Hello and welcome to the post-2022 Meltdown Blog! In case you haven’t been paying attention, Heavy Blog went offline for a week or so earlier in August. This wasn’t the first time our tech stack imploded on us; back in 2015, something similar (but different) happened to us and forced us to upgrade our infrastructure in a major way. Now, this incident (to do with the fact that we self-host our WordPress installation but don’t really have the time or expertise to properly maintain it) will force us to upgrade once again. More on that when we know where we’re going. But not having the blog for a week also had a positive side-affect: I remembered how much I love this damn thing.
There’s no need for me to once again play the world’s smallest violin and complain about how much work, time, and effort go into keeping Heavy Blog running it. You know it by now. But these days, the amounts are even higher, seeing as we “lost” two editors to the joys of being fathers. However, this too has had a pleasant side-affect: it has only made me more stubborn to keep this thing going and, forced by circumstance but embraced by my desire to better ourselves, make it even better. So, why? Why are we (me) so damn stubborn? I mean, let’s be honest; the blog has had an amazing run. Better (and longer) than most. We’ve done some fantastic things, listened and written about an incalculable amount of music, and collaborated with incredible people. So why not just throw in the proverbial towel?
Well, you probably know what I’m going to say here if you’ve been keeping up: because of the albums in this post. Not just this post, of course, but rather everything we have posted in the last few days and are about to post over the next week. Listen I can’t stop doing this while so much good music is out there! Someone might not know! Someone, who would otherwise adore said album, might miss discovering a new release! I simply cannot abide this. Metal’s golden age is still going strong and, therefore, we will do what it takes to make sure that Heavy Blog exists right alongside with it, shining our verbal lantern into its farthest reaches (that’s right, it’s mixed metaphor time!)
So, we’re doing some hard thinking and careful planning to launch what we’re calling (that is, what I just decided to call right now) Heavy Blog 3.5. Same in many ways as 3.0; same design, structure, and mostly same people. But maybe with a better infrastructure at its core. And perhaps some new writers soon? And more interesting stuff, outside of “just” writing? Hmmm. Interesting. Yes. For now, please enjoy some fantastic albums. No, really; they’re very good.
Abest – Molten Husk (post-metal, atmospheric sludgecore)
I’m surprised I don’t get more flak for decreeing every album I love in a given year as an AOTY contender, because while that’s technically true, I tend to get a little overexcited and abuse the term. I am perfectly aware of my tendency to hyperbolize. I can’t help it. I just fuckin’ love music, okay? So while you may take my waxing with a grain of salt in most cases, all of that is to say I really mean it this time. Molten Husk is really in the running. More than in the running – it’s leading.
To say this one came out of nowhere is an understatement. Germany’s Abest have been slowly releasing material over the past decade, but it wasn’t until a chance encounter with one of the pre-release singles late one stoney evening (many pages deep into Bandcamp) that I finally learned who they were. The post-metal trio immediately blew me away with their hypnotic, caustic dissonance and groove, sluicing from riff to riff, barely held together by the maddened hammering of drums. I feel like it’s not very often we get an album that truly reflects its cover art, or vice versa. The thematics couldn’t be more on point with Molten Husk. Every second feels like it’s smoldering away into ash, filling your eyes and lungs with smoke, anxiety and wonder roiling away in your core. Decay’s final words to the soil given breath in a blasted landscape.
The lyrics bring it home as well, affirming a feeling I think is becoming a lot more prevalent than we may care to admit. We’ve entered an age that rends our souls daily, with constant paranoia and inescapable dread tugging at the corners of everything we think we know and love. We often feel like we’re living in some sick, cheap joke of an unreality. Especially in the post-COVID world where everyone had to, at some point, really sit down with themselves and contend with the dark corners of their mind in the face of global catastrophe, many people are feeling totally unmoored, if not a little deranged. Beyond that, the concept of identity is constantly transforming at accelerating rates, being parsed infinitely into its tiniest quarks of quirk and dysfunction. It’s hard to truly know yourself if the self is commodified as a product to market and make a living from. The title track is a fantastic example of this sensation, this intense dysphoria of being alive and not knowing who you’re supposed to be or even want anymore in a world that seems irreparably lost.
