Written by: Blackie Skulless
More often than not, I find it difficult to unearth heavy metal crossed with AOR in recent years that doesn’t reek of old men overproducing something generic that sounds like a cover of an ‘80s song. In the rare instances where this isn’t the case, expectations go beyond being met. Sumerlands nails this latter description. Being on their second album, these Philadelphia heavy metallers have taken what their debut longed to be and made it a reality. This isn’t to say the self-titled record was bad, but Dreamkiller is where the full potential is realized.
Given what we know, you can expect lot’s of metal-oriented riffing that doesn’t really utilize dense distortions or minor keys, but holds onto the rhythmic progressions firmly enough. Shrieking solos, synth-backings, and some of the cleanest singing adds a spacey atmosphere, invoking the feeling of shedding old skin for new enlightenment. Musically, things are ultimately rather light, but the amount of layers allows it to feel full for such a short album. Being only eight tracks, every bit of space is filled to the brim, either taking a steadier approach or a galloping one.
Some may even see power metal influence in Dreamkiller, but again, no real aggressive edge comes through. Don’t be deceived; this helps, rather than hurts. See the title track with its uplifting intro delivered on an explosive platter, or the opening “Twilight Points The Way” taking on an equal amount of energy without the harder drum kicks making themselves as obvious. These are the types that give it the traditional metal hints, and the intricacies within the longer ones never stray too far or lose focus. You can even dig up some late ‘80s Iron Maiden energy in “Force Of A Storm.”
But don’t let the calmer songs slip through the cracks, either. Anthemic sounding choruses that could pass for radio hits like “Edge Of The Knife” contain loads of memorable charm, and the slower, steady rock ‘n roll energy of “Heaven’s Above” scratches just the same itch. Power balladry found in “Night Ride” seeps in so smoothly off the tail of the preceding energy, combining the cadence of later Rainbow with Zenith-era Enforcer. The slow backing of the keys adds so much life despite fundamentally doing so little.
All of the little bells and whistles mold the tracks together so wonderfully, and that’s the icing on the cake. Synth-toppings, sound effects, precise vocal tracks weaved into lead guitars, and a serious ear for melody blend for something far beyond what I could ever want from this style. Simply calling this heavy metal would be selling it short. If Judas Priest made Sin After Sin in 2022, this is probably how it would sound. Those that seek the older metal makeup that never relied on tough aggression but still want a buttery-smooth surface should look no further.
Sumerlands - Dreamkiller was released Sept. 16th 2022 via Relapse Records. Find it here!
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that wakes us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry.