This is Part 2 of our 2021 Missing Pieces series, in which we offer praise to some great stuff we missed during the initial press cycles. Have a gander at Part 1 if you haven’t, and come back Friday for Part 3, if you’d like!
KONQUEST ‒ THE NIGHT GOES ON
released January 8; Iron Oxide Records and No Remorse Records
Friday Night is a sacred space. For the individual, it may not always fall on the day we have socially agreed upon to be “Friday,” but we all have a Friday Night in our hearts. Whether you’re getting off from your part-time gig after classes or coming in for the last few miles off a two-week stint of big rig truckin’, there’s still that night that pops up where you’re free to let go for a bit–if only for a few hours. It’s the feeling of the winds of responsibility brushing past your lips, wet with the taste of freedom and an unquenchable thirst to simply let go for a bit. On Friday Night, the musical selection can vastly amplify this feeling, rushing like a warm wave of ecstasy with the release of the burdens of everyday life.
The Night Goes On, the debut album from Italy’s Konquest, has come to be a regular Friday Night selection since its release in early January. Warming up with the galloping intro of “Theme Of The Konqueror,” the band jump right into the hooks with the record’s title track. Chock full of bouncy 70’s Brit-rock and NWOBHM-inspired leads (lots of UFO, DiAnno-era Maiden, and Angel Witch to be found here), “The Night Goes On” sets a tone of reverence to the classics while interpreting them with some genuine songwriting prowess. It’s catchy without seeming too poppy–it’s still got the balls to rock; a trait that carries over to the anthemic “Too Late.” Principal songwriter/musician Alex Rossi avoids the trappings of tribute-riff salad and crafts some undeniably catchy tunes where all the elements work together and no single instrument feels dominant. The guitar/bass tradeoff of melody on “Too Late” and “The Night Goes On” both demonstrate Rossi’s ambition as a songwriter over, say, a specialized virtuoso looking for a backing band. For Rossi, the power is all in writing good tunes.
It’s this genuine spirit that sells The Night Goes On from front to back. The Angel Witch-esque, sugar-coated angst in “Holding Back The Tears” is delivered from a passion in Rossi himself rather than simply mimicking the emotion found in the NWOBHM staple album. “Heavy Heart” doesn’t just ape Heavy Load riffs, it finds the pacing and flow that make the Swedish legends still relevant today and channels it into a kontext that fits Konquest. And, above all, the Maiden influence found most heavily in the intro of “Theme Of The Konqueor” and the instrumental midpoint of “Fall Of The Konqueror” not only ties The Night Goes On together, it brings it to a head on the indisputably masterpiece of the record: “The Vision.” The Steve Harris bass chugging, the slightly syncopated guitar riffage, the creeping emergence of the running double bass, the intertwining harmonies of the vocals–it all converges at a free-spirited climax guaranteed to kick off or conclude any Friday Night. The dual guitar alignment at the midpoint of the song sends the album to new heights, teasing at the epic scale of “Hallowed Be Thy Name” before bringing it on home to a fully layered chorus and double guitar outro. And while the vocals may not quite hit the mark of the DiAnno/Dickenson power of Iron Maiden, Rossi certainly understands the Heybourne/Riddles dynamic found in Angel Witch–crafting vocal harmonies to add a different sort of power to the lyrical delivery. The Night Goes On is a hell of well-paced and well-thought out debut. It’s played from the gut and pays out in spades, opening up beautifully for a romping good time. Friday Night, baby. [RYAN TYSINGER]
MYSTIC STORM ‒ FROM THE ANCIENT CHAOS
released April 1; self-released
vinyl out on September 1 on Jawbreaker Records
Every metal m’lord, m’lady and m’who(m)ever-you-want-to-be lives for those days when a random record falls into their lap from seemingly out of nowhere and inspires statements similar to, “Whence the hell didst yon band spring? My life is immediately better upon discovering this!” Such was the case for yours truly with respect to St. Petersburg, Russia’s Mystic Storm and their debut full-length, From the Ancient Chaos—a record that might’ve fallen through the cracks had I not randomly witnessed a “you should grab this” post one particularly shiny Bandcamp Friday afternoon via Smoulder / Sarah Kitteringham (a very dependable source for such matters, as it happens.)
