Dark Forest, Ridge & Furrow (Cruz Del Sur 2022)

UK metal band Dark Forest celebrate their twentieth anniversary with a new EP, Ridge & Furrow.

In their twenty years, Dark Forest has produced an impressive string of EPs and long-players, most recently in 2020 with the full-length album Oak, Ash, & Thorn. They play a traditional variety of heavy metal told in a melodic way that puts you in mind of traveling bards with stories to tell. Their sound is unmistakable – once you’ve heard it, you will recognize it again immediately. The band is Josh Winnard (vocals), Christian Horton (guitar), Patrick Jenkins (guitar), and Adam Sidaway (drums).

The set opens with “Skylark,” a song that displays rugged pop sensibilities on a wildly enthusiastic, fuzzy charge that has surprisingly fierce drumming. Just when you think this song sounds like something you’ve heard before, you notice things you have not heard before, combinations that have not existed prior to the current instantiation. There are pieces of NWOBHM, epic metal, fantasy metal, prog, and more, and it is tinted in a lovely fuzz. Damn, there is a lot going on here. Josh Winnard’s voice and the clarity of the guitars stand out, although the song deftly uses everything in it to add up to what it does. Sensational. “The Golden Acre” has a quieter start, and a more serious tone when it gets rolling, compared to the opener. A darker story, you might say, told with a similar depth and breadth.

The title track lands in the middle of the EP, and its compositional stature is sweeping. Truly, this album has a good deal in common with the band’s early work in this regard. It is an uplifting story about the endurance of land and how it always has an ability to renew. “Meadowland” is a short instrumental song that posits in acoustic. Beautiful. The final track, “Under The Greenwood Tree,” is a new rendering of a fan favorite that I first noticed on the Dawn Of Infinity (2011) album. It is a zesty bit, and then some – great to hear again. This EP is an excellent way to celebrate twenty years of Dark Forest. Recommended.

Ridge & Furrow is out on Friday, September 30th through Cruz Del Sur Music in digital, CD, and vinyl.

Links.

Dark Forest website, http://www.darkforest.co.uk/

Bandcamp, https://darkforest-uk.bandcamp.com/album/ridge-and-furrow

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Darkforestuk/

Cruz Del Sur Music, https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/blog/

© Wayne Edwards

Dark Forest, Ridge & Furrow (Cruz Del Sur 2022)

Sonja, Loud Arriver (Cruz Del Sur Music 2022)

Loud Arriver is the full-length debut album from Philadelphia goth rockers Sonja.

The beginnings of Sonja stretch back to 2014, and the firm formation began a few years after that. Founder Melissa Moore (guitar, vocals) was known up to that point for her work with black metal band Absu, and before then with the thrash band Rumpelstiltskin Grinder. Sonja is musically quite different, moving more in the gothic rock lane. They released a two-song demo in 2018, and work on Loud Arriver started the next year. It is great to have the finished product available now. Moore is joined by Ben Brand (bass) and Grzesiek Czapla (drums) for the album.

There are eight tracks on the new record, getting going with “When The Candle Burns Low…” A haunting voice emerges from the mist, setting the mood. The music fully drops with a deep gothic attitude, surging guitars, and persistent percussion. Moore has an excellent voice for this kind of music and it is hard to believe this is the first time she has sung lead. “Nylon Nights” is a straight up hard rocker with a killer opening riff and a melody that sticks in your head. “Pink Fog” has a kind of club feel in the chorus while the slower movements are rather melancholy. The first triplet offers three very different looks at the band’s style.

Other songs to note are “Fuck, Then Die,” which, despite its aggressive title, is tantalizingly engrossing in the execution. “Moans From The Chapel” is a great song that is fast and sharp, and it is surely a crowd pleaser when played live. The title track anchors the set at the end. It opens acoustically with gentle vocals, then moves into a more rugged build. Ultimately, it takes off at a dead run. There is nice guitar work in the middle, and this song might be my favorite on the album, accomplishing, as it does, exceptional transitions and seamlessly melding together separate ideas into a unified composition. Fine work. All the tracks hold up well and I hope that this is the start of a long string of big albums. Recommended.

Loud Arriver is out on Friday, September 23rd through Cruz Del Sur Music in digital, CD, and vinyl. You can pick it up through the links below.

Band photo by Don Vincent Ortega.

Links.

Bandcamp, https://sonjaband.bandcamp.com/album/loud-arriver

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Sonjabooking/

Cruz Del Sur Music, https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com

© Wayne Edwards

Sonja, Loud Arriver (Cruz Del Sur Music 2022)

The Neptune Power Federation, Le Demon De L’Amour (Cruz Del Sur Music 2022)

The fifth album from The Neptune Power Federation is the best one yet: Le Demon De L’Amour.

