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Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Reviews: Avaland, Heavy Feather, Horndal, Throne (Reviews By Paul Hutchings)

Avaland - Theater Of Sorcery (Rockshots Records)

Reading the blurb that accompanied the digital copy of the debut album from Avaland, the words ‘22-year-old prodigy Adrien G. Gzagg’ stuck out like a sore thumb. The Grenoble based outfit have gone full sword and shield, with Theater Of Sorcery described as an epic symphonic metal opera. Directed, written, and composed by Gzagg, one cannot fail to be impressed.

The album tells the story of a young sorcerer, Adam Wilstorm, whose place in history in bring back light to Avaland is dependent on his ability to control his powers linked to the Storm. Gzagg brought in four musician friends to help him develop and craft his vision. Camille Souffron (Bass), Christophe Feutrier (Guitars), Lucas Martinez (Guitars), and Léo Mouchonay (Drums) join him along with guest vocals and guitars from a range of power metal favourites including Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear), Zak Stevens (Savatage/TSO), Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Emanuelson (Rising Steel), Stéphan Forté (Adagio) and Madie (Nightmare).

Designed to be a touring metal opera, very much based on the likes of Avantasia and Ayreon, Theater Of Sorcery flows in typical style, with exaggerated flourishes, dramatic passages and contrasting segments of light and dark play. There’s more than a nod to the Dio-era Rainbow, with the keyboards duelling with the fluid and expansive guitar work. The songs are gloriously over the top, as you’d demand for any band of this genre, whilst Mouchonay delivers a solid drumming performance.

Theater Of Sorcery isn’t a short album, which is to be expected, and it clocks in at over an hour in length. The songs vary in duration, the lengthy Gypsum Flower contrasting with the much shorter Holy Kingdom Of Fools and War Of Minds. The cast of characters is extensive and as the story unravels it becomes apparent who each performer is playing. The album works, linking together seamlessly. If you enjoy the drama and overblown nature of the metal opera style, then this album is one that should be on your shopping list for release day on 2nd April. 8/10

Heavy Feather - Mountain Of Sugar (The Sign Records)

I compared the Swedes 2019 debut release Debris & Rubble as a combination of Free with Elin Larsson and Jennie Anne Smith on vocals. It was a great debut record and with Mountain of Sugar the band maintain not only their retro feel but their momentum with 11 new tracks that remain steeped in the 1970s. Kicking off with Humble Pie’s 30 Days In The Hole is a great move, allowing Lisa Lsytam to open those smoking pipes and letting the band groove around her. It’s a cracking cover and provides a smooth opening to an album which oozes quality from start to finish. Blending elements of psychedelia with the blues and hard rock, there’s ample to enjoy. Lystam has a gritty, powerful voice which suits the band’s style, and there is an easy feel throughout. 

Feel the influences of Free, Zeppelin, Cream and even Skynyrd but appreciate the individual stamp that the band put on their songs. There’s plenty of stellar guitar work alongside the bluesy feel of tracks like Love Will Come Easy, Sometimes I Feel and the clever word play of Rubble & Debris. As with the debut album, there’s a Southern stomp or two, with Too Many Times fuzzing out with a sweet groove. Let it Shine may be short but it’s a gentle, beautiful song that sits nicely in the middle of the album. Guitarist Matte Gustavsson adds backing vocals and helps with the odd duet. 

Mountain Of Sugar is raw enough to retain a grit which makes it both authentic and contemporary. It’s easy listening in the least patronising manner I can use. It’s easy because the music envelopes you with a warmth and passion that isn’t always that genuine. The more you listen to it the more you are drawn into it. A truly excellent album that works on cold winter nights or sunny summer afternoons. An album to spend the rest of the year with. 9/10

Horndal – Lake Drinker (Prosthetic Records)

Based on the true story of the death of an entire town, Swedish metallers Horndal’s sophomore release follows on from their debut record Remains, which focused on the impact that the closure of the steel mill in the Swedish town of Horndal had on the citizens, most of whom were inextricably linked to the mill. Abandoned, the town was left to survive on its own. Lake Drinker focuses on the day a new demon came to town in the shape of an American tech giant, whose soul focus was on stripping the forests and draining the lake. The album is the soundtrack to this destruction. Dubbed rusty metal, there’s certainly a corroded feel about the jagged riffs employed by the band. Henrik Levahn’s throaty vocals fit the band’s raw and sludgy feel well, the dual riffs and thunderous rhythm section giving the band a huge sound. Over the 46 minutes there are passages of calm, utilising gentle percussion to create an atmosphere of horror and despair. 

In contrast, the rolling, rampaging tracks like the pulverising The Uprising or the crusty punk of Kalhygget demonstrate that Horndal can crush with the best. There’s a huge High On Fire feel to this album, with the rampaging song structures often veering out of control and threatening to escape, only for them to be drawn back in at the final moment. I love the use of timpani percussion, on songs like The Uprising and Horndal’s Blodbad, which adds drama and tension. There are thick riffs aplenty, a blend of savagery and more considered playing combining neatly. The Swedes grab their songs with both hands and shake hard. Despite the depressing themes, Horndal bring heft and power, combining elements of sludge, stoner, punk, and death metal in a fireball of intensity. 

The album features guest contributions courtesy of Pelle Jacobsson from Sweden’s National Radio Symphony Orchestra (classical percussion), Christer Falk and Daniel Johansson (horn arrangements), Johan Jansson of Interment and Dreadful Fate (guest vocals), and the voices of Horndal’s own protesters. Lake Drinker is a brash, aggressive, and compelling record. 8/10

Throne - Pestilent Dawn (Redefining Darkness Records)

With an EP, the acclaimed Altar Of The Dying under their belts, the time is right for the four-piece from Jackson, Michigan to move forward and unleash their debut record on the world. Pestilent Dawn is a ferocious 30 minutes of aural assault, with a relentless barrage of blast beats, massive banks of riffs and the demonic roars of front man and founder member Nathan Barnes. Having been around for around six years and earned a solid foundation, Pestilent Dawn contains everything you’d expect from a band who have toured with the likes of At The Gates, Exhumed, Revocation, Suffocation, Belphegor and Goatwhore. 

The intro leads to three full on facemelters before a curved ball arrives in the shape of acoustic instrumental Eternity In Mourning. Under two minutes in length, it’s a surprisingly welcome contrast to the maelstrom that unfolds either side. Barnes, also bassist in Jesus Wept gives a fine performance, his guttural range adding heft to the wall-levelling guitar work that he supplies with fellow guitarist Joe Kesselring. At times, Barnes vocals are blacker that death metal although I doubt that revelation will shock those familiar with his delivery. The album clocks in at 30 minutes in length but the quality of the songs is such that you don’t really notice. 

It’s a punishing and unremitting half hour with tracks like Amongst The Sinners, They Came Forth and the blackened Beyond Malice (featuring guest vocals from Clint Franklin of Recorruptor) amongst the highlights. Throne’s debut is one to be proud of. It holds its head high amongst a plethora of quality death metal releases so far this year. Well worth checking out if you fancy something that echoes the old school with a fresh, contemporary feel. 7/10

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