Release Day Roundup: 2/23/24

It’s Frehly v Mars in the “nice(ish) guys kicked out of iconic bands by much douchier but also way more charismatic members” showdown! …Also, there’s a new Job for a Cowboy album.

2 months ago

Top Pick

Amaranthe – The Catalyst (Steps metal)

Psyche! I bet you were getting ready to read all about the new Job For a Cowboy album, weren't you? Well too bad, because Moon Healer isn't the best album of the week, this is.

I, like many discerning metal enthusiasts, had previously written Danish pop metal maestros Amaranthe off because they sound like Steps, but in 2024 I'm out here throwing down the best 8-counts I have because, Oh my god you guys, they sound like Steps! (A band I have written about before for the blog by the way.) It also helps that, having gone back through their catalogue and been rather shocked by how much genuine, mid-period In Flames-style melodeath there is in their first few albums in the process, I'm also reassured that The Catalyst is the best Amaranthe album in at least a decade, going all the way back to 2014's similarly impressive Massive Addictive. The noticeable jump in quality likely has something to do with the departure of longtime harsh vocalist Henrik "GG6" Englund, who is here replaced by Engel vocalist Mikael Sehlin, which makes perfect sense, given the electro-In Flames direction that band were heading in, and also helps boost Amaranthe's already considerable attractiveness quotient in the process.

Thankfully, out with Englund has also gone the ill-fitting, almost-nu metal direction he seemed have been pushing the band in, in favour of a refocuss on the extremely-Euro pop-metal sound they helped pioneer and, with an album like this under their frequently gyrating belts, have now arguably perfected. The Catalyst contains no cringe-inducing rap vocals, or breakdowns what go boom, just wall-to-wall pop metal bangers. Don't expect a full return to their melodeath roots, however. the Catalyst is as squeaky clean as they come. The title track, "Irresistible" and "Re Vision" (which, if you're trying to work out which song it sounds like, it's this one) are all straight-up Steps songs, except with Engel-esque electronics and some ripping euro-metal leads littered in, while "Damnation Flame" and "Resistance" are the kind of upbeat numbers Baby metal might try their hand at. Then there's "Stay a Little While", which is a Euro-metal power ballad par excellence.

The Catalyst won't be everyone's cup of tea, but for those with a love of melodic extravagance and a penchant for fromage, it delivers on all fronts. This album is so much fun, and is genuinely contending with Vitriol for my favourite album of the year so far.

(Dis)Honourable Mentions

Job For A Cowboy – Moon Healer (progressive death metal)

Ok, so MySpace-deathcore-pioneers-cum-progressive-death-metal-prophets Job for a Cowboy also released their first album in almost a decade this week, and... it's fine. Don't get me wrong, Moon Healer is a very good and impressively performed progressive tech-death album. As with Sun Eater (2014), Nick Schendzielos' bass performance is particularly prominent and deserving of praise. But that's the thing, it kinda just sounds like Sun Eater part two, which I'm sure is what a lot of the band's fans were hoping for, but in 2024 I'm not really sure that's enough.

We live in a post-Flesh Prevails (2014), and Where Owls Know My Name (2018) world at this point, not to mention a post-Suffer & Become (2024) one now as well, along with all the other largely quality 90's prog-death throwback bands that have cropped up in the decade since Sun Eater. That doesn't make Moon Healer a bad record, but it does cast it as a less striking and essential one. Job for a Cowboy also haven't really added anything to that album's formula in their absence. For a band who "Don't Wanna Put Out The Same Record Twice", Moon Healer sounds strikingly similar to its predecessor, except that the songs themselves are far less distinct and memorable, so that it comes off like the Ruination (2009) to Sun Eater's Genesis (2007), or whichever way you want to put them. Moon Healer may have felt more essential had it come out hot on the heals of Sun Eater, but a decade later it feels like it's just bit too little, far too late.

Darkest Hour – Perpetual | Terminal (metalcore, melodeath -thrash)

Melodeath-thrash titans Darkest Hour also returned after a seven-year absence this week, with the release of their long-awaited tenth record, to similar results. Rather than a belated shadow of its sublime predecessor—the arguably career-best Godless Prophets & the Migrant Flora (2017)—Perpetual | Terminal feels like a throwback to earlier albums like Mark of the Judas (2000) or even The Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation (2004), when the band had plenty of aggression and energy but hadn't quite honed the instrumentation and melodicism that would both define and propel their later albums to the pinnacle of a genre they helped pioneer.

The result is an album that's just kind of "there". Taken on its own merit, Perpetual | Terminal can't really be considered a disappointment, but it also doesn't really stand out among the band's surprisingly varied and impressively consistent catalogue, making it probably their weakest album both since and besides So Sedated, So Secure all the way back in 2001. The Wrethced; The Ruinous (2023) this is not, but the world is still a better place for having Darkest Hour in it once again and the album still comes across as somewhat refreshing, both because we seem to be teetering on the the brink of a 2000s metalcore/NWOAHM revival (hell yeah!) and because, oddly, there are also way less bands out there doing what Darkest Hour do than there are what Job for a Cowboy do these days, let alone to the same lofty standard.

