Long before the Swedish death metal scene was perpetually infused with the word “melodic” at every turn it was a scene that produced some of the most brutal and unrelenting death metal the world over. At some point though the musical pendulum started swinging back in the opposite direction, as it tends to do more often than people realize. What was once old is now new again and the current crop of Swedish bands filtering through the underbelly of that country’s death metal scene are more and more likely to claim Unleashed or early Entombed as a reference point than In Flames or Soilwork. One band taking the old school aesthetic and knocking it right out of the park with their own take on a classic sound is Vanhelgd.
Vanhelgd has been knocking around the European metal scene for a few years now, releasing two albums of blistering old school death metal in 2008’s Cult of Lazarus and 2011’s Church of Death. This past month saw the release of their newest opus, Relics of Sulphur Salvation, an album that not only continues but expands and enhances their take on Sweden’s deathly musical past. It’s often difficult for a band to take what they’ve already done with some modicum of success and improve on it by simply doing it better, or doing it more aggressively. The end result could be construed as formulaic for some if the output doesn’t match the intended goals. However this isn’t something Vanhelgd will ever have to worry about with this album because it’s not only their best effort to date it’s one of the best Swedish death metal albums of the last few years, which when looking at that country’s output over that time period makes this album even more impressive.
Vanhelgd start by building their sound on a foundation of guitars that successfully emanate the old “buzzsaw” sound without coming of as trite or gimmicky. But having a similar guitar tone as some of your favorite albums doesn’t automatically quantify some sort of success. You still have to have the chops to go along with it and this is where Vanhelgd really start to separate themselves from the pack. Whether it’s a blazing jaunt up and down the fret board or it’s a doom-like moment, like the ending riffage at the end of the track , “Sirens of Lampedusa”, Vanhelgd are able to dictate a certain mood based on each track. Want to get a circle pit going? Try the fist-smashing, galloping fury of “Cure Us From Life”. Looking for something darker and more sombre? Allow yourself to wade in the misery of, “Where All Flesh Is Soil”, a track that despite it’s blast beats still weighs as heavy on the listener like some sort of tangible sonic depression.
Is this the most inventive album you’ll hear this year? Probably not. But it doesn’t always take reinventing the wheel to make an album that deserves all the praise it’s going to get. Relics Of Sulphur Salvation is out now on 20 Buck Spin. You can taste test the entire album over at the 20 Buck Spin Bandcamp page.