First, a question: do you love King Diamond?1 If the answer is no, you’re dead to me. If the answer is yes, congratulations; my definitive opinion deems you worthy. If, however, you’ve always been enticed by the inherent fun of the King‘s horror-fiction but have never been able to click with Bendix’s unique vocals, or perhaps found the music a little lacking in extremity, then… you’re dead to me. But fear not, fallible one, a saviour crests on this wan-mooned abyss of night. Zornheym, a Stockholm based predator culled from the likes of Dark Funeral, Diabolical, and Facebreaker, have collectively extended their talents into a symphonic project whose oeuvre borrows from both black and death metal. A concept album of sorts, Where Hatred Dwells and Darkness Reigns turns its attention to a select group of malcontents inhabiting the fictional Zornheim Psychiatric Hospital, presided over by one Dr. Bettleheim. Each song offers a self-contained glimpse into the inmates’ unique symptoms: frissons of murder, demonic visitation and arson incarnate. Grandma would be proud.
In such experienced and capable hands, Where Hatred Dwells… is an unsurprisingly well-developed debut. Nine songs — six full and three instrumental interludes — sally forth with Dimmu Borgir-worthy melodrama, whilst brandishing a set of teeth not to be underestimated. Compounded with the use of a full orchestra and Zornheym’s Chorus Tenebris choir, each song marches through halls of pulp horror, engaged with lashings of melodic memorability. Even those amongst us with a more hardy constitution for such symphonic fare can agree that the genre’s main detraction is its willingness to offer style over substance — Zornheym buck the trend with intrusive hooks, destined to both maim and lure.
Case study number one, “The Opposed,” detailing a patient with a conflicting psychosis regarding his supposedly sentient facial deformity, wastes nary a second, deploying instantly gratifying riffs and a huge shout along chorus. Infectious palm mutes and ringing tremolos reinforced with the insistent string section promise to press every second into memory. As a narrative tool, frontman, Bendler, vacillates between a mid range growl and a more blackened rasp, to differentiate between the characters. The inclusion of occasional cleans further delineates the cast, such as on “Trifecta of Horrors” recounting Dr. Bettleheim’s sessions with a patient possessed of supernaturally dissociative identities. Lead guitarist and driving force, Zorn, injects a powerful sense of melody amongst the blast beats. His solos are consistently fluid and often synchronize with eastern motifs, as on the bridge of “A Silent God,” one of the record’s most potent.
I do not enjoy instrumental interludes, but, in this context, they are at least bearable. However, at just over a minute apiece, they could have been bolted onto the beginning of each of the songs they are designated to accentuate, instead of acting as a dramatic precursor adorned with their own track number. “Hestia,” the album’s scorching finale, ends with three minutes of ambient instrumentation — the strength of the song, fortunately, remains intact, making full use of the choir with another exemplary chorus and evocative riff work, but all of that excess could have been reforged into another macabre morsel; I wanted more and I should have had it. Fortunately, moments like “Whom the Night Brings” never fail to alleviate that minor gripe. Cradle of Filth inspired strings repeatedly pierce the melodrama amidst a muscular clean/growled vocal tandem and driving rhythms. At an attractive DR9, the album defies the usual compression, while the mix dutifully highlights the orchestra, balancing the vocals and guitars nicely. The bass isn’t so lucky and inevitably drowns in the bombast, but, considering the nature of the music, the orchestra provides enough depth to at least soften the blow.
Zornheym set out to illustrate how vital symphonic metal can be when done right, and in their endeavour, have at the very least debuted a template that much of the genre’s imitators would do well to acknowledge. Through every listen, I poured over the accompanying doctor’s note format reports that appraised each subject, and couldn’t help but grin at the obvious tribute to Dr. Eastmann and his cohorts. Although originality was never the aim here, Where Hatred Dwells and Darkness Reigns is overwhelmingly fun and establishes a fantastic example of great songwriting despite the occasional overindulgence. I highly recommend you invest some willingness into what is, simply, a damn good time. But don’t linger too long, Zornheim beckons for those of a compulsive disposition…