sumerlands_sumerlandsAs always, I’m dating myself with my taste in music, but so be it. Sumerlands is an unheralded act set to explode on the nostalgia-core scene with their self-titled release and let’s just say, I’m fully on board. Featuring Phil Swanson (Hour of 13, Briton Rites, et al) on vocals, Sumerlands plays exactly the kind of music I couldn’t get enough of in the late 80s/early 90s. It’s dark, brooding, traditional American metal with traces of prog and doom around the edges. The best way to describe them is early Queensrÿche mixed with the proggy quirks of Wicked Maraya, Syris and Lord Bane. Another obscure comparison, and the one the music keeps bringing me back to is the short-lived, wildly overlooked Cities. If asked to describe this debut in one word, I’d be forced to go with “classy,” for this is some seriously serious, elegant metal with both feet in a bygone decade. Some wags dubbed the style “sport coat metal” and I suppose that’s fair in the sense it’s very cerebral, introspective and heady stuff, but what matters is that the songs kick copious booty, and that they do, friends. That they do.

As soon as the opening strains of “Seventh Seal” greet your ears you’ll be transported back to the olden days via the style and vintage production which truly captures the sound of the era. It’s so precise it seems like an album from 88-89 I somehow overlooked and am only now discovering. The song itself is a humdinger for the style, with simple, propulsive riffing and the shockingly good vocals of Mr. Swanson carrying things to another level. The music is dark, deadly (and dated) and it really hits a nerve I thought had died years ago. There’s definitely a Queensrÿche influence but this is heavier and more commanding due to the low-register, ominous vocals. “The Guardian” keeps the quality high with another dim light rocker with a faint nod to Ozzy Osbourne‘s Bark at the Moon era. This element is even more present during “Timelash” where lead axe Arthur Rizk does an uncanny Jake E. Lee impression and runs all over the place with his melodic but forceful riffage.

“Blind” has that classic early Fates Warning gallop and punch and “Haunted Forever” is the darkest of the lot and one of the best, sounding like an emotionally broken Queensrÿche. The only false note is the awkward closer “Sumerlands,” which is a weird, ambient piece of synth-goth without vocals. It’s a strange way to finish off such a driving, aggressive platter and makes for an anticlimactic denouement. Other than that, it’s tough to find many flaws in the material itself.


The biggest victory here is the song writing. Every track (except the oddball closer) is an absolute winner full of mood, power and technical know-how. The faint traces of doom are the perfect compliment to the traditional style the band does so well and the proggy flourishes are equally well integrated. Better still, the whole thing runs just over 32 minute, so the whole “gosh, I wish this was longer” syndrome is firmly in place. I’m left hungry for more and could go for another 20 minutes of this stuff easy.

The vocals by Phil Swanson are an unexpected revelation. I’m very familiar with his work on Hour of 13 and Briton Rites but I’ve never heard him sound anything like he does here. At times he does his familiar Ozzy-like warble, but most of his lines are delivered in a powerful mid-range loaded with mucho maschismo and stylistically similar to Carl McCoy of Fields of Nephilim. He also reminds me a lot of Cities‘ Ron Angell and he even hits some of the same high-pitch wails on songs like “The Guardian.” His performance is nothing short of excellent throughout and gives the music an added depth and edge. I’m also wholly impressed by Arthur Rizk and battery mate John Powers. Rizk’s leads and solos are rock-solid and every song benefits from his classy, thoughtful fret-work. For a guy who spent most of his life producing rather than playing on metal albums, he has some major chops and a masterful ear for the olden ways.

Sport coat or no, Sumerlands is one of the biggest surprises of 2016 and guaranteed a prominent place on my end of the year list. The summer itself may be just about over, but thanks to Swanson and Sons, we’ll always have Sumerlands. I hope this is the start of a beautiful, old school friendship.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Relapse
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: September 16th, 2016

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  • El_Cuervo

    Nostalgia-core doesn’t do a lot for me now but this sounds excellent.

    • Thatguy

      Nostalgia-core! I don’t like it but I will pull my head in and go easy on the old man even if he is not as old as me.

      • Just pretend they have cellos involved.

        • Thatguy

          Ha! My nightmare.

          • Embrace your fears!

          • [not a Dr]

            That’s what Dr. Eastman would prescribe.

  • Norfair Legend

    Dude, sold me when he hit that high midway through the song. Almost reminded me of Sanctuary – Future Tense for about 3 seconds there.

  • The Nerd.

