Heathen Rites – Heritage Review

Have you ever been the victim of a bait and switch? As a dull witted twenty-something wandering a street market in Hong Kong, I fell victim to the time honored tradition. A booth displaying scrolls adorned with decorative borders and elegant Chinese calligraphy caught my eye. I decided such a scroll would make a wonderful souvenir of my travels while looking badass in my dull-witted twenty-something apartment. The man at the booth said the display copies weren’t for sale, but he would make one custom, and I could come back later that day to collect my souvenir. I paid in advance. When I returned, a different guy at the booth handed me my “scroll,” which was actually a folded piece of paper so thin I could see through it. The Chinese characters on it were crude and blocky, and there was no border of any kind. I tried to point out the obvious difference between this and the display pieces, but alas, the language barrier suddenly became too great to navigate. I threw it away in my hotel. I’m reminded of this anecdote because Steel Druhm recently announced loudly to the writers that someone should review some sludgy doom record that was probably pretty good. I fell over my desk and several trash cans reaching for the promo. Turns out, I was duped.

First of all, Sweden’s Heathen Rites are not sludge. To be fair, they don’t claim to be in their PR blurb for debut Heritage. This misunderstanding rests on Steel, who apparently labels everything he doesn’t like “sludge.”1 This could be forgiven if he only spun first track “Eternal Sleep,” which does have hints of Crowbar mixed with classic doom, but the rest of the album is all over the map. Folk influences surface in “Gleipner” and “Kulning,” “The Sons of the North” is a stab at trve heavy metal, while other flavors from classic rock to emo seep into passages throughout Heritage. Doom acts as a foundation to keep things more or less unified, although the most consistent thing across each song is sole member Mikael Monks’ throwback heavy metal vocals.

Personally, I’d say the most egregious bait and switch happens between opener “Eternal Sleep” and the rest of the album. Coming into Heritage blind, “Eternal Sleep” sets expectations high. It’s a taught, sinewy song with effortless riffs that groove and menace in equal measure. The structure is relatively simple, but that works in its favor as it seems a distillation of everything you’d want in a doom song. By the time the impressive harmonized guitar solo erupts late in the track, you’ll likely be wearing a “that’s the shit right there” look on your face. “Midnight Sun” follows this doom gem with, um, emo. Ok, it’s still got doomy distortion and a slow tempo, but like emo, any grounded passages are passed over for a constant state of emotional crescendo. It reads as one extended chorus and is notably twee compared to the opener. It’s OK for what it is, but it’s a big shift. “Autumn” brings things back to a classic doom sound until the chorus, which is very 80s power ballad – think Scorpions rather than Candlemass – rounding out a three-song run that contains quality, but head-scratching decisions.

From there, the bottom really drops out of Heritage. The remaining songs barely rise above the level of sketches. “Gleipner” and “Here Comes the Night” especially seem composed of nothing but bridge and chorus. Each stretches a single idea across an entire song, with a decent acoustic folk intro in the former the only redeeming passage. Closer “Kulning,” while at least interesting, is a jolting left turn. A single female voice rings out in falsetto keening, reciting a song that feels onomatopoeic in purpose, with echo effects and bird sounds rounding out the eerie folk feeling. The most fleshed-out song on side B, trve metal “The Sons of the North,” unfortunately suffers from a flat-footed galloping riff and dull chorus.

It’s hard to tell what Heathen Rites, aka Michael Monks, is trying to be. If it’s the doom mastermind behind “Eternal Sleep”, I am absolutely here for it. Unfortunately, after an initial high, the rest of the album lets me down almost as much as my souvenir “scroll.” In hindsight, I suppose the most authentic Chinese souvenir I could have hoped for was the experience of a Westerner duped by a wily grifter. I don’t attribute such malicious intent to Monks, but Heritage could really have used more time in development.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Svart Records
Website: facebook.com/heathenrites
Releases Worldwide: August 27th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. I do. – Steel
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