Here at Last Rites, we listen to a metric shit-ton of heavy metal—it’s just what we do. But even then, every year, there’s so much great heavy metal that gets released that we simply don’t have time to cover it all. And then, every year around the halfway point, we’re inevitably looking back on the first six months and knowing that we missed out on a few things, so here’s the first part of our attempt to wrap up the records we left behind for the first half of 2018… Read on, and in the comments, hit us up with some of your favorites of the year so far, so we can see if we missed anything else… If you haven’t already, you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
BULLET – DUST TO GOLD
released: April 20, 2018; Steamhammer
It would be incredibly easy to dismiss Sweden’s Bullet as some kind of denim-vested, mustachioed, retro-metal in-joke, but to do so would also be incredibly unfortunate. Sure, Bullet is to Accept what The Darkness is to [insert cock rock band name but not Queen because, dammit, The Darkness sounds nothing like Queen], but there’s an earnest quality to their metal that is, if completely and wholly unoriginal, at least entertaining and honest. It’s ridiculous, yes… and borrowed, yes… and fun, yes.
The biggest sticking point when listening to Bullet — be it for the first time or the fortieth — will undoubtedly be vocalist Hell Hofer, he of the large hair who sounds like someone drunkenly imitating Udo Dirkschneider, his falsetto voice almost comically shrill and gravelly. But beneath that squealing growl, the band rides a mid-paced groove that’s irresistible enough to anchor Hofer’s highs in twin-guitar Teutonic tonnage, giving him a near-perfect bedrock upon which to shriek and scream. That mid-song driving riff in “Speed And Power”? Well, it might not be super-speedy, but it’s got power for days — simple, to the point, highly effective. And there’s plenty more where that came from…
Bullet’s not a new band — they’ve been cranking out the Accept/DC riffy fun for awhile now, and Dust To Gold is a damned solid batch of rocking guitars and screaming vocals. And if that ain’t enough? Well, neither I nor Bullet can help you. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
DEAD VOID – THE LOOMING SPECTRE DEMO 2018
released: January 17, 2018; Independent release
The first song on this gross demo is called “Repulsive Bliss.” It’s basically nine minutes of heavy, lethargic slogging that sounds like the musical equivalent of chugging a barrel of flaming tar. Of course, none of us would actually enjoy chugging a barrel of flaming tar, but for reasons known only to the Blessed Lord Of Your Own Choosing him-or-herself, many of us enjoy listening to music that patterns itself after chugging flaming tar out of a barrel. If you happen to be one of these tar-consuming brickheads, Denmark’s equally brick-headed Dead Void has a large skid of casks to unload onto your lovely veranda.
And while we’re on the subject of Denmark, what in the hell got dropped into the drinking supply over there to conjure so much delightfully deteriorated death metal lately? Phrenelith, Hyperdontia, Undergang, Sulphurous, Taphos and now this? Something is indeed rotten in Denmark, and it’s probably e coli-based and has the power to turn Danes into lumbering bog beasts that weep slow, decrepit riffs from their pits like most of the rest of us do sweat. “Repulsive Bliss” wins the award for the dirtiest riff of the year so far at its 3:28 mark, but “Shadowed Heights of Ascension” gets the nod for a sample tune simply because of its knack for making Dead Void sound like Mental Funeral-era Autopsy after being sprayed with ogre mucilage. [CAPTAIN]
MAMMOTH GRINDER – COSMIC CRYPT
released: January 26, 2018; Relapse
As soon as this title dropped to my inbox, I knew I wanted to review it, if for no other reason than not wanting to waste a golden opportunity:
The fact that Cosmic Crypt turned out to be a pretty damn good album was just a bonus. Real stuff here, old school death metal of the Swedish variety with thrash/punk tendencies (including the attention span). That’s about what one would expect from members of Iron Reagan and Power Trip get together, and…what do you mean, this is their fourth album? They were around BEFORE Power Trip? Gosh, I really did not think this through.
