Back in the primordial days of this here blog, we attempted something called “AMG’s Unsigned Band Rodeo.” The basic idea was to select a bunch of unsigned bands and give them the collective review treatment to find the most worthy buried gems. It was our humble effort to remind folks that the metal underground is still an important part of the world of metal.
Circus Rodeo is back in town! After a lengthy absence due to…permitting issues, the unsigned bands will once again be herded, examined and culled. First in the gate is South African melodeath upstarts Beeldenstorm. Herkoms is their debut full-length, which is sung entirely in Afrikaans. You can find out more about them on their Bandcamp and Facebook pages. Now, let us do this Rodeo we do so well.
Steel Druhm – Beeldenstorm approach melodeath from an angle that reminds me of good timey, folksy acts like Svartsot, as opposed to the more melancholy or battle-ready varieties. Their writing is often thrashy and energetic, but with a bouncy, upbeat buoyancy that often keeps it feeling more like Finntroll than Amon Amarth. Cuts like opener “Boerwors” and “De Vrees” sound frantic but also a bit silly and lighthearted, which reduces the overall heaviness noticeably, and the metalcore undertones don’t help much1. The guitar tone is also too light and clean, which leaves me wishing for more heft and muscle. There are some legitimately good moments here like “Siener,” which feels meaner and more thuggish than its peers. The riffs bite and the song makes me want to throw furniture off high buildings. If the rest of Herkoms was like this it would be a keeper. Sadly, a lot of the songs simply don’t click, feeling either overly generic or too jaunty, and cuts like “Oupoot” and “Heiden” just don’t stand up to repeat spins. The band has some talent and there are some good ideas scattered across Herkoms. They just need seasoning, focus, and maybe a heaviness overhaul. 2.0/5.0
Diabolus in Muzaka – I’m reminded of mid-late aughts deathcore by Beeldenstorm. Not because Herkoms is a deathcore record, but because the style of writing which animated that era of deathcore – marked by jarring changes done a dime, and the cramming as much stuff they like as they can into a song – animates Herkoms too. The main transitions present here are chugging modern metal groove riffs to post-Slaughter of the Soul Gothenburg melodeath and vice versa, but there’s something approaching speed metal (“Heiden,” “Siener”), Children of Bodom stylin’ (“Siener”), and even a surprisingly emotive Insomnium-adjacent sections (“Varings,” “Asielstad”). The upshot is that Herkoms sounds like a potpourri of crunchy modern metal tropes, which isn’t in itself bad. The downside is a lack of memorability and direction which pervades Herkoms. It’s not exactly an objectionable listen, but nothing manages to stand out without direct reference to something else. Apart from the clumsy and awkward “Oupoot” nothing is particularly hard on the ears, but nothing makes them excitedly perk up either. What I hear on Herkoms is a band with a lot of ideas and a drive to put them all into some busy, energetic songs at the expense of a musical identity. 2.0/5.0
Sentynel – One of the more frustrating things as a music reviewer is bands who demonstrate the ability to write good music, and then, with that box ticked, proceed to not do that for the rest of the album. Herkoms‘ third track, “Siener,” is a good aggressive melodeath song with energy and catchy layered melodic guitar riffs. On the other tracks, Beeldenstorm suffer from an overuse of simple, repetitive guitar grooves, and a lack of weight or impactful moments. It’s all competently performed, there are some decent riffs in places on the back half, and it’s never unpleasant to listen to. It’s just never anything particularly special. Herkoms also suffers significantly from the odd decision to front-load the two least interesting songs. Between them “Boerewors” and “Die Plaag” have almost nothing to recommend them, which stomps all over the album’s attempts to pick up momentum. Simply cutting them and starting from track three would have worked better. Writing more songs like “Siener” would have worked better still. 2.5/5.0