By coincidence, From the Ancient Chaos lands at what must be considered an ideal time; while there hasn’t exactly been a dearth of thrash the last decade-plus, 2021 is proving to be a true champion of this off-shoot in particular, offering up freshies from an endless swarm of young bands that wisely introduce all manner of delightful supplements to further twist the timeworn formula, be it strong infusions of death, black metal, prog, tech, and so forth in perpetuity. With regard to Mystic Storm, the band wraps an aggressive and aggressively melodic style of thrash reminiscent of the Teutonic scene in the late 80s—Vendetta, Grinder and the raw fury of Protector—with enough galloping Sword & Sorcery trad metal that one could make just as strong a case for tagging them #fuckingepicheavymetal as they might #conanthrash. In fact, throw From the Ancient Chaos in the ring mano a mano with Eternal Champion’s Ravening Iron and the former could very well end up winning the day through its sheer might and wealth of lightning burst leads. Plus, vocalist Anya conjures the ancient spirits of Debbie Gunn (Sentinel Beast), Tam Simpson (from the mighty Sacrilege) and especially Dawn Crosby (Detente—whose song “Vultures in the Sky” gets covered as a closer for the record), and that’s honestly something we could use a lot more of in thrash and thrash-infused metal in general.
For the moment, From the Ancient Chaos is only available digitally and in an extremely limited run of cassettes (2nd pressing that’ll land on your doorstep in the US for a cool $20, including shipping) via the Mystic Storm bandcamp page, but a CD version is due July 30th through Iron Oxide Records, and an LP variation will land September 1st through Jawbreaker Records. It goes without saying: You’d be wise to not allow this sucker to slip through your net. [CAPTAIN]
SWEET OBLIVION ‒ RELENTLESS
released April 9; Frontiers Records
By now it’s almost fashionable to poop on the output of Geoff Tate’s last few decades, and there’s no need to rehash any of that here, except to say that the first Sweet Oblivion record (released by Frontiers in June of 2019) was the best thing the man’s been involved in since the turn of the millennium. Composed and produced by DGM guitarist Simone Mularani, that earlier eponymous effort was a conscious homage to Tate’s seminal work in Queensrÿche, comprised of melodic progressive-ish hard rock / metal tracks that fell somewhere in the gaps between Rage For Order’s streamlined pomp and Empire’s cerebral pop metal. While it wasn’t entirely Geoff’s doing, Sweet Oblivion Featuring Geoff Tate (yep, that’s the title) was at least the type of record that ‘Ryche fans had been asking for from him for decades, in place of the modernized poppy rock that we were given.
But behind the scenes, Sweet Oblivion apparently wasn’t quite as sweet. Now, for the follow-up, Mularani is gone, and in his place, all of Relentless was written and produced by Secret Sphere / Archon Angel member Aldo Lonobile. Line-up shifts be damned, though — Relentless may not quite be up to the first album’s muster, but it’s nevertheless not far behind, which makes it now the second-best thing that Geoff Tate’s been involved in since the turn of the millennium.
Most importantly, credit where it’s always due: Geoff Tate is on the short list for best singers in metal history, and though he’s over 60 now, he still sounds incredible. He’s been under-utilizing his higher register for decades, in Queensrÿche and after it, but not because he can’t hit those notes — I saw him perform all of both Rage For Order and Empire in 2020, and the man absolutely killed every song on two classic records — but because it seems that he’s just not all that interested in the soaring metal melodies now, if he ever really truly was. And further credit where it’s due: Lonobile has turned in some solid hard rock tunes for Tate to sing over, blending a decided Euro-power atmosphere with the project’s inherent throwback to classic Queensrÿche. Nothing here is a direct rip-off of DeGarmo / Wilton, but each lean in that direction, each imbued with the spirit, if not entirely the sound.
And ultimately, even more importantly (editor’s note: more than the most above? Really? Get it together here, Andy.), Relentless is quite a good record, filled with catchy choruses and moody, vaguely progressive hard rock like “Once Again One Sin” and “Another Change.” Over repeated listens, I think Mularani’s contributions were a little more consistent across the entire album, but even if this second album is a slight step backwards, it’s still about a hundred steps forward. Fans of Queensrÿche’s heyday, particularly the most commercial period of it, take heed — I thought Tate was done with this type of music forever, but he’s two for two with Sweet Oblivion so far. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
CHARNEL GROUNDS ‒
MOLECULAR ENTROPY EXAMINED IN THE BOWELS OF A GREAT ONE
released April 30; self-released
If you formed an impression about what Charnel Ground’s debut EP sounds like based on the cover art, go ahead and toss those preconceptions right out the window. While that vision of gore and death might seem like it was meant for a long lost Autopsy demo (not to mention whatever is going on with that logo), in actuality you’re getting a type of dissonant, slightly progressive tech death. It’s such a mismatch that it’s actually rather endearing, and it helps that the art is fun and the tunes are great.