I could be off the mark, of course, but listening to Abest puts me in this headspace. Perhaps that’s because the album has found its target audience and is working as intended. It taps into that seething uncertainty, sending the serpent in the pit of your stomach into a heaving deathroll. It’s cathartic in the way that finding a kindred spirit in tragedy sets you at ease. I needed this album more than I knew. Hollow yourself with Molten Husk below.
Autonoesis – Moon of Foul Magics (melodic/blackened thrash)
There’s a foul spirit in the air. It emanates from the northern wilds, gliding under the brightness of a full moon with enough nasty riffs and atmosphere to fill the night sky with a veritable aurora borealis of awesomeness. It’s Autonoesis and their fantastic sophomore record come to haunt your ever-present nightmares, baby. Let’s go.
For those unfamiliar with this Canadian juggernaut, Autonoesis burst onto the scene in 2020 with their criminally underrated eponymous debut. A delicious dose of blackened, melodic thrash with just a hint of death metal rounding out its riff-obsessed edges, Autonoesis unfortunately didn’t pick up the level of traction seen by audio equivalents like Kvaen or Inexorum. I fully anticipate that the band’s toiling in relative anonymity ends with Moon of Foul Magics, which might be one of the best records of its kind I’ve heard in years.
For what this record is going for (thrash heavy blackened death punishment), I can’t recall a record that hits all the right beats so frequently and powerfully. This is genuinely an astounding, outstanding blend of engaging songwriting and meticulous, blistering craftsmanship. Every single riff choice feels like an absolute banger, masterfully mixing the rancid, jagged iciness of the second wave with the speedy intensity of 80s thrash in a manner that maximizes headbang potential. Songs like the title track and “Nihility, Endless Winter” fully exemplify the above description, but it’s some of the album’s more interesting choices that set it apart from its contemporaries.
For a record that is so often frantically intense, its frequent dalliances into more atmospheric, acoustic soundscapes could feel like a real buzzkill. But Moon of Foul Magics pulls off the improbable by being improved by its blending of sheer intensity and atmospheric breathing room. Lengthy tracks chock full of megaton riffage never become dull due to the tactical variety employed throughout, with tracks like “Valhöll” and “On Black Wings of Eternity” putting this balance on full display. It’s a songwriting choice that pays off royally, creating a cohesive and creative soundscape that feels perfect in length rather than overlong at an hour-plus in runtime.
From my point of view, there are few if any faults to be found in Moon of Foul Magics. Not since Trials’ This Ruined World have I been so enamored but a thrash-adjacent record. Autonoesis have crafted a truly spectacular selection of tracks here, culminating in one of the best metal records I’ve heard in 2022. Don’t be shocked to see this record pop up on year-end lists across the blogosphere. It’ll certainly be on mine.
Dreadnought – The Endless (progressive black metal)
It might be hard to believe, since the review I published on it only a few days ago was quite long, but there are still some things about Dreadnought‘s The Endless that I have yet to say. Don’t worry; this isn’t another deep dive into the album’s conceptual and musical underpinnings and their interaction thereof. Rather, I would like to use this entry to highlight a specific musical element that I didn’t get the chance to delay on in my full review: the fucking incredible bass on this album. While the two vocalists of the band have been the standout members on music journalism platforms and live shows, for good reason as their talent is extremely hard to ignore, I would like to dedicate this stage to one Kevin Handlon, Dreadnought’s uber-talented bass player.
First, there is Handlon of the past, the player that created some of my favorite moments on Bridging Realms, my (still) favorite Dreadnought release. This is the musician that forged “Minuet De Lune” and its unbelievably beautiful intro, providing the sonorous bass notes which anchor the segment and provide the backdrop upon which it is played. Handlon’s bass also lends a more muscular force and presence to my favorite part of the album, the chaotic and bewildering center of the closing, self-titled track. There, his bass rumbles and growls, channeling the shattering cosmic energies that bring this fantastic album to a close.
