Heaven Shall Burn have quietly been one of the best melodic death melodic death metal bands of the twenty-first century. Although the Germans have by no means gone unnoticed (as their major label occupation attests), their once-swelling profile has dipped somewhat over the last decade, due to some weaker offerings (namely, 2010’s Invictus and 2013’s Veto). The band have also arguably been overlooked due to being unfairly lumped with the metalcore scene, which is somewhat unfair, since the crossover elements of their sound perhaps speak more to metalcore’s co-option of melodic death metal tropes than any inherent -coreyness to their sound itself. The quintet’s ninth studio album, Of Truth and Sacrifice offers Heaven Shall Burn a chance to cement their legacy – coming, as it does, off the back of 2016’s glorious return-to-form record Wanderer, and in the form of an ambitious, conceptual double-album – which should have metal fans from across all genres taking notice.
Of Truth and Sacrifice‘s titular concepts are divided across its two halves, which together explore “the idea of truth and the question what kind of sacrifices you are willing to make for it”. There isn’t a narrative to the album per se. Rather, the record’s nineteen tracks are cemented by a consistent emotional core, with resistances to (unfortunately) everyday issues such as climate change, environmental degradation, animal oppression, corporate corruption, refugee crises and – of course – war itself recast as epic, heroic battles. The album is also, somewhat sonically divided, with Of Truth and Sacrifice‘s first disc being dominated by more European, melodic death metal textures, before its second brings in more metalcore/NWOAHM influences. The first disc is the more consistent of the two, being a perfectly serviceable melodic death metal offering in itself. However, it is the second disc which is the more varied and interesting of the two.
Although undeniably solid, the ten tracks of Of Truth and Sacrifice‘s first half are largely interchangeable. Only the orchestral “Expatriate” breaks the mold. The song, at first, provides a welcome reprieve. However, it quickly devolves into the German melodeath equivalent of sampling Charlie Chaplin‘s Great Dictator speech, and – at almost nine-minutes long – more than overstays its welcome. Moreover, that the lengthy interlude comes around halfway through the album’s first disc, rather than at its climax, signals to the listener that more of its excessive length has expired than actually has. That this is the only time that the record’s near-hour-and-a-half runtime reveals its excess is commendable. Even so, it might have been avoided entirely through more considered sequencing.
Likewsie, Of Truth and Sacrifice may have been better served had some of the more experimental moments from its second half been more evenly distributed across its runtime. Although the album’s second disc starts out in traditional melodic death metal fashion with the very In Flames-sounding “Children of a Lesser God”, it quickly deviates into more varied territories. “La Resistance” builds on the electronic elements Heaven Shall Burn first flirted with on “Combat” – blowing them out into the soundtrack to an apocalyptic rave. Although the band’s experiments with electronics have been few and far between, “La Resistance” again proves they’re a winning combination, and its a shame there aren’t more excursions into electronics littered throughout the album. “The Sorrows of Victory”, which features some deeper guest vocals courtesy of Caliban‘s Andreas Dörner, begins far more death metal than it does melodic and evolves over the course of its eight and a half minutes into some kind of gothy Blind Guardian and back again. It’s the kind of ambitious songwriting Of Sorrow and Sacrifice (and Heaven Shall Burn in general) could use more of and is, by far, one of the record’s most successful offerings.
From there out the metalcore/NWOAHM influence truly sets in. The rabid “Stateless” is followed by “Tripitz”, which culminating in an ominous melodic climax, and “Truther”, which concludes with a groovy beat-down/circle-pit section worth of Unearth. Heaven Shall Burn also continue their tradition of taking underappreciated metal classics and making them their own with a punchy cover of Nuclear Assalt‘s “Critical Mass” (featuring an unknown guest vocalist?), before bringing the album home in epic fashion with “Weakness Leaving My Heart” which, again, brings to mind Blind Guardian. While these and the second disc’s other more varied elements keep Of Truth and Sacrifice fro becoming stale in its later sections, the album as a whole may have been better served by showcasing more of its variety, rather than burying it in its second half.
There doesn’t seem to be a reason why Of Truth and Sacrifice had to be a double-album other than that Heaven Shall Burn had written too many songs for it not to be (which does, in fact, appear to be the case). As with most double albums, Of Truth and Sacrifice could have been cut down to a more concise, singular offering. Nevertheless, Heaven Shall Burn’s take on the double-disc form remains more effective than most, even if it doesn’t do much to warrant its extended runtime. Its first disc is sure to please more traditional melodic death metal fans, while its second hints toward more expansive sounds to be developed on subsequent outings. Heaven Shall Burn have been some of twenty-first century metal’s most impassioned combatants and, while they’re yet to win the war, the overwhelming success of Of Truth and Sacrifice can only be considered a victory.
Of Truth and Sacrifice is out March 20 through Century Media Records.