News 88.9 KNPR
Classical 89.7 KCNV
NV89 Discover Music

an member station

Discover Music
First Listen

First Listen: Azusa, 'Heavy Yoke'


Azusa's <em>Heavy Yoke </em>comes out Nov. 16 via Solid State Records.
Tyson Paoletti, Courtesy of the artist

Azusa's Heavy Yoke comes out Nov. 16 via Solid State Records.

In metal, lineage can be everything. These musicians are lifers — sworn to the riff, defenders of the faith. It's what keeps metal alive. But when the bloodlines cross streams, the lineage doesn't get broken so much as emboldened. Azusa contains decades of experience, but Heavy Yoke reaches across the metal spectrum for a debut album wrapped in rapturously beautiful discord.

Azusa began with a message from American bassist Liam Wilson (The Dillinger Escape Plan, John Frum) expressing his admiration for Extol, the long-running Norwegian progressive metal band. Years later, demos were traded online with guitarist Christer Espevoll (who left Extol after 2003's Synergy) and drummer David Husvik. The songs reflected the unconventional nature of both bands, but the switchback energy demanded a far more dynamic vocalist. The Berlin-based Greek singer Eleni Zafiriadou makes incredible leaps from her indie-pop duo Sea + Air to claw, coo and scream through a labyrinthine construct of Azusa's making.

Heavy Yoke gallops from the first few seconds of "Interstellar Islands," a thrilling fusion of Espevoll's melodically furious riffs, Husvik's pin-drop-precise drumming and Wilson's brawny bass tone. Every 30 seconds feels like a time-warp to another level of metal wizardry, as the band revs to thrash speed only to break apart the melody in a psychedelic waltz. Zafiriadou here, and across the album's brisk but crucially executed 34-minute run time, is more than up to the challenge; her elastic voice doesn't adapt so much as it evolves Azusa's sound in real time. You can find more twisty-turny patterns in the title track and "Lost in the Ether," but also more straight-ahead hardcore ("Heart of Stone") and songs that split the difference — like "Spellbinder," which takes brief detours to atmospheric, Cynic-like death-metal.

Support comes from

But then there are the metal ballads bathed in crushingly elegiac riffs. The heavy pop experiment "Fine Lines" feels like it should extend past two minutes, but acts a beautiful breather between tracks. "Programmed to Distress" is a fractured waltz that picks up in the back half, when Zafiriadou pointedly sings, "Are you ready to kill my dream in a heartbeat?" This is a central theme to Heavy Yoke, which explores humanity's dual nature and the weight of relationships. Likewise, the album works in tension and release to create a harmonious (and heavy) resolution.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit
More from

No algorithms here. Our music is curated by humans who love it as much as you do. We’ll never have a paywall or get all creepy gathering data on you. But since you’ve found us, consider making a pledge of as little as $5 to keep on the beat.

More Stories

Dust Moth.
All Songs Considered
Material Girls' <em>Leather</em> comes out July 2.
Discover Music
All Songs Considered
Windhand's <em>Eternal Return</em>, with artwork by Arik Roper.
Discover Music
All Songs Considered