GardensTale – I’m not proud of the Dutch history of colonization, but damn if I don’t get a bit giddy anytime I hear Afrikaans. Turns out you can make some pretty sick melodeath with it too! Though I’d hesitate to call Beeldenstorm something that will take the world by storm, there’s a lot to enjoy on Herkoms. The style is somewhat reminiscent of Amon Amarth, but more along the lines of their older work, with a thrashy edge to boot. The band sounds excellent across the board: thick and gnarly riffs, slick leads and solid drumming. Mr. Olivier’s vocals are the star of the show though, belting some truly gnarly growls. Opener “Boerewors” is rock-solid, tumbling head over heel with remorseless energy, and “Varings” gets pretty epic as it unfurls, thanks to some tasteful keyboards. Production is uncharacteristically good for an unsigned band as well. There’s a lot of room for development yet; the growls are rad but their range is pretty limited, and the songwriting can certainly be tightened a few notches. But all in all, this is a very solid and promising debut. Kudos! 3.0/5.0
TheKenWord – Have you ever heard a melodic death metal album composed entirely in Afrikaans? No? Me neither, until Herkoms. Beeldenstorm, a quintet from the Western Cape of South Africa, offer an interesting amalgamation of At the Gates melodeath with an Omnium Gatherum chill and the aggro groove of Pantera. The first two tracks, “Boerwors” and “Die Plaag,” establish the band’s sound well with immensely catchy riffs, but the record doesn’t hit high gear until “Siener.” From there the band unleashes another swirling torrent of riffs stuffed with hooky triplets and swagger out the wazoo. Herkoms grows exponentially stronger with each listen, but weak spots grow ever more present as a side-effect. “Woltemade” is perhaps the biggest detractor, generic and fleeting. Additionally, some of the transitions between excellent riffs—and between excellent songs, for that matter—could use some fine-tuning to smooth out the record’s somewhat inconsistent momentum (“Die Vrees”). Nevertheless, Herkoms is a fine first strike from a new band. Plus, it’s NYP on Bandcamp, so what possible excuse is there for not grabbing a copy for yourselves? 3.0/5.0
Cherd of Doom – The few points of reference I have for South Africa are wildly random. It was in the news a lot when I was a teenager. Since then, not so much. On Netflix, I stumbled on Wild At Heart, a rather terrible British show set there. I somehow watched all seven seasons. My wife, the inimitable Ms. Muck, traveled there for an agricultural study and was surprised how like the American Midwest it was. Then I began writing here, where our promos are distributed by “The Terror from Sub-Sahara,” Madam X. Now I have South African death metal band Beeldenstorm‘s new album Herkoms, which is similarly tangential in its mix of genres. It’s advertised as melodeath, and it kind of is, though it isn’t the sadboi Insomnium-core I’m usually drawn to. The melo- elements here are no more dominant than the thrashy or folky components, all of which are welded to a standard death metal frame. I’m happy to say the odd amalgamation works more often than not. Herkoms‘ highlights come when one element or another is given more prominence, as with the relative thrash of “Siener” or the proper melodeath of “Varings.” The folk element is mostly found in the damn near peppy, see-saw vocal delivery, but this oom-pah energy is thankfully absent from the instrumentation. There is some filler here, but overall Beeldenstorm have put together a good death metal platter. 3.0
Twelve – I love melodeath for its variety. With a tag as versatile as “melodic” attached to the description, anything can be melodeath if it tries hard enough to sound just a little pleasant. I think that’s wonderful, so given the chance to sample Herkoms, the debut full-length from South Africa’s Beeldenstorm, I was thrilled at the chance to not really know what I was getting into. The answer wound up being simple: I was getting into lots of melodic riffing, worthy of the anger implied by the band name. Hilton Olivier’s rasps are varied and cold, portraying an impressive anger alongside Waldi van Hunks’ and Stephen Brink-Jones’ strong riffing. Unfortunately, I find I’m not able to fully immerse myself in Herkoms as much as this praise might suggest; it all sounds too similar to itself. There are some really cool ideas here – “Siener” features some phenomenal highs, for example – but I l feel that too much of the album is nearly indistinguishable from track to track. “Asielstad” stands out simply because it opens with an acoustic guitar – this is the only thing that sets it apart, and is the whole reason that it’s my favorite song here. 2.5/5.0