AZUSA: Heavy Yoke

Progressive Thrash Death Metal Returns!

I love this new music from Azusa. Who? Remember Extol? Remember Extol’s Burial (1998) and Undeceived (2000)? Christer Espevoll (guitars, ex-Extol) and David Husvik (drums, Extol, Aperture, Absurd, Twisted Into Form) have had a reunion of sorts and they invited Liam Wilson (bass, Dillinger Escape Plan) and the incredibly talented Eleni Zafiriadou (vocals, Sea+Air) to the party. Progressive thrash death metal might just make a comeback thanks to this little gathering of musicians. If you can imagine a blending of the styles of the first 3 Extol releases with female vocals that aren’t quite as “black metal” sounding (but kinda close) as Peter Espevoll, than you should have a sonic picture of what Azusa have to offer. Even the cover artwork resembles the mighty Extol – Undeceived with the shrouded figure with face in shadow (and the Demon Hunter reference). I confess, I have not been as excited about a new extreme metal band since Becoming The Archetype – and that was far too many years ago now.

Seriously, this isn’t an exact recreation of early Extol, but this is probably as close to that incarnation as I’ve heard in many years, if ever. I loved the self-titled Extol comeback album a few years back, but these songs have a lot of the thrash speed and creative insanity and frenetic movement of those early Extol years. Perhaps that combustible force of unabashed shred partly accounts for the band name? Pentecostal frenzy was never this metal though (or maybe it was).

Eleni has this inhuman way of shifting from the melodic to the harsh, yet all the while maintaining the intensity and clarity of word – her voice every bit as important to these songs as the instrumentalists. When she soars with the melodic she sounds a bit like Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia (“Fine Lines”). I think “Interstellar Islands” nicely exhibits these attributes, but her performance throughout is both captivating and inspirational. Christer’s guitars are as crisp and energetic as his early days with Extol, the chemistry with Husvik quite evident. Liam’s bass is locked-in tight and nicely placed in the mix – the rhythms here easily inspiring any metal drummer or bass player to greatness. When you listen to these songs, though, it is so fluid and sincere – like these guys/gal are just sharing a cathartic experience of joy, aggression, thoughtful persuasion with the listener. There are no long instrumentally indulgent passages.

Lyrically, this material seems to confront the “heavy yoke” that we impose upon ourselves both physically and spiritually through fear and perhaps intimidation and infliction of guilt. The title track is just too good. “Heavy yoke/The truth behind the lies/Heavy on your soul.” The juxtaposition of the melodic chorus and harsh vocals with those driving guitars, bass and percussive precision is both convincing and convicting. “A spark is blown into flame/Fire sweeps through your vacant heart.” “Spellbinder” would have to be another highlight musically and lyrically. “Eternal Echo” has the head-banging elements that would make for a great song in the live setting – a nice balance of riff-heavy metal and thrash. “Though shadows veil my eyes/Your light surrounds me/Back to the beginning again/Drinking eternity.” And if that is not enough, “Iniquitous Spiritual Praxis” is a scathing thrash rant against “complacency in tradition.” (my interpretation) I mean, who writes lyrics like this anymore, “Baptized in a cocktail of iniquitous spiritual praxis?” I love it!

“Baptized in a cocktail of iniquitous spiritual praxis” 

At 34 quick minutes, it’s too short. With the average song length 3 minutes (and 2 songs just shy of the two minute mark) Heavy Yoke feels more like an old-fashioned demo/promotional release than a full length feature. I can assure you, however, that every minute is well worth the price of admission as these songs make an instant, and lasting, impact. Not surprisingly, the sound/production quality stands up to the Extol material. Still, some of these songs end somewhat abruptly, so this might be a bit of a teaser for some of the more progressive types who like things drawn out a bit more fully. It seems Heavy Yoke is testing the waters, so to speak, just skimming the surface of the potential that lies beneath. Yep, I’m hooked and eagerly look forward to more from this crew. For now, these 34 minutes of metal bliss will be overplayed and never underappreciated.

Solid State

Release Date: 11/16/2018

Track Listing:

1. Interstellar Islands (3:40)

2. Heart Of Stone (3:49)

3. Heavy Yoke (4:01)

4. Fine Lines (1:57)

5. Lost In The Ether (3:16)

6. Spellbinder (2:40)

7. Programmed T0 Distress (3:04)

8. Eternal Echo (3:25)

9. Iniquitous Spiritual Praxis (3:40)

10. Succumb To Sorrow (1:48)

11. Distant Call (3:08)

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