Today’s metal underground is more complex than ever. The Internet has opened up every time period and obscure scene for both exploration and exploitation, resulting in genres and subgenres spliced apart, hybridized, fused with non-metal elements, and shat out in an accelerating vortex of name-your-price Bandcamp zip files and ostensibly enthusiastic blog posts that seem to proclaim every half-assed side project as the best thing since Black Sabbath. It’s still a fun world to explore – but it’s also mind-fuckingly overwhelming at times. Enter Sweden’s Heavydeath, whose blunt moniker is both a fitting description of their sound and a crushing blow to the maddening complexity of metal today. Heavydeath was formed in 2013 by three former members of death metal act Runemagick to play self-described “no-frills” doom-death – “only one guitar, bass, drums and some vocals on top/inside of the riffs.” I can already hear the masses groan: ‘Uh, we’ve heard Winter before – what’s new here?’
Eternal Sleepwalker answers that question about 45 seconds into opener “Ascending,” when an ominous and steady snarebeat gives way to a simple, clunky Cathedral riff whose tone is plain 70s bliss. It’s thick, it’s resonating, and it’s got a great vintage buzz that sounds like they borrowed their equipment from Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. Concurrently, the humming, fuzzed-out bass possesses near-Electric Wizard heft and occasionally outshines the guitar both in mix and performance, rattling its own tune below haunting diminished chords in “Road to the Fire” and lapsing into creepy bluesy noodling in closer “Beyond the Riphean Mountains.” Sound-wise, only the drums don’t entirely enthrall. While crackling with old-school flair, they lack that Shape of Despair–style echoing snare that creates those vast enveloping soundscapes I love so much. Actually, I would have preferred a tad more spaciousness and depth overall – but to its credit, the mix is deftly engineered: full, rich, and impeccably balanced.
Production aside, Sleepwalker’s true success lies in its simple yet evocative riffs and palpably macabre atmosphere. See the eerie retro-horror-movie-soundtrack opening of “Road to the Fire,” or the shuddering tritonic riffs of “Eternal Sleepwalker” and “Heavy as Death,” or the morose reverberating basslines and haunting occult wails in “Bow Down” (“Bow down for meeeeee…”). Embellished by vocals consisting of both garbled death growls and woeful ritualistic moaning, these songs definitely live up to the frightfully promising artwork.
Slow tempos are aplenty, but they’re not ubiquitous: “Eat the Sun” bounces OSDM mid-tempo lurches between a handful of unsettling clean notes, aforementioned “Death” and “Sleepwalker” break into thunderous, headbang-worthy marches (with the accompanying buildup in “Sleepwalker” so dread-inducing, you’ll be checking over your shoulder for the bogeyman), while “Ascending” climaxes by wafting midnight-black chord progressions over a lively beat before settling into an accelerated version of its main clunky riff. Amidst the spookiness, that old cliché ‘this band does more with x notes than tech-death does with 1,000’ holds true – only here, ‘x’ is one. That’s right: the practically-instrumental “Beyond the Riphean Mountains” spends eight minutes building off a single, warbled note, whose steady repetitive rhythm mimics a reanimated corpse pounding the front door of the House by the Cemetery.
This simplicity mostly works – but not always. The biggest issue is that Sleepwalker is stripped just a little too bare for its own good. A few colorful, atmospheric leads (which are almost wholly absent) and a few less washy, go-nowhere chords (that bloat Sleepwalker’s already lengthy 52 minute runtime) would have added welcome variety. Additionally, a couple of intricate riffs would have heightened the overall memorability and given the listener a bit more to sink their teeth into with repeat plays.
Regardless, Sleepwalker is an enjoyable and refreshingly down-to-earth debut that, unlike longer-winded doom bands, rarely sacrifices composition for atmosphere. Heavydeath have leveraged their Runemagick experience to great effect, laying a strong foundation for their future and crafting a gimmick-free doom-death record that’s sure to excite fans of Winter and the classic works of the Peaceville three. Most importantly, Heavydeath sullenly hearken back to a time when heavy metal was at its most primal – and consequently, its most genuine. Bravo.