I thoroughly enjoyed the previous album from The Neptune Power Federation, Memoirs of a Rat Queen (2019). Indeed, that one was the first I had heard from the Australian heavy rock band and it turned me all the way around. I vowed at the time to see them live as soon as humanly possible and I still haven’t done it yet – any US dates coming up? The music is an energetic hard rock that has some retro components but lives firmly in the here and now. The stage names of the musicians in the band are Screaming Loz Sutch (vocals), Search and DesTroy (guitar), Inverted CruciFox (guitar), Jaytanic Ritual (bass), and River Sticks (drums).

The song you might have heard already is “My Precious One” as it is the advance single and there is a video of it floating around YouTube. If you haven’t heard it yet, drop everything and listen now – it’s a banger. If that song doesn’t make you want to listen to the rest of the album then I don’t know what. Fast, hooky, with a great guitar in the riff and lead, and the fiercely emotive vocals combine to make this a radio hit (if there was still radio). It is a great song, and I would recommend the album on the strength of it alone, but there is more.

Le Demon De L’Amour is a set of eight hard-edge, deep-cutting love songs. While on the surface that might not sound so great for a metalhead like me, the actual music is incredible. Filled with heavy psych, hooks and breaks, and deeply soulful vocals, The Neptune Power Federation is taking the love song back for the heavy music crowd.

The album begins with the eight-minute epic “Weeping On The Morn.” It is a massive rock and roll homage that dips into many corners. The single “My Precious One” cracks next and then the funky “Baby You’re Mine” struts out. There are so many great looks in just the first three songs it is hard to count them all. All the tracks are up-tempo, and each one has its own intrigue. “Stay With Thee” is one of my favorites, “Madly In Love” appeals to my contrarian side. My full list of favorites would be eight songs long so I’ll just leave it there.

If you don’t know about them yet then you need to get your life together and listen to The Neptune Power Federation. Highly recommended.

Le Demon De L’Amour is out on February 18th through Cruz Del Sur Music. Bandcamp is the easy way to get it in the US.

Links.

Bandcamp, https://theneptunepowerfederation.bandcamp.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/theneptunepowerfederation

Cruz Del Sur Music, https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/blog/

The Neptune Power Federation, Le Demon De L’Amour (Cruz Del Sur Music 2022)

Apostle Of Solitude, Until The Darkness Goes (Cruz Del Sur Music 2021)

The sixth studio album from Indianapolis doom band Apostle Of Solitude is the their best yet, Until The Darkness Goes.

Since 2004, Apostle Of Solitude has been producing doom in a melodic vein. Clear vocals and heavy, guiding guitar riffs characterize the unmistakable sound they have zeroed in on over the years. The new album is a fitting follow-up to the well-received From Gold To Ash (2018), going even further down the road of solitude. The band is Chuck Brown (vocals, guitar), Steve Janiak (guitar, vocals), Mike Naish (bass), and Corey Webb (drums).

There are six tracks on Until The Darkness Goes, together totaling old school album length. There are many different lanes for doom metal, as any connoisseur knows. In the melodic doom space, Apostle Of Solitude has few rivals. Listening to the first triplet of songs – “When The Darkness Comes,” “The Union,” and “Apathy In Isolation” – there is no way to overlook the soaking despair and loneliness in the beautifully dark and heavy music. The honesty and integrity of the sentiment is infused in every note, and calls out clearly in the vocals. The regularity and reliability of the rhythm is essential in driving home the story and the feeling and message of the music.

“Deeper Than The Oceans” is the most compelling track for me because it includes not only the standard-bearing vocals and rhythm set up but it also houses memorable lead guitar passages. Following it is the instrumental bridge “Beautifully Dark” and then the closer, an epically-framed song of sorrow, “Relive The Day.” It is a downer, this final song, but then this is a doom album and it is exactly the right way to end. Recommended.

Until The Darkness Goes is out now. Gather it up at Bandcamp or through one of the other links below.

Links.

Website, http://apostleofsolitude.com/

Bandcamp, https://apostleofsolitude.bandcamp.com/album/until-the-darkness-goes

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/apostleofsolitude

Cruz Del Sur Music, https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/store/

Apostle Of Solitude, Until The Darkness Goes (Cruz Del Sur Music 2021)

Pharaoh, The Powers That Be (Cruz Del Sur Music 2021)

The Powers That Be is the first Pharaoh album in nine years and it is one of the best the band has ever produced.

One of the early purveyors of melodic metal in the power metal scene, Pharaoh began back in the 1990s and has released a string of memorable albums through years, the newest being their fifth, The Powers That Be. The line-up has consistently been Chris Black (drums), Matt Johnsen (guitar), Tim Aymar (vocals), and Chris Kerns (bass).

When the band got together to work on the new record, they faced the same issues every other band ran up against: the global pandemic. They worked around these challenges by recording some parts separately and had to wait until the situation changed enough that the finishing touches could be put on. These external shocks did not deter Pharaoh from creating an album of blazing originality that breaks new ground while holding the line on the band’s founding principles.

There are nine songs on The Powers That Be starting with the high-energy title track. The vocals are melodic with a rasping touch that catches your attention and holds it. The guitar leads are precise and intricate, and the composition itself is stacked with engaging turns and leaps. There are even prog moments sprinkled in to enrich the musical environment.

Most of the music is up-tempo, except for the short, reflective “Waiting To Drown” and a few movements here and there, so you can expect fast-moving metal to keep you rolling from beginning to end. My favorite songs include “Ride Us To Hell” with its raging lead guitar work, and the closer, “I Can Hear Them,” which I see as a showcase for what the band is about. This new Pharaoh album delivers exactly what their fans are looking for. Recommended.

The Powers That Be is out now. Get the digital at Bandcamp and the physicals at the Cruz Del Sur Music store.

Links.

Bandcamp, https://pharaohmetal.bandcamp.com/album/the-powers-that-be

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/PharaohOfficial

Cruz Del Sur Music, https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/store/

Pharaoh, The Powers That Be (Cruz Del Sur Music 2021)

Wheel, Preserved In Time (Cruz Del Sur Music 2021)

The third album from Germany’s Wheel is a new epistle in their Epic Doom story.

The band started in 2006 as Eternal Sleep, changing over to the current name three years later. The self-titled album came out in 2010, followed by Icarus in 2013 and a live album the next year. The new record then is the first in eight years and as such it is the culmination of an extended formative process. After a brief lineup shuffle, the band has returned to its early roster: Arkadius Kurek (vocals), Benjamin Homberger (guitar), Marcus Grabowski (bass), and Carsten Jercke (drums).

The music is Doom Metal, leaning toward the Epic Metal thematic arena. The big riff is the primary structure as we might expect, and the speed lurks around mid-tempo (on the doom scale). The tones are heavy and the vocals enlarged creating an expanding sense of scope in the dark landscape of the compositions.

“At Night They Came Upon Us” is the first song and as an introduction to the set it does the job – everything that is to come is signaled from the beginning. There are clever melodies in the guitar lines and vocal harmonies meant to deepen the delivery. There is a reflective slow-down toward the middle and compelling lead guitar instantiations. A charge is mounted near the end before the song finishes as it began. A very satisfying and complete structure.

My favorite tracks are “Aeon of Darkness” and the big closer “Daedalus” because they represent best to my ear the essence of the album. Picking out a couple tracks, however, is not the best way to hear Wheel. The impact is greater if you listen straight through from beginning to end.

Preserved In Time is out now. Gather it up at Bandcamp.

Links.

Bandcamp, https://wheeldoom.bandcamp.com/album/preserved-in-time

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Wheeldoom/

Label, https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/blog/

Wheel, Preserved In Time (Cruz Del Sur Music 2021)

Grendel’s Sÿster, Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

The Myrtle Wreath EP from Grendel’s Sÿster gets a well-deserved broad re-release with Cruz Del Sur Music.

Everybody knows that Grendel’s mother was the one to watch out for, but nobody knows what to expect from his sister. That’s how I felt dropping the (virtual) needle on Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz. – I hadn’t heard any of the band’s work before. They are a Folk Metal trio from Germany. This EP came out in 2019 and is getting wider distribution now. They also released an EP in 2018: Orphic Gold Leaves/Orphische Goldblättchen.

The thing about Folk Metal for me is that I have a short list of bands I like. Korpiklaani, Finntroll, Týr, a few others. I am not a deep diver in these waters, so I do not have a learned opinion. I just know whether I like what I hear. I really like Myrtenkranz.

There are seven songs and an intro bit, and they are presented in two versions each – one in English and one in German. I have a strong and abiding preference for the versions in German. No, I don’t speak German. To my ear singing in German simply sounds better with the music. Grendel’s Sÿster does not sound anything like the bands I listed, really. They are very much on the Folk side of Folk Metal. Plainly, it is like listening to folk songs that employ (fuzzy) electric guitars for instruments. The vocals are beautifully melodic and clear. Beyond traditional Folk constructions, many of the songs have the epic and march urgency heard in music from bands like Falconer, but not as loud. Lead guitar expressions are also low key and tastefully executed. This is a great album for when you are not in the mood to have your block knocked completely off. Recommended.

