Sumerlands - Sumerlands
Relapse Records
Heavy Metal
8 songs (32' 3")
Release year: 2016
Relapse Records
Reviewed by Andy
Surprise of the month

It's been a prolific year for Arthur Rizk. In addition to his other heavy metal project, Eternal Champion, whose debut we reviewed a few weeks ago, the band he plays guitar on, Sumerlands, released its debut this year too. Even though he's not the guitarist on The Armor of Ire, Sumerlands contains a lot of the same philosophy: Big messy riffs loaded with sonic feeling, combined with equally large, deep clean vocals with more than a hint of doom in them. Rizk's got a real sense of the epic, and the debut shows the extent to which this can go.

No wonder it's got such a doomy vibe to it. As a companion to the plodding riffs, jam-packed with old-timey overdrive distortion, Briton Rites' Phil Swanson provides the vocals -- but where his vocals on For Mircalla were sharp-edged, the production sticks a reverb on them that sounds like he's singing from the far end of a long hallway. There's a real 80s feel at times, such as when he switches to falsetto mode for a few lines on The Guardian, and it's the strongest performance I've ever heard out of him. He really sounds charged up, putting some powerful emotion into the lyrics. But even if he'd phoned it in, the album would have probably been saved by the riffs.

The riffing's deliberately contradictory. With the guitar's unfocused-sounding overdrive distortion, the first impression by the listener is that they belong on very slow songs, but Rizk and fellow guitarist John Powers' guitar work is suprisingly light on its feet, chugging quickly and smoothly through Spiral Infinite, a Priest-style headbanger, and Blind, a storm of rhythm guitar speed that reminds me of some of the tracks on Johnny Touch's last album. There were hints of this from the Eternal Champion project, but the flurry of speed-picking on heavily overdriven guitars is a central feature of Sumerlands. The result is a Berlin Wall of guitar that falls on the listener like a tree most of the time, but is capable of smoothly melodic riffs and soloing when least expected -- Haunted Forever is worth listening to just for the contrast of the sharp harmonics on the solos with the crunching rhythm riffs.

The Armor of Ire was endearing, a well-made throwback to swords-and-sorcery heavy metal. Sumerlands, though it contains similar DNA, is something else entirely: though it has a similarly retro influence, it has a much more progressive sound than its sibling, an album where old styles are being reexamined and taken in a new direction. The occasionally unconventional chords, and the unexpected instrumental at the end, gives the impression that Sumerlands is a bit of an experiment on the part of the band, if so, but it's an experiment with a great deal of success to it.

Bandcamp: https://sumerlands.bandcamp.com/releases.

Killing Songs :
Blind, Haunted Forever, Spiral Infinite
Andy quoted 84 / 100
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