Molecular Entropy Examined in the Bowels of a Great One (huge round of applause) is packed to the gills with heavily thrashing technical death riffs, spiraling dissonant passages that manage to be both expansive and claustrophobic at the same time, deep (DEEP) and utterly incomprehensible guttural vocals, and the tiniest touch of melodic development (there’s a sense of a resolution in the “chorus” of “Desecration of the Host: Madness Complete”). It’s a dizzying combination that rarely sits still for more than a phrase or two but eases up at key points to give the music a bit of space and overall is delivered and written so expertly that it’s immediately appealing and has a decent amount of depth (at least for a short EP).
All the dissonance might bring to mind modern bands like Ulcerate or Artificial Brain, but the technical aspects often resemble the tech era of old, giving the EP a fun new school/old school combination. If they can pack this much goodness into just 10 minutes, it’s going to be fun to see how they spread their wings on a full length.
Never judge a book ‒ or debut death metal EP from Florida ‒ by its cover. [ZACH DUVALL]
FYRNASK ‒ VII: KENOMA
released April 30; Ván Records
Although in some ways it comes with the genre’s chosen territory, there has nearly always been a surplus of black metal bands out there that start from a stance of High Extreme Seriousness but then can’t quite back it up with the actual, y’know, music. Image and overall aesthetics are certainly a foundational element of black metal, but unless you can summon enough fire in your songs to match the supposedly grim satanic ice in your veins and/or eyeliner, the genre can become an easy mark for anyone looking to howl mockery at the dross.
By contrast, some bands take a more welcome, opposite approach, beginning with a stern, unshakably serious musical vision, upon which they can then scaffold such nice-to-haves as lyrics, album art, costumes, and overall presentation. In case the setup here isn’t obvious enough, Germany’s Fyrnask is exactly such a band, and on their fourth full-length, VII: Kenoma, their patient, shamanistic black metal achieves that surprisingly difficult feat: it is deadly serious without also being deadly full of shit. Fyrnask’s black metal is contemplative rather than declarative, and although it spends a fair portion of its time in blast-and-gnash mode, the whole landscape is painted more vividly with the colors of ritualistic ambient and borderline neofolk. This means that although VII: Kenoma will absolutely appeal to fellow worshippers at the altar of music-forward seriousness like the Ruins of Beverast, Neurosis, Árstíðir Lífsins, and the Deathspell Omega of Kénôse in particular, Fyrnask’s devotion to the spirit of the music rather than any strict genre signposts will also be familiar to fans of Forndom, Tenhi, Wardruna, or Of the Wand & the Moon.
Throughout the nearly hour-long visitation of this album, Fyrnask’s sound is rich, dark, and dense, and yet the compositions and production always leave ample space to hear and appreciate each element. Fyrnask’s goal does not seem to be to suffocate or disorient the listener, but rather to focus them. Think of it like focusing all of your senses on the intricacies of a single, flickering candle rather than the overwhelm of a vast conflagration. Instrumentally, there’s very little in the way of extraneous pyrotechnics here, as that portion of your focus is instead guided squarely to Fyrnask’s approach of building tension and atmosphere through subtle repetition and hypnotic melodies.
A perfect example of that approach is just after the three-minute mark of “Helreginn,” where a stormcloud breaks over the horizon into a stately guitar lead and distant choral chants. VII: Kenoma feels like a backwards journey through the prehistory of music, reaching back to the foundational chaos and hushed drone of creation itself. If it sounds grandiose, Fyrnask has the chops and – much more importantly – the restraint to pull it off without coming across like a dimestore pantomime of blasphemy. Guarded, grimly majestic black metal is the entry point here, but as a whole the journey is much farther reaching, and if you need a Virgil to guide you into the deep center of the inner self and back out again, you could do much worse than what Fyrnask has accomplished on this remarkable, evocative, beguiling album. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]