Well I’ll be damned. It looks like your friendly neighborhood Steel Druhm swiped a King Diamond / Mercyful Fate worshiping band out from under the usually vigilant Doc Grier while he was sleeping with his back turned. U.K.’s The Heretic Order rock a kind of sloppy, sleazy mash-up of Kingly hits and meat n’ taters heavy metal, and they do so with the grace and subtlety of a gaggle of drunken bikers. As that humdinger of an album cover portends, these cats aren’t taking themselves super seriously1. They clearly worship the unholy ground Mercyful Fate and King Diamond trod upon, and though you can hear a ton of that influence in their music, they also drag in the carcass of Grave Digger to kick around, and there’s more than a little Powerwolf grade cheese product creeping around as well. With such a morbid collection of influences, can The Heretic Order deliver the ghouls or is this just a commercial black mass for the masses?
The graveyard shenanigans start off promisingly on the opening title track, with some quality riff-work that invokes the ghost of Mercyful Fate. That is until the vocals of one Lord Ragnar Wagner get disinterred. He’s an exuberant chap, but his collection of snarls and quasi-blackened croaks are more awkward than evil, and it’s quickly apparent these cats may want to emulate all things King but lack the charm necessary to pull off similar metallic sorcery. Ragnar’s low-tech gurgling, screaming and sneering get tiresome quickly, undermining some quality guitar-work and decent song ideas. The band shows their hand early, as the rest of the album is a lot more of the same. Songs like “Unholy War,” “Hate is Born” and especially “Visions” have a solid foundation musically, with impressive riffing and soloing from Count La Vey (Marcel Contreras Chalk) and Ragnar, but they’re undone by knuckleheaded slobbering. The term “less is more” was written for Ragnar, as the more he chimes in, the worse any given song gets.
As rough as he is when growling and cackling, Mr. Ragnar is even more unlistenable when he tries to sing, as he does on “Mortification of the Flesh” with unfortunate results. “Under the Cross of Pain” is like a melodic Cradle of Filth number that’s sorely in need of Dani’s vocals, and “The Mask” is as close as things get to convincing Mercyful Fate mimicry, but it still sounds like something that band would have left on the studio floor rather than releasing. Amusingly, it includes a very Iron Maiden-esque midsection that sounds like it belongs on Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (until Ragnar’s vocal raiding party crashes the beach once again anyway). The 9 minute epic “Scourge of God” is where the cheese food really hits the fan, with an Ozzy-era Black Sabbath motif rubbing uncomfortably against Powerwolf faux-evil symphonics and out of place cock rock tropes. Chaffing ensues and mistakes are made.
What makes Evil Rising so frustrating is the obvious talent of the members. The music itself is uniformly good and at times very good. Count La Vey and Ragnar are talented guitarists and they fill the album with ear-catching leads and solos. The bass-work of Rotted Skull (Stuart Cavilla) is also sharp, reminding at times of a more restrained Steve Harris. For every song ravaged by bad vocals, you can hear what could have been with even a moderately competent singer at the helm. Compounding the problem is the length of the album. At 54 minutes, this feels like an eternity trapped in a an elevator with a screeching baby. You want out before the first few stanzas are over, but you have a long way to go before those doors open. Oddly enough, if this was an instrumental album, I’d actually enjoy it. There are a lot of cool things going on, including an interesting mood. There’s real potential here but some hard decisions need to be made going forward as to who mans the mic if they want to reach that next level.
It’s clear now why this thing was left unguarded in the promo sump. It wasn’t an oversight, but a musical Claymore mine with a trip wire set at knuckle drag height. Nicely played Grier. I walked right into it and paid the awful price. Let the tragic fate of Steel be a cautionary tale for the rest of you. Don’t do what Steel did. Practice the 5 essentials of bad album dodging: Evade, Elude, Avoid, Avert, Ignore.