Well they’re new to me, damnit, and this information changes nothing. Except maybe that now I have quite a bit of back catalog to dig up. Choice cuts include the stoner-infused “Servant of the Most High”, the raucous “Superior Firepower”, and the scathing “Hornet’s Nest”. [DAVE PIRTLE]
EARTHLESS – BLACK HEAVEN
released: March 16, 2018; Nuclear Blast
A lot of people either avoided Black Heaven or weren’t too concerned about missing it when they heard it had a lot of vocals like, you know, a regular band. That’s to be expected, but also genuinely too bad. The three dudes that make up SoCal stoner legends Earthless owe absolutely nobody an explanation for their recent stylistic shift to (slightly) more traditional structure and an emphasis on vocal contributions. And it’s worth noting that the three dudes that comprise Earthless are the same three dudes that started the band nearly two decades ago, so it’s probably a safe bet they made the decision together and for what, to them, is a very good reason.
If you’re familiar with the Earthless catalog and if you’ve ever read an interview with the band, it’s easy to guess that reason might be something like, “Well, it just felt right.” It has to be that, doesn’t it? Because going with the flow is almost literally their thing. They do what feels right, whichever way it takes them. So even though Black Heaven is comparatively laser focused and constrained compositionally, it’s still at least several astronomical units away from suddenly average rock-and-roll. In fact, everything you’ve ever loved about Earthless is still there: endless riffs, psychedelic vibes, and miles and miles of sweet soulful closed-eyes solos. It’s just you get it all in tidier doses now, with Isaiah Mitchell singing at you on four of six tunes, and anyone with any love at all for classic rock’s most revered singers will find plenty to appreciate about Mitchell’s dynamic voice, full of warmth and soul and melodic hook. Best of all, the shift on Black Heaven adds a couple more layers to an already fantastic live band’s repertoire, which is surely no happenstance for a band that lives on the stage anyway. Would that we all get a chance to see them soon. [LONE WATIE]
LOWERED – LOWERED
released: February 1, 2018; independent release
When blackened doom is done correctly, it can be the greatest genre in the world, and on it’s thirty-minute, four-song self-titled debut, Lowered certainly makes an open-and-shut case in the genre’s favor.
Although the band’s home is Portland, Oregon, its vocalist Anna Vo is Australian, which adds a bit of mysterious international appeal to Lowered’s mysterious origin story. The album’s end-caps are the most impressive and also the most lengthy, while the two middle tracks explore outward and take plenty of ideas from the blackened death playbook, as well.
While the overall style may be hard to pin down, there’s no end to the potential of a three piece that sounds this good right from the get-go. Keep an eye out for this release in non-digital format and buy the album in its digital form immediately. [KONRAD KANTOR]
MIDNIGHT FORCE – DUNSINANE
released: February 24, 2018; independent release
There’s something about traditional 80’s heavy metal that has captured the imaginations of the current crop of up-and-coming metal bands, whether it be incorporating elements of it into styles like black metal or full-on worship of the classic metal sounds. Scotland’s Midnight Force have heeded the call of the latter, releasing their debut full length, titled Dunsinane, in late February of this year. Packed with plenty of tales of barbarian hordes, swords, chains, and pretty much anything in the realms of bands like Omen, Dunsinane truly feels like a time capsule to the budding days of US power metal.
What makes Midnight Force stand out from the ever-crowding “New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal” is the sincerity with which they approach their craft. Sure, plenty of bands strive for a low-budget production, but Midnight Force hit the mark between clarity and charm. Every instrument cuts through; it may not have the heaviest tones but it serves the music well. The songwriting is fantastic; to resist singing along to tracks like “Down With The King” and “Warlord Eternal” (which, as a bonus, has a wonderful Highlander reference) is a near-impossible task. The hooks in “The Scarlet Citadel” alone dig in deep and drag the listener straight into Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age. The songs are diverse as well, varying riffing styles, tempos, and instrumental focus to keep things interesting as Dunsinane moves forward.
Midnight Force have really tapped into the fantastical realms of a metal age gone by, and definitely deserve a listen from anyone craving the early days of sword-and-sorcery in their heavy metal. [RYAN TYSINGER]
You’ve read Parts 1, 2 and 3, and still, there’s ONE MORE to come! Friday we wrap things up on our jump into metal that slipped through the cracks so far in 2018…