Speed metal is something of an oddity in the vast expanse of metal subgenres. Where most styles have endured through the decades, speed metal was more of a stepping stone to the birth of thrash than anything else, its caffeinated take on heavy metal giving way to something crunchier and more easily classifiable. Perhaps this was for the best, as I can’t think of a single instance where speed metal ever matched the best that either trad or thrash metal has to offer. This hasn’t stopped what I’ve decided to dub the Sneaky Scandinavian Speed Metal Revival, however. Norway’s Black Viper blew me away with a wildly entertaining debut LP last year, and now Finland’s Chevalier is up to bat with a debut of their own. Destiny Calls; let’s hear how Chevalier answers.
Right out the gate, it’s immediately apparent that Chevalier‘s greatest asset lies in how they operate as a cohesive yet manic force. The sudden lurches in tempo and the loosey-goosey open-palm tremolo runs, in the hands of a less confident act, would reek of amateurishness. In Chevalier‘s care, these tactics result in an often frantic and exhilarating sound, performed so deliberately close to the edge of utter chaos that I’m all but certain that Destiny Calls was recorded in a live format. This isn’t to say that anyone in the band’s ranks is anything less than immensely skilled, as the record is stuffed with technical moments which make it a livewire display of talent. These musicians’ ability to stay totally in sync, despite constant, minor tempo fluctuations and consistently demanding material, is something that must be experienced to be fully understood and appreciated.
It’s important that the sheer kinetic force that defines most of this record be paced so as not be overwhelming, and thankfully, Chevalier excels at dynamic songwriting. Though Destiny Calls begins with a careening adrenaline rush in “The Immurement,” its best cuts, namely “The Curse of the Dead Star” and “In the Grip of Night,” balance speed with more traditional, galloping NWoBHM elements, and even abbreviated doom passages. The doom sections are not at all surprising when considering the record’s atmosphere. The expected tales of battles and sorcery are paired with tracks centered around tales of cruel imprisonment at the hands of religious zealots, as well as apocalyptic prophecies and Lovecraftian themes of madness. Vocalist Emma relays these events with a range as impressive as that of the songwriting. From low sung cleans to scathing snarls and banshee shrieks, she sounds as though she’s having the time of her life with the material, making her an excellent match for Chevalier’s unpredictable nature.
There are only two tracks here that I hesitate to call great, with the straightforward drive of “Stormbringer” and the Manilla Road-esque proto-power metal of “A Warrior’s Lament” coming up a bit underwhelming for Destiny Call’s otherwise eclectic aesthetic. Any other complaints are mere nitpicks; each track has at least a handful of riffs that sound a bit stock-standard for the genre, and the two brief interludes feel extraneous, but there are no major blemishes. The production is pretty fantastic aside from some minor mixing flubs, with the somewhat diminished guitars being offset by the excellent bass presence and the punchy, natural drum tones. Of course, the fact that the toms are engineered to be a thunderous, ominous presence isn’t exactly “natural,” but it results in amazing moments of drama whenever they make an appearance.
Perhaps it’s too early to dub the Sneaky Scandinavian Speed Metal Revival as a true revival of any sort, as I’m merely going off of two very impressive records coincidentally released in close proximity to each other. Even if Destiny Calls isn’t a sign of a new throwback musical movement, it’s such a fucking cool album that it stands on its own merits, regardless of who inspired them or who may follow in their footsteps. It’s exceedingly rare to hear a band exude such a strong personality in their first full-length foray, and while Chevalier could probably coast on personality alone, their significant songwriting chops make them a band to watch closely for the foreseeable future. Invest in a neck brace, buy this record, and prepare for a total aural whiplashing.