The physicals start shipping September 25, and the digital is available now at Bandcamp and elsewhere. The first EP Orphic Gold Leaves is not on Spotify (last time I looked) and the hardcopies are sold out, but you can still get the English vocal version as a download.

Links.

https://grendelssyster.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic/

https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/blog/

https://cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com/

Grendel’s Sÿster, Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

Spellbook, Magick & Mischief review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

Spellbook is the new name for the band previously known as Witch Hazel (not Wytch Hazel from the UK), and they have a new album out: Magick & Mischief.

As Witch Hazel, the band released three albums. The style of those is similar to what you hear on the new one, but a little murkier in tone. Two of the earlier albums, Otherworldly (2018) and Forsaken Remedies (2012), are on Spotify and are definitely worth checking out. The band for the new release as Spellbook is Nate Tyson (vocals), Andy Craven (guitar), Selbert Lowe, Jr. (bass), and Nicholas Zinn (drums).

The music on Magick & Mischief has a foot planted firmly in the early 1980s. Back then I was listening to bands like Omen and their amazing Battle Cry album from 1984, and Fates Warning’s occult masterpiece Night on the Brocken (also from 1984). Demon, too, from 1981, with their poppier take on the subject, Night of the Demon. Memories of all these bands cascade over me listening to the new Spellbook. The 2020 take on this style of metal cast refreshing glances toward unlikely corners of music and combines creative ideas that make this music genuinely new even as it creates pristine nostalgic flashes.

The first song on the album is “Wands To The Sky,” the title leaving no question in the listener’s mind about the subject. A jazzy drum roll folds into a stabbing prog-like rock guitar set-up, followed by the distinctive retro vocals. Homage riffs can be heard here and in “Black Shadow” – that is part of the appeal. “Ominous Skies” leads in with a challenging bass line, and “Not Long For This World” presents a doom throng as its introduction. There is a magic theme here, an occult perspective, and yet also sprinkled in are songs like “Motorcade” and the big closer, “Dead Detectives,” which are surprises. The first three minutes of the latter has the same kind of feel as Side One of Alice Cooper’s Muscle of Love – if you don’t know what I am talking about, take twenty minutes and go listen to the first four songs of that old AC classic on Spotify. Spellbook shifts into a steady rock vamp in the second part of the 11+ minute opus, segue to a voiceover to further the narrative, some more rock, finally fading out on a rainy street. It is like going to a Broadway show, and it is a strange yet compelling way to tie up the threads of the album.

Out on September 25, digital, CD, and vinyl versions of Magick & Mischief can be had from Cruz Del Sur Music through Bandcamp and others. A heads up that the track “Amulet” appears to be different on the LP compared to the other versions. Completists take note.

Links.

https://spellbookband.bandcamp.com/releases

https://www.facebook.com/spellbookband/

https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic/

https://cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com/

Spellbook, Magick & Mischief review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

Stygian Crown, Stygian Crown (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

The inaugural album from the Los Angeles doom band Stygian Crown blends classical voice with tradition-respecting modern doom metal.

The sound of Stygian Crown is different enough that they have developed a new category for it: Candlethrower. Uh-huh. The band has the classic metal full line up of five principals: Melissa Pinion (vocals), Nelson Miranda (guitar), Jason Thomas (bass), Andy Hicks (guitar), and Rhett A. Davis (drums). Those names might ring a bell – Davis, Miranda, and Thomas were in Gavehill, and that in itself is a strong recommendation. This band, however, is not death metal but instead is a doom hybrid affair. A new direction, you might say.

After a spooky 30 second intro, the album opens with the bone crushing riffs of “Devour the Dead.” Our first glimpse (?) at Melissa Pinion’s vocals hit right away. Her voice is clear and strong, and her delivery is steady. She seems quite comfortable in the doom universe. The music is guitar-driven castle wall dreariness. Think Ritchie Blackmore’s formulations when the song is not about cars, or maybe a slowed-down Iron Maiden. The lead breaks are not so much shreds as they are studies in mood, although the guitars do occasionally cut loose (like in “When Old Gods Die”). The lyrics tell fantasy tales with a medieval orientation and a focus on violent conflict, plague, death, and darkness. The band is called Stygian Crown, after all. With this release, you are getting just what you expect. To bookend the set, “Two Coins for the Ferryman” is absolutely perfect for this album in atmosphere, theme, sound, and execution – from the spoken word intro to the extremely long fade out at the end. This band knows itself.

Stygian Crown will be released on June 26, 2020. Head over to the Cruz Del Sur store (link below) or the always reliable Bandcamp to examine all the available varieties.

Links.

https://www.facebook.com/stygiancrown

https://stygiancrown.bandcamp.com/releases

https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/store/

https://www.facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic

Stygian Crown, Stygian Crown (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)