Thrash-turned-black metallers Blackhelm have been building a name for themselves amid the Melbourne underground for some time. The band, who started off under the name Metalstorm, already have a series of impressive EPs to their name, but last Friday saw the release of their debut album, Dark Clouds of the Inferno, which not only delivered on the promise of their earlier releases, but also showed considerable prowess over previously unexplored progressive practices as well.

Dark Clouds of the Inferno starts off in fairly standard blackened thrash metal fashion; although it’s perhaps a more moody affair than longtime listeners might have expected. The record begins with a suitably apocalyptic build in “One Thousand Years”. Yet, rather than going straight for the jugular, Blackhelm choose instead to lean off the aggression somewhat with the moodier set piece “Banished and Powerless”, before launching into an all-out black thrash assault with “The Infinite Void”. From there, it might seem as if the band have settled into a more anticipated black metal groove, which doesn’t sound too dissimilar to a more oppressive rendition of their countrymen in Ruins‘ reigning black metal mode.

Those paying closer attention, however, might pick up on there being something more afoot, which will certainly become apparent on subsequent listens. Perhaps the first tip off that there’s something more lurking beneath the surface is the distinctive Opeth-style riffing on “The Infinite Void”, and you can even hear some of the Swedes’ tonality and song structures leaking over into “Of Serpent and Stone” and “Carving a Titan”. The Melbournians still maintain a fairly rigorous black thrash assault throughout the middle of the record, and perhaps even attempt to throw listeners off their scent by placing the album’s most aggressive and straight-forward track, “Embrace the Ravenous” – which concludes n a flurry of dive-bombs and double bass – right as things seem like they might be about to take a turn.

…Then come the last two tracks. Without wanting to spoil too much of what’s in store, I’ll just say that few first-time listeners would have likely guessed that Dark Clouds of the Inferno would end in a female-led satanic folk ballad and a ten-minute long prog metal epic …which I guess is spoiling it somewhat. However, if you’re interest wasn’t piqued already then hopefully that description is enough to convince you to give up a scant thirty-five minutes of your time in order to check out what is one of the most impressive and genuinely surprising debut albums of 2019.

[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=848362262 size=large bgcol=333333 linkcol=2ebd35 tracklist=false artwork=small]

Dark Clouds of the Inferno is available through the bandcamp link above. The Fully Loaded Nightmare EP (2013), from the band’s time as MetalStorm, is also well worth getting your hands on for anyone who’s a fan of thrash metal, although it’s a little bit harder to track down (it’s on Spotify though).