Ooh Crikey, it’s… Lawnmower Deth! Wait, no… It’s just Part 2 of our Most Anticipated Releases of 2021, which, fittingly, is filled with things we hope will mow us over this year.
How’s your 2021 so far? Crash into any brick walls? Fall up or down any escalators? Get bitten by any radioactive insects? Accidentally trip the codes that launch the missiles? Eat any brown acid? HAVE YOU LET THE DOGS OUT YET? We’re treading pretty lightly into the new year over here at LR HQ, with the assumption that 2020 left enough landmines to render the entire populace of these United (sigh) States completely limbless, and perhaps we deserve such a fate. But hey, even with the world caving in all around us, we still have time to peek through toxic clouds to present some heavy metal albums we desperately hope will cast the necessary spells to make the collapse of our world more endurable. Given that, please enjoy PART 2 of our journey into prediction.
CRADLE OF FILTH – TBA
Though it has been apparent for quite some time, over their last three albums in particular, the British miscreants in Cradle of Filth have laid bare the fact that for all the gothic, symphonic, and black metal trappings, at the core they are much closer to equal parts stout and fiery traditional heavy metal than their easy caricature admits. The last time we heard from Cradle on 2017’s Cryptoriana, they had settled even more thoroughly into that niche of melodic but strapping and propulsive HEAVY metal bliss anchored by Martin Škaroupka’s drums and (particularly) the profusion of glorious leadwork from relatively new axman Ashok (formerly of Root).
A few days before Christmas, the Ringleader of Filth Himself, Dani Filth, posted a lengthy update on the band’s Facebook page indicating that their new album was fully wrapped. As of press date, no specific release date has been announced, but Dani described the album as having “[f]ast and slow parts [Ed. Insaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaane]… new delectable flavours and those reminiscent of earlier COF albums calore, massive choruses and melancholic drop-downs, old skool [sic] melodic NWOBM [sic] amid furious, scathing black amid [sic] apocalyptic groove…”
Even if they do no more than rest comfortably on the laurels of their past half-decade, the devoted fans among us will be well enough pleased. These sneaky sods have a way of flipping the script in ways both subtle and gross, so yours truly continues to keep the faith that has only ever truly wavered for the span of two or three (relatively) execrable troughs: Cradle of Filth is serious heavy metal business for people who know that heavy metal is exactly as serious and essential as it is utterly absurd and disposable.
Quality Confidence Factor: old skool [sic] 80[s]%
STARGAZER – PSYCHIC SECRETIONS
Release date: February 1st from Nuclear War Now! Productions
Australian black / death trio StarGazer doesn’t exactly flood the market with product; its members are busy in a host of other bands including Cauldron Black Ram, Mournful Congregation, and Johnny Touch to name but a few, and so, the group’s forthcoming album Psychic Secretions will be its first album in six years and only it’s fourth full-length in over two decades of existence. Without exception, however, StarGazer albums have been worth waiting for. The group’s style is a unique blend of progressive, technical and traditional metal styles, wherein loose, hypnotic jams are just as likely to be found as ferocious death metal riffs. Furthermore, StarGazer gives the bass guitar as much of the spotlight as any band in metal since Iron Maiden.
There is however some small cause for concern as Psychic Secretions will be StarGazer’s first album since the departure of long-time drummer Selenium. It’s doubtful that the band would have enlisted new drummer Khronomancer if he wasn’t up to the task, but the previous line-up had a very unique chemistry and that chemistry has now been altered by about 33%. It will be interesting to see how the new blood gels with the old. [JEREMY MORSE]
Quality Confidence Factor: 87%
WARRIOR PATH – THE MAD KING
Release date: March 1 through Symmetric Records (CD) / Ikaros Records (LP)
North American distribution will be handled through Stormspell Records
Wait, Warrior who?
Warrior Path, brethren, sistren and anyone elseren who happens to have an interest in all things having to do with epic power metal. Yes, it’s perhaps a little unexpected to add this fairly unfamiliar Greek band to a list largely dominated by bigger names, particularly given that the Warrior Path self-titled 2019 debut didn’t exactly make giant waves back when it hit, but the album was and remains quite sturdy and pleasantly heroic, and it featured guest vocals from the amazing Yannis Papadopoulos of Beast In Black and last year’s brain-explodingly awesome Sacred Outcry release, Damned for All Time.
With their sophomore release, The Mad King, Warrior Path have shuffled on from the Papadopoulos blessing and enlisted the services of… Well, none other than one of the greatest power metal vocalists of all time: Daniel Heiman (ex-Lost Horizon, ex-Heed, Dimhav, Harmony). This factor alone makes whatever the band releases next worthy of an excitement level that could crack concrete, even if it’s just Daniel singing over the sounds of the band scarfing down street tacos. In all seriousness, though, one listen to the band’s debut reveals an absurdly melodic level of adept competency that indicates this pairing could very well find itself delivering one of the year’s biggest roof exploders, and that, my friends, is the textbook definition of a Most Anticipated Release. [CAPTAIN]
Quality Confidence Factor: 90%
SANCTUARY – TRANSMUTATION
Release date: TBD
Sanctuary’s last actual full-length The Year The Sun Died topped my 2014 year-end list (and rightly landed on our Essential Albums Of The 2010s list), its gothic gloomy groove-prog greatness a fantastic return for this band after two decades away. And then, of course, tragedy struck when vocalist extraordinaire Warrel Dane died in late 2017. So, like probably everyone else, after Warrel was gone, I assumed that Sanctuary would be no more.
