It’s weird that heavy metal is known for being repetitive; it’s a master of classification I believe. When you narrow “heavy metal” down to the very specific style of it made from the mid-70’s to the mid-80’s, specifically centered around NWOBHM and the American response which it triggered, you certainly get a very repetitive group of bands, associated with a very narrow set of images. But if you broaden the canvas to include the emerging doom scene of the early 80’s, as well as some of the more interesting done with the genre in recent years, you get a genre that certainly shares a few attributes among its members (since that, after all, is what a genre is) but which also includes plenty of different approaches towards playing essentially fast, high pitched, and guitar heavy metal.
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Take a look at Lethean for example, a project based in Britain which are today releasing their debut full length release. It is made up of two parts: first, James Ashbey who plays drums and guitars. His influences are plain to see, worn on his sleeve throughout the whole album, ranging from NWOBHM greats like Iron Maiden to more proto-doom acts like Cirith Ungol but also calling back to the classic Wishone Ash in some of the guitar roles. As such, the riffs on The Waters of Death are fast and technical but there is plenty of melody and melancholic penchant to them. The gallop is utilized often for the drums but it is underscored by plenty of interesting fills and transitions, as the tracks buck and chafe against a more traditional structure and explore interesting directions (after all, most of the track on the album are long than seven minutes, with Devouring Fire clocking in at close to ten and a half).
The other half is one Thumri Paavana who’s in charge of vocals. Her voice is a wonderful and somewhat unexpected accompaniment to this type of music. In a sense, the blend reminds me of The Knells in that it features a more classically trained and sounding vocalist over progressive, guitar centered music. Comparisons won’t ever quite do Paavana justice though; her timbre is incredibly unique and beautiful. I think “In Darkness Veiled” might be the best track to start with, to get a taste of the unique relationship between the instruments and vocals here. They’re definitely not running in different tracks, but there’s a very hard to pin down relationship between them on this track and elsewhere on the album. Other time, like on the following “Across Grey Waters”, the roles are a bit more traditional, a more doom influenced arrangement working very well with Paavana’s powerful voice.
The album takes a little getting used to because of her unique approach to execution and composition on it but it’s well worth it. The end result is one of the more interesting heavy metal albums I’ve heard in a while, truly pushing the boundaries of what the genre can do. There are riffs, solos, and leads aplenty to satisfy the oldhead in you (check out the opening to “Time and The Gods” for all your lick-craving wants) but there’s also intriguing vocals and a fascinating progressive approach to composition. Play it a few times within a few days and I think you’ll be hooked; it’s really quite good.