Beyond the Black – Horizons (Napalm)Friday, 12th June 2020
Over the course of three previous albums, Beyond the Black have produced some of what are arguably the strongest releases within the symphonic metal. Their blend of driving tempos, symphonic bombast, poppy injections, and Jennifer Haben’s commanding vocals have struck a chord with many fans – and for good reason – while it didn’t deviate too far outside the symphonic metal norm the level of polish was immaculate. Upcoming fourth album Horizons brings in some new flavors and sounds to the band, pushing them into some territory that is much more their own.
Some may find this to be a polarizing album for the band, and perhaps justifiably so, as the level of poppiness that has always existed in Beyond the Black has definitely been augmented, along with a decrease in fantasy-based lyrics in favor of some more ‘real-world’ ones. With that increase in pop directions, some of their symphonic metal roots have been left scattered in the wake. So while some may throw up their arms in revolt, others (like this scribe) are going to argue that this might be their finest work yet. You can hear hints of Horizons as you travel back to Heart of a Hurricane, but Horizons seems embrace things on a whole new level. Easily noticeable on the opening title track, there’s a more direct/rock-ish approach and less ‘wall of sound’ symphonic metal vibe. But that doesn’t stop the chorus from being just as soaring and addictive as anything the band has previously released. Follow-up “Misery” is about as poppy as it gets on Horizons, but it’s also one of the most initially appealing cuts on the release, with an energetic chorus that highlights Haben’s ever-solid vocal delivery and near-danceable rhythms.
The pop-rock energy, even occasionally with an almost industrial vibe, is a focal point in a number of tracks. “Paralyzed” is the choice cut here, with a groovy, electronic-laced build up leading into an absolute homerun of a chorus that is sure to get many up and out of their chairs and moving. “Golden Pariahs” features a cyber metal-esque rhythm to it, with pulsating beats infused into the symphonic metal backbone. Likewise, “Welcome to My Wasteland” flirts between softer rock territory with playful melodies and energetic and driving symphonic metal riffing to end the album on a rather upbeat note. Finally, the electronics of “You’re Not Alone” set the tone of the track, coupled with some heavier riffs to give it a slightly darker vibe to it, but it contrasts well with the uplifting lyrical spin.
For those seeking something more traditional from the act, their mellower side still retains much of the same landscape. Haben thrives on the ballad-y material, and cello/piano-led “I Won’t Surrender” is a touching and heartfelt reminder of her impressive vocal prowess. “Out of the Ashes” is a bit of a grower, but might be even stronger on the melodic side – with a great buildup and rousing chorus that seals the deal. Then there’s “Wounded Healer,” a duet with Amaranthe’s Elize Ryd, which tosses in some more electronics and chunky riffs but the genuine sweetness remains, and the Haben/Ryd combination is more than potent. Guitarist Chris Hermsdörfer gets to do some more singing on this one too, with the triumphant “Marching On” being the most notable example, and he is a great compliment to Haben’s voice.
For those open to hearing Beyond the Black come out of their symphonic metal shell a bit, Horizons is an absolute winner. The band has really embraced a sound that puts them into more of their own musical space, and they should reap the benefits from it moving forward. Jennifer Haben shines, truly proving herself as one of metal’s vocal elite, and finally having a stable and talented group of musicians that aren’t afraid to push some boundaries means there should be even bigger and better things to come. But for now, Horizons is an addictive piece of metal-meets-pop bliss.