Blasted Heath – Vela Review

All is not well at the edge of the cosmos. Some of us look to the heavens and see a frontier, a blank page for all mankind to fill with the best of ourselves. Others, like the black thrash cosmonauts of Blasted Heath, can only widen their eyes in horror at the vast and indifferent expanse. This foursome may hail from Indianapolis, but their first transmission Vela sounds like a broadcast from a far corner of the galaxy. The message? No one is living long or prospering out here, the ship’s AI is starting to get cheeky, and we’ve lost contact with the colonists on LV-426. Let’s check our existential dread for just long enough to decode this signal; life itself may be a fleeting cosmic hiccup, but Steel demands tribute and we’ve still got a record review on the docket.

It takes a team of engineers to breach the atmosphere, so it’s fitting that space-themed metal is typically the domain of the technically inclined. Blasted Heath are here to challenge all that, planting a distant flag on behalf of the raw and the ragged. There are plenty of black metal flourishes along the way, but this expedition is fueled by punk-inflected RIFFS that recall Black Breath and give tracks like “Big Chill” and “Europa” energy and impact. Wobbly psych-guitar leads that sound like a malfunctioning emergency broadcast tone evoke fellow deep-space travelers Oranssi Pazuzu, while singer Kyle Shumaker’s harsh barks are drenched in echoey effects. Vela was recorded in “Kyle’s fuckin basement” in Indiana and then mastered in Sweden by Dan “The Fucking Man” Swanö himself. It’s an eclectic journey, a flawed but intriguing first effort that nearly burns up on re-entry before it just manages a safe landing.

Blasted Heath were tagged “black thrash” by the trio of sightless ghouls who toil in our promo sump, but it might be more accurate to label them “black/thrash.” The slash matters, since the black metal and thrash elements tend to be served up as separate courses of a cohesive meal rather than as two ingredients of one concoction.1 Primitive thrash takes the lead on certain numbers (opener “Big Chill,” “Ape”), with the band’s signature lo-fi take on cosmic black driving others. The platter works best when it’s balancing both elements of Blasted Heath‘s sound. Highlight “Neutron Star” manages this most effectively, while also introducing a melodic lead guitar that ignites under the song like a second-stage rocket. Closer “Strange Matter” is a synthesis of everything that works here. At seven minutes, it’s the longest track by a good margin–and it earns its run time by nimbly weaving thrash, black metal, and punk influences into a rousing, epic finale.


Vela
is the sound of a band finding its voice, fumbling about for long stretches before occasionally locking into something thrilling and wholly their own. Blasted Heath is trying stuff out here, and not all of it works. “The Wind In Vela” is an instrumental number punctuated by gentle trem-picked riffs and carried along by huge chunks of sampled dialogue. The composition aspires to the grandeur of Mare Cognitum, but the songwriting isn’t up to that act’s standards. The writing is an issue throughout Vela; the riffs are energetic, but wan in spots. If I were forced to summarize the band’s eclectic debut in a single sentence, I’d probably go with this: “Oranssi Pazuzu but with less developed chops.” There are far worse epitaphs! Notice I didn’t say: “Oranssi Pazuzu but shitty.” This is an ambitious record that falls a bit short of its lofty goals.

I yanked Blasted Heath clear of the promo sump because I thought the band’s name was a reference to the field where the Three Witches first appear in Macbeth. Shakespearean blackened thrash? Ferox is in! My own bio on this site contains the words “blasted heath,” and I even played the Scottish King on stage. There’s no iambic pentameter to be found on Vela, and nary a codpiece in sight. That may have left me disoriented by the initial jump to hyperspace, but once I got my bearings I enjoyed the ride. The band has returned from the void clutching a flawed but worthy debut. Sign me up for future missions.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 11 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: Wise Blood Records
Websites: blastedheathindy.bandcamp.com/releases | facebook.com/blastedheathindy
Releases Worldwide: August 12, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. We cannot manage this level of nuance while fighting sump suckers and tentacled terrors. – Steel
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