Then, there is Handlon of The Endless. His tone on this release is much more pronounced and present in the mix than on previous Dreadnought releases, especially the last few. Don’t get me wrong, his presence was super important for those releases as well but more as a subtle pillar on which the music relies, a shade of color without which the painting wouldn’t be as vivid but which didn’t dominate the palette. Here, his presence can be heard and felt from the very first moments of the album, announcing the grander and more aggressive vision that the album has at its core (on which you can read more in the aforementioned review). It is a joy to hear it; it turns The Endless‘ overall sound into Dreadnought’s most possessive, direct, and grandiose to date, working incredibly to help deliver the album’s aural and conceptual message to the listener. It is yet another reason for why I view this album as transformational in the band’s career, moving forward in all aspects, including the position of the bass. Thank you Kevin!
H.E.A.T – Force Majeure (hard rock)
Those who have been paying attention will be well aware that we’ve been going through a hair metal revival revival recently. Ove the past twelve months alone we’ve had outstanding “return to form” records from the (primarily Scandinavian) bands who were busy releasing some of the best records in the history of a much maligned genre whose demise has been regularly exaggerated. Recent releases from scene leaders Crashdïet and Crazy Lixx number among the best of their career, newcomers Girish and the Chronicles released an all-time genre classic in second effort Hail to the Heroes, all the while big names like Ghost and Weezer (and maybe even Parkway Drive…) have been dominating both charts and discussions with explicitly hair metal influenced records. Hell, even Reckless Love released a really good record (which sounds like Judas Priest gone synthwave, FYI). The best of all of these releases, however, might just be oddly punctuated Sweedish Eurovision hopefuls H.E.A.T and their phenomenal seventh record Force Majeure, which sees them reuniting with original singer Kenny Leckremo for the first time since 2010’s (far lesser) Freedom Rock.
Force Majeure comes following the departure of long-time vocalist and Swedish Idol alum Erik Grönwall who joined for 2012’s Address the Nation, which sounds like Bon Jovi by way of the Backstreet Boys (and therefore totally owns) and helped establish the band as one of the premier acts among Sweden’s then-burgeoning second-wave hair metal scene. Grönwall left the band, somewhat suddenly, in 2010, following the release of H.E.A.T’s second, more classic rock-inclined, self-titled record, announcing earlier this year that he’d joined up with (the undying, soulless husk that once was) American hair metal legends Skid Row, suggesting he’d set his sights on broader, international acclaim. Not to be outdone, the remaining members of H.E.A.T quickly followed with an announcement that they would be releasing a new record with Leckremo, who they’d reunited with the previous year, and dropped ferocious first single “Nationwide,” which – if it somewhat reinforced the global shortcomings that perhaps prompted Grönwall to jump ship – absolutely blew the new Skid Row single out of the water while suggesting Force Majeure would at least be on par with the band’s now classic Leckremo-led first self-titled album (2005).
The rest of the record followed suite, delivering eleven triumphant compositions that also seem to have Grönwall set firmly in their passive aggressive (and perhaps personally projected sights). Second single and album-opener “Back to the Rhythm” boldly proclaims the band’s return from the “dead” (despite the popular success they’d enjoyed over the past decade) and, more importantly, “BACK TO THE RHYTHM OF FIRE!” The song rivals Coheed and Cambria’s “Bad Man” as the best song of 2022 and comes accompanied by one of the absolute best video clips ever made, which casts Leckremo as a sexy Terminator sent back from the future to help the other members of H.E.A.T lay waste to a poorly rendered cityscape with ample pyrotechnics, awesome dancing and, of course the irrefutable power of their rock. Third single “Hollywood” plays up the inauthenticity of Hollywood and the perils of chasing fame there (whoever might choose to do that…), while shamelessly lifting the riff from Crazy Lixx’s “Hell Raising Women”, with songs like “Tainted Blood”, “Not for Sale” and “One of Us” built around similar messages of comradery and (in)authenticity. The album’s tone certainly seems pointed but, when it rocks this hard, it’s impossible not to take sides.
Leckremo proves time and time again that he’s the superior vocalist. Whether it’s soaring power ballad “Wings of an Aeroplane” or brooding, mid-paced stomper “Harder to Breathe” the dude is always in top form, delivering a technically and emotionally impressive performance that the rest of the band rises to meet in a way they haven’t over the last couple of Grönwall-led outings. Force Majeure is undeniably Leckremo’s finest hour (or forty-two minutes, at least) and – with the possible exception of Address the Nation –might just be H.E.A.T’s as well.