But you know what they say about assuming, and it turns out that I was wrong. (It doesn’t happen often. Don’t get used to it.) To fulfill tour commitments and to continue the legacy of the band’s killer blend of the progressive and the powerful and the thrashing, guitarist Lenny Rutledge and drummer Dave Budbill recruited Witherfall vocalist Joseph Michael, who proved himself perfectly capable of filling Warrel’s larger-than-life spot behind the microphone. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing this version of the band on stage, but I have watched enough YouTube footage of their performances that I can say that I’m impressed, surprised, and certainly enthusiastic about Michael’s doing what I’d have told you five years ago couldn’t be done. Of course, there’s a difference between replicating those nearly inhuman piercing screams in “Battle Angels” live and writing songs that stand beside that one in the setlists of subsequent tours, so let’s hope that the creative sparks are flying amongst this newly reborn version of one of the United States’ all-time greatest power/prog acts. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
Quality Confidence Factor: 75%
WITHERFALL – THE CURSE OF AUTUMN
Release date: March 5th, 2021 through Century Media Records
Los Angeles power-prog band, Witherfall, is on a roll, boy. Since 2017, they’ve released two top-notch full-length albums and a 40-minute EP of first-rate acoustic versions of their own songs, as well as a couple classic covers, to boost their European tour with Sonata Arctica. And now they’re releasing LP number three, The Curse of Autumn, in March. Dayum.
The very notion of power-prog is enough to turn a lot of listeners away, what with all the apparent dorkiness made impossibly worse by all the pomposity. And that’s a terrible shame, not only because there’s so much great music in the genre that transcends the would-be shortcomings by celebrating them, but also because there’s an equally spirited battalion of power-prog that follows a whole ‘nother light. Specifically, what one might call dark power-prog, decidedly American on the power spectrum and spearheaded by bands like Helstar and Sanctuary and then Nevermore. Now, that’s a little more than name-dropping, those last couple there, and that’s because Witherfall vocalist, Joseph Michael, bears more than a passing resemblance to Warrel Dane, not just in style and timbre but even in terms of sheer strength and quality. Michael’s voice is so suited to the Sanctuary sound, in fact, that the band brought him into the fold for their new album, which Andrew anticipates above.
As wonderful as Michael’s vocals are, borderline hysterical anticipation comes courtesy of the full Witherfall complement. This is a band with amazing riffs and solos, a rhythm section that now includes journeyman drummer Marco Minnemann and generates energy in terms of gigawatts, and dynamic songwriting that prioritizes the song above individual performance. Album number one, Nocturnes and Requiems is very good; their second, A Prelude to Sorrow, is darker and deeper and ultimately stronger; their EP, Vintage, shows the band’s versatility, as steeped in integrity as the LP’s. There’s almost no way The Curse of Autumn doesn’t follow suit, especially given the quality of the singles released thus far. [LONE WATIE]
Quality Confidence Factor: 90%
VÖLTAGE – TBA
The line between epic fantasy heavy metal and blue collar, sleazy barroom metal isn’t nearly as far apart as one might think. If anyone rides down the double yellow line betwixt the two, it’s Atlanta’s Völtage. Releasing their rough-around-the-edges debut EP Spellbound midway through 2019, Völtage packed as many twists and turns in four songs that total just under twenty minutes. From the shuffling epic mid-pace of opener “Dragonland” to the twin lead attack of “Dust Devil” to the pounding title track to the rumbling double bass on the full-throttle closer of “Speed Demon,” Völtage pack in everything from DiAnno-era Maiden to Omen to W.A.S.P. into a concise little package. Dolly’s vocal performance is dripping with attitude and conviction, clear but with just enough grit to feel as though her bite is much, much worse than her bark. For the album, I’m hoping the band can continue to deliver a diverse melting pot of heavy metal. While I don’t wish for the band to lose their raw recording approach, I would love to see the album have a bit cleaner, more dialed-in production that really lets the songs carry the power that gets slightly buried on the EP. As far as songwriting, however, I’m fully trusting Völtage to deliver fun, powerful heavy metal regardless of how it’s packaged. Spellbound more than proved the band have the chops, and I couldn’t be more excited to see just where they go with it on a proper album. [RYAN TYSINGER]
Quality Confidence Factor: 85%
KING’S X – TBA
As a Christmas gift in 2019, I received a copy of Greg Prato’s oral history of King’s X, the Texas-slash-Missouri trio that’s been a longtime favorite of mine. With all my usual expediency, I read that book over Christmas break in 2020, and I must say, a year later, that I highly recommend it. If you’re unfamiliar with the band (you poor poor soul, you), let it be known that they are simply one of the finest bands of the past four decades, a blend of pre-grunge riff and Beatles-indebted psychedelia that is equal parts melodic, heavy, progressive, classic, spiritual, and silly. They’re the missing link between the slicker hard rock of the 80s and the more emotive, more intense rock of the following decade. Always the Next Big Thing and yet never The Current Big Thing, they’ve since become the poster children for The Band That Never Got Its Due, an underdog story for the ages as they count among their dedicated fanbase members of far more commercially successful bands like Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Anthrax, Mötley Crüe, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, and Foo Fighters.
It’s been a long time since the last King’s X album — almost thirteen years, in fact, since the under-appreciated XV saw the band sort of petering to a quiet halt. So when vocalist / bassist / rock god Doug “dUg” Pinnick shared this pic on Instagram, my spider sense tingled and my expectations for 2021 went through the roof. I’m assuming the Michael in question is producer Wagener, he who has helmed some of the greatest records in hard rock history, so hot damn, here we go, kids… The return of the Kings… [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
Quality Confidence Factor: 90%
Await further instructions with the closing PART 3 this Friday.