    Are we sure that isn’t Ozzy?

    • Daneel Olivaw

      my thoughts exactly..!!!!in some parts he is the same..

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Since I first listened to this I have been trying to pinpoint who else (in addition to Ozzy) Swanson’s voice reminds me of… it’s as if Ozzy had possessed a goth crooner.

      • beurbs

        Jaz Coleman?

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          Might be…

    • Oscar Albretsen

      Singer definitely sounds like Ozzy, but that’s no Randy Rhoads on guitar.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Be sure to click on that Cities link for a stream.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Nice companion album to the new High Spirits, it would be a good thing to spin one after the other.

  • Iwein Denayer

    Seriously. Who deleted my comment?
    If DFJ is in this band, hitting the drums, there’s no way it can’t be awesome. And now leave my post be.

  • Iwein Denayer

    DFJ!! Yeaaaaaaaaahhh!

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Arthur Risk counts both Goat Semen and Pissgrave among his production/recording credits… there’s a joke to be made in there.
    On the serious side, this sounds nothing like Pissgrave or Goat Semen. As long as that sentence can be taken seriously.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    They really keep things tight. So many other bands would just keep on noodling at the point in The Guardian when the band calls it quits.

  • Matt slatz

    Just call it “sludgedoomozzyretro80’score”

    • Matt slatz

      And I like it!!!

  • Frost15

    Wow, this is actually excellent! What’s with Relapse Records? Looks like they are pushing really hard to be the best label right now!

    • DrChocolate

      Totally accurate observation. Of the bigger metal labels (the Profound Lores and Iron Boneheads of the world aside), Relapse easily has the most consistent, quality roster. Nuclear Blast has too much cut rate vest metal and lady-fronted-Eurogloss. Earache doesn’t seem to know what they want to be anymore. I actually like Century Media a lot, but … Butcher Babies. You need more? Fine, I’ll say it – Deez Nuts. Metal Blade is not bad, but their line-up is a bit bloated and weighed down with to mch’has beers’ and ‘never we’re.’ Roadrunner is, well, Roadrunner now. Relapse is definitely not perfect, but top-to-bottom their bands stack up stronger against the competition. Every other label that has a Paradise Lost also seems to have a Rise of the Northstar. Relapse Records is the San Antonio Spurs of the big metal labels – not flashy, not the biggest stars, but your consistently amazed at how well they outplay everyone.

      • Frost15

        Exactly! My thoughts.

      • RuySan

        Early 90s – peaceville
        Mid to late 90s – century media
        00s – the end records
        10s – profound lore

        This for me is the hall of fame of metal labels, and while consistent, being mostly a doom and black metal fan, relapse were never there.

        And some one else, preferably some old guy, chose something for the 80s and 70s because I’m just 35 years old.

        • DrChocolate

          Exactly! (Although, because of my obsession with Type O, Sepultura, et al in High School I might have had to admit Roadrunner in there). I’ve always liked Relapse, partially due to their large number of sludge bands and hardcore influenced acts, but they’ve never been at the top of my list either. The End had a really odd streak of being on the bleeding edge of metal in their infancy and then exploding into a label that now has Badly Drawn Boy and Fatboy Slim. Weird.

          Oh, and in the ’80’s Megaforce Records was king.

  • jetblindracos

    Let’s see,Ozzy like vocals coupled with ki

    ck ass intelligent music. i’m in.

  • Wilhelm

    This is super good doomy classic metal

  • doom-erik

    Love Briton Rites and Hour of 13 – and Swansons singing, so this sounds very interesting!

  • GardensTale

    Okay, this sounds pretty awesome. I need to get my grubby fingers on this.

  • Oscar Albretsen

    Song’s okay, but they strike me as a band that I’d listen to a few times, and wouldn’t really find much uniqueness. Quite honestly, it got rather bland. An album you buy and ends up in the garage. Just one song, though, so I wanna hear more based on the review.

  • The Unicorn

    Hour of 13 kicks balls, sold me with that reference- embedded song around 1:50 gets the unicorn schlong, ‘schwing!

  • I wish I wouldn’t have looked at the band photo before listening to this. The large gentleman’s Savatage shirt immediately caught my eye, and now I hear Savatage in the embedded song. I wonder if I would have come to the same conclusion had I not seen his shirt.

    In either case, this is pretty cool, its like Sirens era ‘tage, but with Bark at the Moon era Ozzy singing.

    • I heard it in there too. I had it in my notes but ultimately went with other influences in my final review.