We continue forth with our pseudo-monthly look at some recently released metal albums that have been kicking our collective tails.
Steel Bearing Hand – Slay In Hell
It’s been six long years since Dallas death/thrash act Steel Bearing Hand blitzed across the metal landscape with their debut record. In that time the world has continued to melt away in a cacophony of disasters, and society has continued its never-ending march towards its own self-destruction. Thankfully we’ve at least been gifted yet another perfect album to put into our headphones while we watch it all burn down around us. Successfully merging genres is one of the more daunting tasks a metal band can face, yet Steel Bearing Hand are able to do it with aplomb. Taking the driving, adrenaline-fueled angst of classic thrash and melding it with the sheer brutality and pummeling assault of death metal, Slay In Hell winds up being an album that fans of both genres should be pumping their fists and banging their heads to. This is a nasty album in all the best ways imaginable. From the hellish vocals to the berating riffs, to the thick, sludgy bottom end, this album is the insanity-fueled gift that keeps on giving. Even after multiple listens it’s difficult to come up with an album comparison as interesting and fitting, especially one released over the last half decade or so. When our year-end list is finally compiled it’ll be a safe bet that Steel Bearing Hand will be one of the bands left standing with challengers to the death/thrash throne strewn at their feet.
Stone Healer – Conquistador
Another band that took six long years between releases is Connecticut’s Stone Healer. Needless to say this was another album where the juice was worth the squeeze. It’s rare to hear a band take so many influences and weave them into a cohesive sonic tapestry the way that Stone Healer has done on their debut full-length album, Conquistador. Prog and post metal elements are peppered with black, death, and even doom metal accoutrements to create a collection of songs that are cinematic in scope and wholly emotive in execution. If truly pressed to come up with a comparison for those who’ve never heard Stone Healer I’d be tempted to say Opeth, but even that comparison isn’t entirely spot on and doesn’t fully encompass the menagerie of heavy sounds they create. As explained on their Bandcamp page, Conquistador is a symbol of one man’s spiritual journey through what sounds, second-hand, like a treacherous waltz through emotional hell. This would certainly not be the first time that the spiritual and emotional toils of the artist were made manifest in their artwork. However, there are also few recent examples of such struggles being as tangible as what you’ll find on this record.
Heavy Feather – Mountain of Sugar
I went back and forth several times as to whether I was going to include the newest album from Sweden’s Heavy Feather in the metal version of this post, or the less frequent non-metal version. Either way I was going to write about Mountain of Sugar because, frankly, since first taste I’ve been as addicted to it as I would be an actual mountain of sugar. (Which I’m pretty sure is how you’d measure it with my monthly Coca-Cola intake…) On one hand you have a rock record that just screams with potential for mainstream acceptance and success. Powerful vocals, catchy choruses, and riffs for days abound here. But I just kept coming back to all of my favorite stoner rock and traditional doom records, and more importantly the proto-metal acts of the 1970s that inspired them and found more than enough in common with what Heavy Feather was laying down. While Mountain of Sugar doesn’t necessarily rely on heaviness in captivating listeners there are certainly enough moments of sonic bludgeoning for metal/stoner rock fans to be appeased. Believe it when I say that Heavy Feather can drop the hammer with the best of them, they are just more discerning as to when it’s actually going to happen. (Look no further than the headbanging riff running through “Love Will Come Easy” for example.) I’m not going to lie, stoner rock as a genre has done less and less to impress me over the last decade, but Mountain of Sugar is as must listen a record as I’ve heard in a long time.