Heavenwood_The Tarot of the Bohemians Part IHeavenwood charted a strange course over their 20-year career. Coming out of the Portuguese metal scene at the same time as Moonspell, the two bands shared a love of dark gothic rock mixed with elements of black and death metal. Their Diva debut played like Wolfheart filtered through Crematory and The Cure and though less heavy than Moonspell, they were almost as interesting. Follow up Swallow saw them perfecting a rocking mixture of goth and metal, taking cues from The Cult and  Paradise Lost to arrive at a very enjoyable style. Then came a ten year hiatus and a radical shift of direction toward the kind of hybrid symphonic goth/black/death style as Septicflesh, Nightfall and to a lesser extent, Rotting Christ. 2011’s Abyss Masterpiece had truly excellent moments but lacked cohesion. Now 5 years later they return with The Tarot of the Bohemians Part I and yes, this is yet another of those multi-volume concept albums we love so much at AMG. It’s also their most ambitious offering by a wide margin, merging numerous genres and attempting to walk the line between bombast, heaviness and accessibility.

The concept is a simple one: each song tells the tale of a specific tarot card. Opener “The Juggler” sounds like a more radio-friendly Septicflesh, replete with choral chanting and chaotic symphonics alongside heavy riffing. Vocals veer from death rasps to clean, goth-style singing and they somehow manage to make it fit together while wedging in a memorable chorus. “The High Priestess” is even better, mixing doomy riffage with forlorn vocals and a great melancholic build toward an upbeat, almost triumphant chorus. It’s very effective and the inclusion of little details like trumpets and horns blaring in the background add an unusual flavor. The quality writing continues on “The Empress”‘ which takes the best elements of goth bands like Darkseed and End of Green to craft a simple but rocking tune with a catchy, emotive chorus you’ll like immediately.

From there they manage to keep things interesting with stylistic changes and the use of various symphonic bells and whistles. “The Pope” is like Gothic era Paradise Lost with more keyboard fetishism and emo cleans, and “The Lovers” is straight up ear-catching goth-rock. “The Chariot” starts off like a lost cut from Samael‘s Ceremony of Opposites before going full Crematory on your ass, and closer “The Hanged Man” makes smart use of female vocals to shake things up as the album winds down.

Heavenwood_2016

At an hour and change, Tarot is too long for it’s own good and though no song feels like filler or qualifies as a dud, not all can match the quality of the album’s first few cuts. With material as all over the map stylistically as this, less is usually more to help prevent the listener from being overwhelmed, and by the 10th track I was definitely whelmed. Sound-wise it’s acceptable but feels a bit too crowded when they really pile on the symphonics. A greater DR would likely have helped create some breathing room, but it isn’t a disruptive issue overall.

This is a dense album with lots going on and the band brought in a host of guest musicians and producers to help flesh(god) out their ginormous concepts. Guitarists Ricardo Dias and Vitor Carvalho do some impressive work leapfrogging across genres and styles, managing to craft quality goth, death and black metal riffs to fit the various songs as needed. They aren’t particularly flashy players but they know how to drive a song with a riff. Dias is also credited with the orchestral arrangements, which are omnipresent and generally well executed. They aren’t always as well anchored to the core of the music as with Shade Empire and Septicflesh, but they certainly work. Ernesto Guerra was required to pull off multiple vocal styles to make this all come together and he should be commended for his solid performance. His death roars are respectable and his singing is often quite emotional. Considering he’s a fairly limited vocalist, he really stretched his capabilities and helped put the material over the top.

The Tarot of the Bohemians Part I accomplishes what Abyss Masterpiece couldn’t quite achieve. It’s a big, diverse album with lots to absorb, but it’s oddly accessible at the same time. It may take a few spins to fully reveal all that’s going on, but it’s definitely worth the time and effort. It’s way more than I expected from Heavenwood at this stage of their career and it has me quite anxious to hear what Part II has in store (gee, maybe it will be a triple album!). Adventurous, weird and chaotic, and that’s what metal is supposed to be, right?


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Massacre Records
Websites: facebook.com/heavenwoodofficial
Releases Worldwide: July 22nd, 2016

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  • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

    A double album, a triple album, it don’t really matter to me as long as they’re released separately, preferably more than 6 months in between.

    This here song, it’s not doing anything for me. Not a good nor a bad.

