Summer and metal are two things that always worked hand in hand for me. Possibly that’s because summer is when I really discovered metal, or at least realized how much I love it. As time has gone on, I’ve associated classic metal bands, and those trying their best to keep up the power in the modern era, with the long, hot days of summer.
It’s really a shame that summer is nearly over here in the States, because one of the year’s best classic-minded metal records is being launched by way of Sumerlands, the new band that aligns a group of well-traveled, experienced veterans for the heaviest of causes. Everything about their self-titled debut record is situated in the sounds of 30 years ago, but never in a way that seems gimmicky. The power and glory are real, and if you sit with the music and let it enter your bloodstream you’ll find yourself being whisked away to a place, even if only in the mind, where you cannot be defeated.
Out front for Sumerlands is Phil Swanson, who is best known for his work with Hour of 13, another bands that fought for the survival of metal’s roots. He is in amazing voice here and has some of the most recognizable pipes in underground metal. Along with Swanson are guitarist/synth player Arthur Rizk (also a noted producer for bands such as Power Trip, Inquisition, and Pissgrave), guitarist John Powers, bassist Justin de Torre (Magic Circle, Innumerable Forms), and drummer Brad Raub (War Hungry). The band’s music harkens back to Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Cirith Ungol, and they’re best absorbed over a summer evening, with plenty of beverages, and you just wanting to be one with the night.
“Seal” rips open the record with some meaty riffs, great, Halford-style singing, and molten soloing that belts out and scorches. The traditional feel is all over the place, with the band galloping from start to finish. “The Guardian” is a killer, and it would have been right at home right at the midnight hour on Headbangers Ball. This one has an Ozzy/Dio vibe to it, with fantastical elements, and Swanson howling, “I’ll never be forsaken, you’ll always be there by my side.” Later, the singing hits a higher pitch, with the guitars meeting up and driving this one into the moonlight. “Timelash” has a nice dose of crunch but also some brainy progginess. The vocals are pulled back some, with Swanson lashing, “We’re all losers in this game of fools,” with the synth fog spread over, bringing darkness. “Blind” has riffs chewing the thing open, with Swanson wondering, “How far can one fall?” with his singing having an extra twinge of shadow to it. The guitars rip out and create havoc, with the end coming abruptly.
“Sumerlands Haunted Forever” begins with clean guitars trickling like a stream before the thing chugs open. Warm soloing is layered like a glaze, seeming like something that could perfectly soundtrack the sunset, while Swanson offers, “All I ever wanted was some peace for you,” as keys blend in and the tempo punches holes. “Spiral Infinite” hits the gas pedal, with the vocals cutting, the sounds echoing, and Swanson declaring, “Time and space go on!” “Lost My Mind” has strong guitar work, a charged-up feel, and the words dripping with anguish. About the idea of losing one’s mental capacity temporarily, Swanson pokes, “So what if it happens one more time?” as the wall of chaos around him starts coming down on you. The closing title track (band track?) is a cool instrumental that wraps up the record nicely. Noise haze and sound zaps meet, accompanied by a swim through the cosmos, slurry guitars, and a weird, hypnotic vibe that ends in footsteps, possibly signaling the arrival in the Sumerlands.
Sumerlands’ debut may be a bit mistimed—though they’ll sound just as great in the autumn—but what are you going to do? Their first album is an excellent slab of classic metal that’ll get your blood pumping and your fists clenching. They serve the majesty of metal quite well, and with music this good, they should be devoted to the cause well into the future.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/sumerlands
To buy the album, go here: http://store.relapse.com/
For more on the label, go here: http://relapse.com/