We all know December is the Great Dumpster Fire of Destiny for promos, and one does not simply sort through it without being stunned by the world-class dreck the labels unleash upon us poor, defenseless reviewers like so much coal in our stockings. Even in dead-end December though, you can sometimes trip over an industrial grade gem – the kind that will never shine like a pricey diamond, but may just win your affection anyway with its durable, utilitarian badassery. The Great Void of Mystery by Heavens Decay is one such stone of note. Formed by former members of Mexican death metal legends The Chasm and Shub Niggurath and relatively unknown American vocalist Nick Hernandez (Stone Magnum), the band tries to strike the perfect balance between NWoBHM titans like Iron Maiden and American metal acts like Jag Panzer, Cities and Helstar. In this they are quite successful and the result is a throwback platter of 80s style traditional metal with slight touches of the members’ more extreme roots. It’s definitely not going to set the record industry on fire, but it’s actually an inspired and feisty bruiser of an album sure to appeal to the nostalgic and the trve.
After an appropriately riffy intro, things get serious on “Born of Fire” and the winning combination of Julio Viterbo’s tough n’ rowdy riffing and Nick Hernandez’s raspy and raw singing style is milked for all it’s worth on a song that’s half Maiden and half Helstar. Hernandez reminds me of a mix of Blaze Bayley, Bruce Dickinson and Stephen Fredrick (ex-Firewind) and he really throws his weight into every word and verse. Nothing the band does is new or unorthodox, but with good writing and abundant conviction they put their 80s metal style over well. The same goes for muscular rockers like “Thunder of the Guns” with its mid-paced angry boil and especially “Ritual Site,” which is the most rudimentary of metal tunes but somehow it really grabs you and demands respect, attention and your lunch money. The dramatic Dickinson-esque wailing on the back-end is especially fist-in-the-air worthy and will touch the cold dead heart of anyone who grew up in the 80s.
“Witches Pray” funnels a darker sound into the classic metal formula, with traces of Seasons era Slayer creeping into the ominous riff-work, and “Reaper in Wait” is the most “trve metal” sounding cut, with more of a Manilla Road/Cirith Ungol influence hanging over the proceedings. Even the epic 8-plus minute closer “Endless Fire” works due to some slick writing and enough twists and turns to keep listeners on their toes.
All eight tracks are fun throwback tunes, but even at their very best they don’t quite rise to lofty standards of excellence. That said, the album has a righteously unpolished sound with heavy guitar tones that makes it feel way more in-your-face than most 80s retro bands. The mastering by none other than Dan Swanö probably had something to do with that.
For me the star of the show is Nick Hernandez. He has the kind of tough, whiskey-soaked rasp I love and he can really wail and belt when it’s called for. What I like best about his vocals are how rough around the edges they are. He isn’t going to be considered among the greats of the genre, but he’s delivery is 110% real and fookin metal. Julio Viterbo’s chunky, heavy riffing drive the album like a stern taskmaster and his knack for crafting golden age leads and harmonies cannot be overlooked. He also handles bass duties and if you loved his work with The Chasm you can still hear elements of his death metal days seeping into his playing.
This is a meat n’ taters kind of album and though it surprised me with how fun it is, at its heart it isn’t the kind of album people will lose their minds over. It won’t make my big list o’ lists, but considering when it’s dropping, this is like Lobster Newberg amongst the usual trash candy. Not quite essential, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Heavens Decay in the future. They may just be onto something here.