the title cut feature moments of absurdly thick descending chords and big grooving tempos combined with a lawless pulpy atmosphere conveyed through the lyrics and the wild vocal performance that can go from a desert throated dry yell to a sneering Ozzy-esque taunt. This is best encapsulated in “Witch of November”, fast enough to veer into classic heavy metal territory like Magic Circle on Journey Blind or the venerable Briton Rites with its tenacious aggression and harsh occult atmosphere, culminating in a surprisingly exorbitant solo. If there are some things that hold this back, it would be the slower moments when they become a more “normal” doom band. “Beyond Visible Light” and “Ghost Trees” are the two tracks guilty of this specifically and while far from terrible, they lack the same energy and creative intensity that defines the rest of the album and clash with the hookier, faster vibe. At times they veer dangerously close to pure plod territory. If this band can write more bangers like “Witch of November” (by and far their strongest work to date) and “Deadly Nightshade” they’ll be well on their way to the top of the genre.
Repentless – 2019
“Modern progressive metal” enters my ears as exactly that and exits them as “hit the mute button” but this Japanese band, admittedly part power metal, manages to avoid the djenchugthug nonsense that’s infested huge portions of prog. Compared to their debut album, 2016’s Chrysalides, this five song EP is a faster and more spirited animal leaning them much closer to the fluid energy and sweeping energy of power metal. It’s a fast and guitar-driven style that avoids the usual flat sonic topography that plagues that instrument in this genre, transposing the intricate layered technicality of prog into a nimble turn-on-a-dime package. It’s closer overall to the occasionally neo-prog leaning 90’s styles associated with Dream Theater and Symphony X in that sense but compared to both, these songs are considerably less convoluted and immediate in their execution. A lot of the musicianship can be easy to miss at first not necessarily just due to the speed but also just how streamlined it all is; it’s remarkably accessible and while not necessarily “hooky”, has lots of soaring triumphant moments tempered by unexpectedly soothing singing that keeps it grounded and oddly relaxing at points. Two of the tracks here are rerecordings from the debut and haven’t really changed much save for a fuller and clearer production job but after listening to the new ones. They do help show a pattern of growth that hopefully will continue onto their sophomore as an album in the vein of this new approach would easily be one of the strongest in the prog/power fusion genre today.
Purchase link here.
The Act of Disintegration
Art as Catharsis – 2019
If “too much of a good thing” was a style of music then jazz fusion and progressive rock could both be its standard-bearers. I can enjoy both but I find especially for the former that sometimes its main appeal (incredible musicianship) also becomes all it really has and songwriting quietly atrophies away. This short three song release has all the hallmarks of prog/jazz combinations though what’s immediately striking is the highly understated tone it takes. You are getting some excellent playing on each instrument as you would expect yet its true strength is beyond its chops. Joona knows when to say less and move on as well as the sense of a larger ongoing method of revealing larger connecting structure. In having a relatively less showy style it makes the individual portions easier to follow and while not exactly hummable, tend to have more distinct melodies therein. The jazz side of them gives an improvised vibe to the playing and their lush harmonies while the prog aspect ties them together and is responsible for the bigger sweeping moments that emerge from behind busybody textures. At times they are relatively sparse, letting a few instruments create pleasing ambience but their skill in quietly picking up momentum and energy with swelling tidal motion helps them avoid the meandering that normally makes a lot of prog/fusion difficult to listen to. In a way this reminds me of classic King Crimson albeit with a more electric and intricately layered style. They have the similar melancholy and forlorn atmosphere to their music though they differ of course with a lack of singing of any sort and a more lounge-like atmosphere. When it’s time to hit a climax or more spirited section, they’re more implicit than explicit in their execution, letting ideas pleasantly blur into and through one another. This is a newcomer to watch as there’s an expertise here that more than a few could learn from.
Cover art courtesy of J.C Park.