October is here! In one all-too-short month, we receive Halloween, fall colors, pumpkin spice everything, and a veritable smorgasbord of quality metal releases. My first October release comes courtesy of Vanhelgd with their fifth LP, Deimos Sanktuarium. To get a good baseline for the band, I decided to take a stroll down Vanhelgd‘s back catalog. What I beheld was doom-laden but familiar Swedish death metal á la At the Gates. I am a fan of Swedeath, but Vanheldg‘s more established contemporaries haven’t won me over as of late. At the Gates failed to grab my attention with their latest entry and Eucharist—arguably Vanhelgd’s closest living relative—has released nothing notable since 1997’s Mirrorworld. Such lackluster releases bode well for Vanhelgd. With their main adversaries already dispatched, all that remains is for the band to breathe some life into a style that has been beaten to death for nigh on thirty years. The question here is whether or not that is what Deimos Sanktuarium has done.
Much like their previous outings, Vanhelgd crafted Deimos Sanktuarium to sound like it could have been the spiritual successor to Eucharist’s last album. That means gritty guitar tones, tremolo overlays, and pained roars of anguish. Vanhelgd supplies the occasional funereal passage and some ritualistic undertones for good measure. Crushing riffs fill in every square inch of Deimos Sanktuarium, with little consideration afforded to fluff. Also of note is that part of the material is delivered in Swedish, something Vanhelgd does on each album. I have no idea what the vocalists are saying when that happens, but I love hearing it nonetheless.
Vanhelgd has significantly upgraded the songwriting on Deimos Sanktuarium compared to their older material. My roommate classifies songs into three categories: “dingers” (bad to barely passable), “bops” (okay to good), and “bangers” (great to game-changing). Using this system, I have deduced with unequivocal accuracy that Vanhelgd’s last two offerings (Relics of Sulphur Salvation and Temple of Phobos) were comprised mainly of bops. Deimos Sanktuarium, on the other hand, is a banger-fest. Each cut contains at least one memorable moment: the lyrics on “Profaned Is the Blood of the Covenant;” the cleans that bleed out from the growls near the end of “The Silent Observer;” the opening riff of “A Plea for Divine Necromancy;” the tremolo overlays in “Så förgås världens härlighet.” The list goes on. As a bonus, those moments are gleefully retained by the brain, making revisits effortless.
The overall execution is also on point. The guitars sound fantastic and powerful, without taking the spotlight away from anything else. The vocals are scathing and desperate, highlighting the conviction with which this band penned their material. Having two members delivering the vocals enhances the experience because each vocalist has a distinct tone and character, creating an interplay that would otherwise not exist. Bass serves as the backbone of the affair, lending the atmosphere of the record some extra weight. And a special shout-out goes to Mathias Westman for a truly standout performance on the drums. Knowing just when to hit that perfectly tuned snare, when to snap the stick across that sick crash cymbal, when to insert bone-rattling fills (particularly on “Vi föddes i samma grav”) and when to remain completely silent is the epitome of percussive excellence. Westman possesses that excellence and utilizes his practiced limbs on every track.
Of course, there is always room for improvement. After all, Vanhelgd constructed this album out of the remnants of an exhausted genre so the originality factor could use some bolstering. We are all familiar with this sound, so an injection of something a little more rarified would push this album above and beyond. Furthermore, “The Ashes of Our Defeat” is a bit of a speed bump, and though it still earns a high-level bop on the song quality rating scale, it does not reside in the same echelon as the best song here (“Profaned Is the Blood of the Covenant”). Everything beyond that is just nitpicking.
So, to answer the question: does Vanhelgd lend at least a small breath of life to the Swedish death metal world? Yes. This is not a reinvention of the wheel, but rather an exhilarating execution of the Swedeath sound. Save for one minor inconsistency in songwriting quality and lack of originality, Deimos Sanktuarium serves as a reminder that practice makes perfect. It’s a substantial improvement on past releases from Vanhelgd, and I hope it represents a taste of what the band has in store for future records. And at seven greenbacks for a digital copy, the value argument is self-evident.
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: EU: Pulverised Records | US: Dark Descent Records
Websites: vanhelgd.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/vanhelgd
Releases Worldwide: October 12th, 2018