Mmmmm… Susperia. A band that brings to mind the good old days. I remember walking to organic chemistry and Calculus II while listening to 2002’s Vindication. I remember the cold stroll to physical chemistry and the research lab with 2004’s Unlimited. Neither record was groundbreaking (for those that have never heard them), nor were they for everyone. And, while they were departures from the band’s thrashy black metal debut, Predominance, these two records are what most people think of when they think Susperia. From here, the band kept things simple, upping the dosage of melody in Cut from Stone and Attitude. And that’s when I stopped listening. For those fans that still long for the original assaults of drummer Tjodalv (ex-Dimmu Borgir and Old Man’s Child) and guitarist Cyrus (ex-Sarke, ICS Vortex, and Old Man’s Child). Well, it’s safe to say that The Lyricist is the closest the band has come to the sound first set by Tjodalv, et al. in 2001. This time, though, it’s without longtime vocalist Athera. After seventeen years with a single voice, how will this new record—and this new era—fare?
Well, while I like Athera’s voice, Bernt Fjellestad’s (Guardian’s of Time) is fucking huge. For one, his vocal diversity on The Lyricist goes beyond what Athera could ever achieve with Susperia—especially when The Lyricist is compared to records like Cut from Stone and Attitude. On this new record, we get a mix of blackened rasps, deathy Amon Amarth growls, Hypocrisy-like screams, and full-chested Susperian cleans. We also get songwriting that isn’t wholly focused on catchy choruses and groovy riffs. Hell, there are even moments akin to Dimmu Borgir/Old Man’s Child riffage and drum work (which should please most Tjodalv fans). All that said, because this record is such a departure from what the band’s been doing for the last fourteen years, it’s taken some time to get into. Which means The Lyricist is a grower.
“Heretic,” in particular, caught my ear once I noticed the clever lyrics—something I don’t say much when referring to the Godsmack-like vocal simplicity of an album like Unlimited. The other thing is this song is savage—much like “Feed the Fire” and closer “Come Alive.” Each of these three songs rasps, gargles, and spits venom straight down your ear holes. All the while, the guitars of “Heretic” slither sinisterly, the licks and blastbeats of “Feed the Fire” whip and whirl, and the riffs and kicks of “Come Alive” will break your neck. The latter two grow throughout but “Come Alive” sends the album out with a bang. Not to mention it’s also one of the heaviest songs the band has ever put to tape and its conclusion is a headbanging beauty.
That said, the album is not without its melodic ditties. The kind that fans have come to expect from the band. This time, though, The Lyricist is less “radio-friendly” than some of the band’s previous material. The title track has a mix of Amon Amarth-like growls and swooning clean chorus that would (and wouldn’t) feel right at home on any Susperia record. “My Darkest Moment” also has the classic power of a Susperia chorus but its dark nature and bloodthirsty screams mix Dimmu with Hypocrisy. But, of the three, “Whore of Man” is the best. It’s also the fullest, ballsiest, and grooviest piece on the album—using a Woods of Ypres-like emotion-filled chorus to get the point across.
For those used to the gruffness of Athera, this album will take a few spins to absorb. While Fjellestad does a fine job of incorporating those Atera-like moments into the record, his voice isn’t the same. But he has some impressive pipes. The most impressive part of Fjellestad’s voice can only be realized while checking out Guardians of Time. When comparing his power-metal cleans of Guardians of Time with his barks, rasps, spats, and screams of Susperia, it’s almost hard to believe it’s the same person behind the mic.
In the end, The Lyricist is a refreshing change for the band. Not all will agree, but Susperia fell into a rut after Cut from Stone. And this was the change they needed. With a new singer, with this much depth and diversity, the band appears to have found new inspiration. Not to mention a return to the sound of Predominance. While there are some dull moments on “I Entered,” “Day I Died,” and “Void,” The Lyricist is a strong outing from the band. And I’m excited for what they have in store for us next.