Swedish doom warriors Below smear glory and fire back into metal with ‘Upon a Pale Horse’

There was a time when a great deal of metal, no matter the style, could be described as glorious. Huge melodies, vocals scaling mountain peaks, and rushes of energy were not uncommon. That’s been tempered a great deal over the past decades with the emergence of death and black metal, as well as cynicism and ill feelings creeping their way deeper into this music.

But every now and again, you get a band such as Below that creeps into the scene and reminds that you can spread darkness but fill the body and blood with energy while doing so. The band’s excellent second record “Upon a Pale Horse” is here, and for an album that centers on the arrival of death, you’ll be hard pressed not to be blown the fuck down by the band’s enormous sound and power. This Swedish band’s epic doom should remind people of banner creators Candlemass and Solitude Aeternus, as well as contemporary groups such as Crypt Sermon. The music is heavy and bellowing, and the passionate, soaring vocal performance from Zeb stands up there as some of the finest singing heard on a heavy record so far in 2017. The rest of the band—guitarists Paud and Berg, bassist Hedman, and drummer Doc—certainly holds up their end, delivering a performance that also should ignite fires within the hearts of those who hold Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Primordial dear. It’s just a gigantic, great-sounding metal record, one that doesn’t come around nearly often enough.

“The Plague Within” is a quick, synthy dirge that acts as an introductory piece and leads to “Disappearing Into Nothing,” which starts with sludgy doom and soaring vocals. The chorus floods the senses, as over that stretch Zeb wails, “My soul, it fades away!” as if he can see death on the horizon. The playing is powerful, as it is everywhere, leaving an indelible impression. “The Coven” dips into clean playing and grittier singing, as Zeb cries, “I’m under a spell,” before the pace charges up, and the lead guitar work glows. “Give into darkness and let go,” Zeb calls, as the soloing rivets, and the track bleeds to its finish. The 9:40-long title cut is the lengthiest song on the collection and a barnburner at that. Fire crackles as Primordial’s Alan Averill delivers a stirring speech before militaristic-style drumming and powerful doom riffs push their way through. Group vocals surge over the chorus, as the arrival of death sweeps over everything. Acoustics wash in before the song heats up again, the soloing fires hard, and another huge chorus lands before the song marches away.

“Suffer in Silence” is a mirror into the pain people often feel inside without letting anyone know. Crunchy riffs and a very 1980s-style barrage of guitars sprawl forth, putting a fiery touch on this song. “End this pain, end this agony,” sweeps from Zeb’s mouth, hitting hard inside, as the track charges hard, and acoustics fade away. “Hours of Darkness” has a rich acoustic open before the driving pace arrives and sends this into high gear. “Mankind will suffer for our deeds,” Zeb declares, while the soloing takes over, and the emotion comes to a flood state. The final moments are slow and fiery, letting the darkness seep in and assume control. “1000 Broken Bones” begins with a strong riff and nastier vocals, with more group singing adding to the hugeness, and Zeb’s vocals coming in high as fuck. The track is dark and heavy, leading toward closer “We Are All Slaves,” the second-longest track at 8:20. Clean guitars start before the singing blasts in, unfurling with the song and telling the tale of control that’s been a sad testament of all times. “I was born to be controlled,” Zeb wails, as the slowly punching song, reigning guitars, and morose ambiance spill over and eventually fade away.

Below have the mighty Metal Blade behind them and a crushing new record in “Upon a Pale Horse” that is one of the finest things that storied label has put out (and perhaps will put out) this year. It’s a call back to metal’s glory years when the riff and the raised fist were not clichés but necessary ingredients to making a great metal record. These guys have their shit together and eight powerful cuts that should topple the world.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/belowmetal

To buy the album, go here: http://www.indiemerch.com/metalbladerecords

For more on the label, go here: http://www.metalblade.com/us/

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