Vanhelgd – Temple of Phobos (Dark Descent)Monday, 27th June 2016
There comes a point for most bands when a specific album comes to define their sound and identity; that one album that all subsequent releases will be compared to and measured by. When Sweden’s Vanhelgd released their last album Relics of Sulphur Salvation, it was hailed by many as one of the strongest old school death metal releases in a long time and indeed seemed to be their defining moment. So how does the new Temple of Phobos hold up?
From the first notes of ”Lamentation of the Mortals” it appears to be the tried but true style the band honed to perfection on their previous release. The despairing growls of frontman Mattias Frisk is as chilling as ever and fits snugly in the production, which is less aggressive but no less heavy than on previous material. Listening further the album unfolds and shows the intricate changes that make it stand out from Relics… This is indeed no copy/paste situation. Rather, the band has taken a turn for the doomier, with a heavier production less focused on attack-laden guitars and more even in the overall sound.
The music seems to follow this logic as well – slower paced songs full of doom and despair but no less well written than before. This perhaps is Vanhelgd’s main virtue – the ability to actually write songs. Too many bands today seem to think that piling riffs on one another and throwing in the occasional punched-in technical tidbit makes for a song. It does not. Actual song-writing is an art that make bands rise from the mediocre masses and Vanhelgd has few peers on their pedestal.
The inclusion of a few songs in Swedish is also one of the band’s trademarks and they do them just as well, if not better, than their english counterparts. Album closer ”Allt Hopp är Förbi” (loosely translated to ”All Hope is Past”) is one such track. Weaving crushing riffs influenced by nordic folk music and overlaying them with those killer growls should make the hairs on your arms stand up whether you understand the language or not. And for those patient enough there’s a faster, more brutal version of the same track hidden a few minutes after the last note rings out. This time sung by guitarist Jimmy Johansson, who turns out to have a set of vocal chords almost as rotten as those of Frisk himself. Brutal.