Sumerlands – Dreamkiller Review

Since being impressed into service at AMG Reviewing Emporium, LLC back in 2010, few albums came out of nowhere to blindside me like Sumerland’s 2016 debut. A classic metal project hailing from the city of brotherly shove, Sumerlands perfectly captured lightning in a bottle, channeling a bygone era of metal with a collection of no-nonsense barn burners full of atmosphere and hooks. Long-time cult doom impresario Phil Swanson stepped out of his comfort zone to deliver an impressive vocal performance and everything from Ozzy’s early solo career to doom and the power-prog craze of the late 80s and early 90s was referenced adroitly. What made the material stick so tightly to the ribs was the excellent, stripped-down writing and the band’s ability to deliver a lot by doing less. Nearly 6 years have passed since the debut and I still spin it regularly. Over the intervening years, I’ve come to suspect it’s the kind of release that would be nigh-impossible to top. I was dismayed to hear that Phil Swanson would not be appearing on the followup, having been replaced by Brendan Radigan (ex-Magic Circle), and I wondered how that would effect their sound. Now that Dreamkiller is in my clutches, I’m happy to report the band still has much to offer, and they even bring a few surprises with them. I’m sad to report that Dreamkiller while good, is not at the same level as the debut.

I was admittedly nervous to hear this promo but opening cut “Twilight Points the Way” immediately cooled my concerns. It sounds like a lost cut from the debut and Brendan Radigan’s delivery is similar enough to Phil’s to fit in nicely and provide familiarity. The song harnesses all the tricks that worked so well for the band in 2016 – the riffs could be off an early 80s Ozzy album and traces of Cities and Sanctuary still lurk in the writing. The title track is a killer full of aggressive, in-your-face energy and aside from the clunky keyboards, there’s not much to find fault with. The riffs are sharp as surgical steel and Mr. Radigan blows the doors off with a commanding performance. It sounds a whole lot like long forgotten 80s act Fifth Angel, and that’s a win for me. Another high point includes the uber-catchy “Force of a Storm” which is gloriously anthemic and also somewhat 80s radio rock-inflected, borrowing from Survivor as much as Ozzy or Dio. I can totally see this song working as the soundtrack to a jacked-up training montage in Rocky IV. This 80s rock edge also appears on “Night Ride” where a Krokus vibe is mixed with Journey/Survivor-isms, and while the cheese is piled much higher here, it still works to a good degree.

This new-fangled rock obsession also infects tracks like “Edge of the Knife” and “The Savior’s Lie” but with lesser returns on the retro investment. And this is where Dreamkiller starts to come off the rails. While there isn’t a song here I would call bad, “Heavens Above” is a pretty tame take on the Sumerlands sound. It has some core hooks but it’s too rock-based to excite like the older stuff did. To be blunt, there just aren’t a lot of moments here that feel as inspired as the older material. The highlights more or less recapture that magic, but they account for about 20% of the album. I don’t dislike what Sumerlands are doing here, but it’s not the kind of thing I go crazy for or need to seek out. At a very lean 35 minutes, it’s roughly 3 minutes longer than the debut, but after 6 years of potential writing time, expecting a bit more red meat seems reasonable. The short duration assures Dreamkiller flies by in a flash, but it also feels less substantial this time.

None of the issues I have with Dreamkiller can be laid at the feet of Mr. Radigan. He comes to play and brings a lot of passion and power to his delivery. He’s much higher pitched than Phil Swanson and some of the ominousness and darkness from the debut is lost in the transition, but the man can sing and does a fine job. The guitar work from Arthur Rizk and John Powers is still solid and at times excellent, but there are fewer face-melting leads here, and in some cases, they would be at odds with the material anyway. The debut was a smoke show of cool guitar efforts, and it feels like Dreamkiller is a sizeable retreat in quality and memorability.

Heightened expectations and a long time for them to fester can lead to unfair judgments, and I did my level best to avoid that here. In all honesty, I’m just not blown away by what Dreamkiller has to offer. It’s an entertaining and breezy spin with a few big moments, but it’s way less captivating than the debut. Definitely worth a spin, but heed the album title and manage expectations accordingly.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 160 kbps mp3
Label: Relapse
Websites: sumerlands.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/sumerlands
Releases Worldwide: September 16, 2022

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