The Halo Effect – Days of the Lost (melodic death metal)
It should come as a surprise to nobody that a band composed entirely of former In Flames members blows contemporary In Flames entirely out of the water. Borne from COVID-19 pandemic sessions, The Halo Effect features Dark Tranquility vocalist (and one-time In Flames vocalist, natch) Mikael Stanne fronting a rogues gallery of former In Flames members (including founding guitarist Jesper Stromblad) performing tried-and-true melodic death metal straight out of the turn of the century Gothenberg scene. It’s by no means revelatory, nor does it reinvent melodic death metal, but it is incredibly rewarding and refreshing.
Days of the Lost hearkens back to middle-era In Flames, perhaps beginning with the style and aesthetic of Colony and Clayman era, with the mid-tempo punchy “modern metal” songwriting and production of Reroute to Remain and Soundtrack To Your Escape, albeit with fewer synthesizers and considerably less clean singing. Song after song comes anthemic and catchy melodeath, with the vaguely folksy and Iron Maiden-esque harmonized leads and chunky rhythm guitars. It’s such a wonderfully executed proof of concept that the style can still be done in this way when so many bands have abandoned the style almost completely. Days of the Lost doesn’t survive on nostalgia alone; the songs stand up well in 2022, and are so intensely satisfying for folks who may have cut their teeth on melodic death metal in the 90’s and 00’s.
Aronious – Irkalla (tech death)
Green Bay’s Aronious are back with the follow up to 2020’s massive Perspicacity, and it’s even more balls-to-the-wall than its predecessor. Dissonant, death-doomy tinges creep in around the edges of the incessant blast routines and finger-knotting fretwork, adding a huge layer of flavor missing from their previous releases. Still my pick for one of the most criminally underrated tech death outfits around. Let Irkalla clue you in.
Blackbraid – Blackbraid I (atmospheric/indigenous black metal)
I’ve been eagerly anticipating this release since I first heard “Barefoot Ghost Dance on Blood Soaked Soil”, and I can happily state that it does not disappoint. For a debut album, Blackbraid’s fundamental understanding of what makes atmoblack work is especially commendable. These tracks balance intensity in content and execution with a measured, patient songwriting approach that packs a lot of fantastic content into a relatively small package. Concise, nuanced, and brutal, Blackbraid I is a stunning release from an artist that I feel fairly confident we’ll be hearing a lot more of in the coming years.
Liminal Shroud – All Virtues Ablaze (black metal)
Canadian black metal power trio Liminal Shroud have released their sophomore album All Virtues Ablaze on Willowtip records. It’s a muscular black metal record that also enjoys atmospheric post-metal influence. Plus its place in the Willowtip pantheon is a huge endorsement of its quality in and of itself.
Cyborg Octopus – Between the Light and Air (progressive metalcore)
Esoteric prog metalcore outfit and Heavy Blog favorites Cyborg Octopus are back with a new full length after six long years on (also Heavy Blog favorite) label Silent Pendulum. Fans of BTBAM-core and saxophones will be excited over this one.
thoughtcrimes – Altered Pasts (mathcore, alt rock)
It’s Billy Rymer, drummer of The Dillinger Escape Plan. He somehow found a Puciatio clone and formed Dillinger 2.0. Fuckin’ flag on the play if you ask me. Insanely rude of him to do this to us twice. Anyway, this album fucking rips, and it wouldn’t be a 2022 release if it didn’t do a little Deftones worshipping in the process. Literally just smash those bands together and you get Altered Pasts. If you haven’t tuned me out to hit play yet, you’re just wasting your own time.
Dawnwalker – House of Sand (progressive post-metal)
The thing I love the most about Dawnwalker (and which “earns” them the progressive moniker here) is that you never know what to expect next from them. From folk tinged rock, through progressive black metal, and all the way back to experimental, off-kilter, abrasive post-metal, these guys have done it all the past few years. And they’ve done it all really well, with House of Sand being no exception.