I love seeing bands progress beyond their infant stages, taking their influences and branching out into worlds unknown. Germany’s Heaven Shall Burn are not one of those bands you think of when you picture the word “progress.” They’ve taken their signature sound from 2004’s landmark Antigone, refined their attack, and proceeded to beat us over the head with variations of their trademark brand of metalcore/death metal/whatever it is the cool kids are calling them these days. Still, I love their formula of tight riffing, heavy-artillery double-bass-littered drums, and multi-layered vocals from the bowels of Hell. That said, this formula tends to get old after a while. So what are Heaven Shall Burn to do on their eighth album, Wanderer, their first without founding drummer Matthias Voigt?
The answer’s simple: up the intensity level, make the melodic moments shine brighter than the sun, and sacrifice none of the things that made Heaven Shall Burn the ferocious beast it is. The band channeled their inner Bolt Thrower because, with some exceptions, I haven’t heard the band sound this vicious since 2002’s brutal Whatever It May Take. Once second track “Bring The War Home” goes past the electronic-sounding drums about a few seconds in, new drummer Christian Bass wastes no time in proving he’s a worthy successor to Voigt’s throne. His blistering double-bass work and clever cymbal play blend well with the riffing of guitarists Maik Weichert and Alexander Dietz. And the vocals? Kudos to Markus Bischoff for still sounding like he possesses a raging flamethrower of a throat. This is classic Heaven Shall Burn, only meaner and more ferocious. A necessary progression and regression, all in one. Also, “Prey To God” pummels savagely, aided by George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher’s (Cannibal Corpse) vocals.
Despite the intensity increasing, there are also nods to the classic sound on the more melodic sections of Wanderer. “Passage Of The Crane” opens with a melody that brings back pleasant memories of Colony-era In Flames. Breakout track “Corium” also possesses that Gothenburg feel mid-way in, bookended by some rather savage riffing, and an opening melody that is just anthemic. Speaking of anthems, Heaven Shall Burn continue their trend of paying tribute to classic bands by covering classic songs and making them their own. Sodom‘s “Agent Orange” sounds venomous with Bischoff’s ear-piercing screams, topped off with a guitar solo by former Sodom guitarist Frank Blackfire. Closing out the album is a tasteful rendition of My Dying Bride‘s classic, “The Cry of Mankind,” featuring clean vocals by Sólstafir‘s Aðalbjörn Tryggvason.
There are a few issues with Wanderer, however. The back-end of Wanderer feels like the band was running out of steam. “Save Me” would be otherwise middling had it not been for Nick Hipa’s (Wovenwar, ex-As I Lay Dying) guitar solo. Plus, “The Loss of Fury” isn’t a good song to open up the album with, as it sounds docile compared to its immediate follow-up, “Bring The War Home.” Production-wise, the Tue Madsen mix is standard Heaven Shall Burn. Guitars are up-front and heavy, the drums are heavy and a bit distorted (especially the cymbals at times), but thankfully Eric Bischoff’s bass makes a few more appearances than it did on 2013’s Veto. Otherwise, dynamics don’t exist in this dojo, sensei. Also, they cut back on layering Markus’ vocals for the most part, as we don’t need gentle reminders how savage his voice is.
Heaven Shall Burn haven’t reinvented the wheel with Wanderer, nor are they going to change the minds of their detractors with this release. That said, they have brought back the much-missed intensity of their older days, and for that I am thankful. They accomplished this while sacrificing none of the anthemic melodies that make Heaven Shall Burn such a memorable, aggressive beast. Welcome back, gents, and may the rage continue.