Some bands pin themselves as revolutionaries making statements with their music. Some meticulously craft albums of thought-provoking art. And some just like to have fun, seriousness be damned. Dethlehem belongs squarely in the third category.
Their concept is similar to bands like GWAR or A Band Of Orcs: every member is a different character, and the lyrics speak of their grand adventures together. The songs are broken up by jokey dialogues that explain the premise and expand on the album’s plot. And what a plot it is on their third album, Destroyers of the Realm– the evil entity Knightmare has stolen the cursed sword of band member Brutalitus, and the warriors of Dethlehem must kill him before he uses the sword to lay waste to their world.
Destroyers of the Realm pays its homage to the material it draws from in a flamboyant and irreverent manner- as a comedic fantasy metal album, it has the obligatory Tolkien references but also a few slightly more obscure jokes, such as name-dropping a tank from Warhammer 40,000 and parodying a character from The Princess Bride, which are refreshing to hear alongside the mainstay references to video games and Dungeons and Dragons. Dethlehem revels in their crude and shlocky humor, but never enough to become a shtick- thankfully, the three Interludes are presented as separate tracks from the songs on this album (and they are what contain the jokes), and although they aren’t worth listening to more than once or twice, they tie together the album’s content and flow in a distinctly humorous manner.
The references aren’t all in the dialogue between the album’s characters, though: the music draws heavily upon various power metal and melodic death metal influences and comes through as an amalgamation of both in a chug-heavy, chorus laden affair rife with swells and soaring guitar leads. The various influences of bands like Blind Guardian, Tyr, and Ensiferum are worn proudly on Dethlehem’s sleeves and the folky power metal riffing would feel totally in place in the discography of any of those bands. Interestingly, a way they stand out from the pack is their structuring: the songs lean in a decidedly more progressive direction than one would assume going into this album, and across Destroyers of the Realm this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the music moves at too quick a pace to grow stale- the flowing songs means that riffs don’t repeat nearly enough to get boring, and the music doesn’t ever get bogged down. The downside to this, however, is that in the longer songs, such as “Planetary Collapse” and “Shadow Remnants of the Guardian Shield”, many of the ideas presented don’t get their full due. Oftentimes, a great passage will be over all-too-soon and have its place taken by something mediocre. The effect of this progressive songwriting style is twofold: the songs are changing constantly, which keeps the listener involved in the high-speed affair, but too often does a fantastic riff or segment go underdeveloped. It’s disappointing to see some truly great ideas get surrounded by others that don’t live up to it, but no passage is so bad that one feels as though they are robbed of the music’s experience.
Riffage issues aside, the music always feels thematically appropriate. Not once does a guitar riff clash with the established fantasy nature, and the sparing use of symphonics adds just the right touch of epic to the band’s sound without becoming overdone or cheesy. The production serves its purpose- the guitars sound sharp and powerful and the drums punch crisply. It doesn’t stand out as a great mix, but it does what it is meant to do well and highlights the various instruments. A common complaint in this genre is that the bass doesn’t stand out enough, and that is certainly the case here, but it doesn’t hold the music back a large amount. The single truly out-of-place sound on the album only appears in a couple places: a chiptuned synth that feels incredibly dissonant against the chuggy power metal. It’s plain to see that they wish to pay homage to their various video game influences, series like The Legend of Zelda and The Elder Scrolls, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work within the context of the album. These chiptunes mark a serious cognitive dissonance in the influence of folk metal and video game soundtracks, and it’s fortuitous for the listener that it doesn’t appear more often.
All in all, if there was a single word that could be used in summation of this album’s existence, it would be “fun.” Destroyers of the Realm is a jaunt through a light-hearted fantasy world that strikes the right balance of epic quests, mighty heros, and crude jokes. In the face of this spirited, fast-paced romp, it’s easy to forget its shortcomings and headbang along to this thoroughly enjoyable album.
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Dethlehem- Destroyers of the Realm gets…