Release Roundup

Absolon – The Blood Seed (heavy/power metal)

Ace Frehley – 10,000 Volts (hard rock)

Alfa Eridano Akhernar – Into the Path of the Gods (blackened death metal)

Anubis – Dark Paradise (power thrash)

Arkado – Open Sea (happy dudes rock)

Atoll – Inhuman Implants (deathcore)

Aura Ignis – Marcando tu destino (power metal)

Autumnblaze – Auf Zerfetzten Schwingen (goth doom)

Bastion Rose – Fade To Blue (hard/prog rock)

Blaze Bayley – Circle of Stone (bad metal)

Bleak Sanctuary – The Dark Night Of Soul (blackened melodeath)

Blood Opera – Songs In The Key Of Death (goth rock/metal)

The Body & Dis Fig – Orchards Of A Futile Heaven (industrial doom)

Borknagar – Fall (uncomfortably patriotic prog-metal)

A Burial At Sea – Close To Home (post rock)

Cathubodua – Interbellum (symphonic power metal)

The Chronicles of Father Robin – The Songs & Tales of Airoea: Book III (more like the chronic UNcools, amirite?!)

Counting Hours – The Wishing Tomb (goth doom)

Craneium – Point Of No Return (posty stoner rock)

CrossChains – Deathgrip (nu/alt metal)

Crowskin/Bad Luck Rides On Wheels – Split (funeral sludge)

D'Luna – Monster (Butt Grunge)

Damnation – Fátum (death metal)

Decrowned – Persona Non Grata (symphonic melodeath)

Defect Designer – Chitin (weird death metal)

Defying – Wadera (blackened doom)

Desolate Tomb – Scorned by Misery (deathcore)

Disastroid – Garden Creatures (sludgey grunge/slunge)

Downwinder – Claws of Despair (death metal)

Dust Bolt – Sound & Fury (butt thrash)

Electric Deathbeat – The Past Beats Of The Death (nu industrial metal)

Fange – Perdition (industrial death doom)

Fragment Soul – Galois Paradox (goth doom)

Galvornhathol – H-Alpha (posty black metal)

Gefrierbrand – …Vor Langer Zeit (melodeath)

Gods & Punks – Mountains Of Garbage (prog doom)

Gonemage – Spell Piercings (burtal nu metal)

Gore Machine – Macerated & Liquified (brutal death, slam)

Guiltless – Thorns (sludge doom)

Hand Of Kalliach – Corryvreckan (folky melodeath)

He Was A God – Muckraker (alt metal)

Headless Dawn – Freakshow Ballet (grindcore)

Hrizg – Damnatio Memoriae (black metal, death doom)

Hungover – When It Touches The Heart, Everything Resolves (pop punk, emo)

Hypoxia – Defiance (death metal)

Iron Curtain – Savage Dawn (thrash/speed metal)

Jamart – Ominous (instrumental groove death)

Karkosa – Esoterrorcult (blackened death metal)

Keres – Homo Homini Lupus (blackened death metal)

Life Cycles – Portal To the Unknown (crossover thrash)

Lionheart – The Grace Of A Dragonfly (heavy metal, AOR)

M.U.T.T. – Dirty Deeds (alt punk)

Mick Mars – Another Side Of Mars (generation swine-core)

Monkey3 – Welcome To The Machine (instrumental psyche rock)

Moonin Down – The Third Planet (blues rock)

Morbonoct – The Highest Purpose (doomy black metal)

Morta Skuld – Creation Undone (death metal)

Mortem Agmen – The Path to the Abyss of Evil (black metal)

Mountain Throne – The Silver Light (heavy metal)

Nemedian Chronicles – The Savage Sword (power metal)

’92 – ’92 (nu/rap metal)

North Sea Echoes – Really Good Terrible Things (sad)

Paledusk – Palehell (wacky nu metalcore)

Palooka – Save Yourself (hardish rock)

Paragon Zero – Hexikon (blackened melodeath)

Persher – Sleep Well (really weird industrial)

Red Graves – Thieves (progressive metal/post hardcore)

Rhino – Human Farm (stoner doom)

Samsara Joyride – The Subtle & The Dense (doomy stoner rock)

Schubmodul – Lost In Kelp Forest (stoner doom)

Serpents Oath – Revelation (black metal)

Skuggor – Whispers of Ancient Spells (black metal)

Skyrmisher – Violent Onslaught (death metal)

Slaughterror – Endless Lust For Gore (death metal, melodeath)

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum – of the Last Human Being (weird prog)

Social Disorder – Time To Rise (heavy metal/rock)

Stiriah – Portal (black metal)

Stygian Crown – Funeral For A King (doom metal)

Theragon – Lumina (power metal)

They Came from Visions – The Twilight Robes (doomy black metal)

Thorndale – Lightning Spawn (stoner doom)

Timelost – Drained (alt punk)

Today Was Yesterday – Today Was Yesterday (prog rock)

Toadliquor – Back In The Hole (sludge doom)

Toby Knapp – Transmission To Purgatory (thrashy shred)

Toxikull – Under The Southern Light (heavy/thrash metal)

Traveler – Prequel To Madness (heavy/speed metal)

Tvinna – Two: Wings Of Ember (goth doom)

Unburier – Nebulous (groove/death thrash)

Útgarðar – Fire Smoked Upon The Wolf’s Back (black metal)

Valkyria – Indómito (powerish metal)

Vincent Crowley – Anthology Of Horror (death metal, melodeath)

Whiteabbey – Words That Form the Key (goth/power metal)

…Oh, and the winner, in a somewhat shocking upset, is Mars actually, who mostly gets the edge by deciding not to do his own vocals. So I guess Jacob Bunton is the real winner. Either way, we all lose.

Joshua Bulleid

Published 2 months ago