  • Syn

    Ah, I quite like this one and it took me by surprise. I wasn’t even aware they were doing anything. I think 3.5 (Very Good) is the right score for it. I’m glad that they managed to keep it well balanced and still good, not going too gothicy (or too mellow, like some bands do) or too deathy (like some bands to avoid going the other way).

  • robpal

    Great album, gave it many spins already, loving the Moonspell/Paradise Lost influences which are clearly present but not all over the place. However, how come I’ve been listetning to this album in… March? How did you get the July 22 premiere?

    Edit: Ok, I see, this one is International via Massacre. It’s been around for months though!

    • Hmm, if I knew that I likely wouldn’t have reviewed it. We get some conflicting release dates.

      • robpal

        Yeah it’s been on bandcamp since February 22.

        • Damn.

          • Ivan Fernandes

            And I’ve paid for the vinyl in… December? Never got it…

      • Adjudant

        Really glad you did though, kind sir.

        The error of your way has enlightened my dark day
        And put a shadow of a smile upon my face
        Because; I must declare, I was not aware –
        – of Heavenwood, my shame, my disgrace!

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        Why do you guys prefer to have your reviews out prior to release dates?
        As a reader I don’t care if an albums been out for months prior to reading a review of it.

  • Bart the Repairman

    Catchy! When the chorus starts I think immediately of “Doesn’t Matter” by Tremonti.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    This might even end up being a quadruple album! How many cards are there in a Tarot deck?

    • OzanCan

      The esoteric and occult Tarot deck consists of two sets: Major Arcana & Minor Arcana
      Major Arcana set has 22 cards: 0-The Fool, 1-The Magician, 2-The High Priestess, 3-The Empress, 4-The Emperor, 5-The Hierophant, 6-The Lovers, 7-The Chariot, 8-Strength, 9-The Hermit, 10-Wheel of Fortune, 11-Justice, 12-The Hanged Man, 13-Death, 14-Temperance, 15-The Devil, 16-The Tower, 17-The Star, 18-The Moon, 19-The Sun, 20-Judgement, 21-The World
      Minor Arcana set has 56 cards divided by 4 elements which are represented by Wands (Fire), Pentacles (Earth), Cups (Water), Swords (Air).
      Each Minor Arcana starts with Ace (1) and goes up to King, so Ace (which is 1, of course) to 10 and then goes on like Knave (sometimes it is also called Page), Knight, Queen and King.
      So, I guess it could be more than a quadruple. Well, you never know…
      Sorry, for the long post; an amatuer tarot reader here :)

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        Excelent answer!

  • madhare

    Hmm… The embedded song is catchy but not always in a good way. Which is made worse by some cringeworthy lyrics. Listening to the album on Bandcamp shows that the other songs are even less interesting. So, meh.

    • [not a Dr]

      Cringeworthy lyrics, but they make slightly more sense if you take them as a tarot reading. Enough to spend money? That remains to be seen.

      • madhare

        But but but… tarot reading might itself be considered cringeworthy along other superstitions, religions, and similar snake oils.

        • [not a Dr]

          But but but, fairie tales and legends are still amusing and a song written to put you in the context can be appreciated as such. I personally don’t pursue the study of occult lore in the hope of transcending my human mortality, but I still like most of what Therion bother to publish.

          • madhare

            :D Fair enough. I have a very similar relationship with Therion. Their music is so good that I’m willing to overlook the mumbo-jumbo mystical lyrics completely.

  • RuySan

    I want an album based on a Magic The Gathering expansion. “Homelands” would be fine.

    Failing that, using Uno as basis for a concept album would be ok. The “Wild” card could be a great inspiration for a prog metal song.

    • LOL! Would the Uno Reverse card just be an Ozzy Osbourne song played backwards with a Satanic message?!

    • [not a Dr]

      Cards Against Humanity would also be a great source of inspiration, as well as an awesome album title. By using the cards, the lyrics would litterally write themselves.

      • RuySan

        I think Anal Cunt did it already

        • [not a Dr]

          Great minds think alike!

      • GardensTale

        “Dead Parents Are Batman’s Fetish” sounds like something Future of the Left could run with.

  • My god, I remember buying Diva when it first came out. The comparisons to Moonspell were spot on as I remember being into both bands around the same time. I loved the slightly goth style of metal with duelling female/male vocals like those from Theatre of Tragedy, Tristania, and Sins of Thy Beloved. It will be interesting to see how this new stuff sounds.