Gallows End - Nemesis divine 4/5
1. Nemesis divine (Trial of the gods)
2. Soul collector
3. Kingdom of the damned
4. No return
5. The curse
6. Set the world in flames
7. Not your own
8. Different eyes
9. The end
10. The unborn flag
11. Storm of fate
12. Riders of the north
Back when melodic metal was finally at the beginning of its big upswing on continental Europe around the turn of the century, Sweden was one of the go-to places for some quality power metal. Sadly that isn’t exactly the case these days, with less new bands in the style coming through and some of the older ones either losing their way or losing the plot altogether amidst stylistic changes and the staleness that inevitably comes from an overpopulated field.
Gallows End are a throwback to those heady days of the late-90s and early-2000s, and their debut ‘Nemesis divine’ is a bustling example of speed/power metal that burns with an energy and enthusiasm that many feel has been lacking from certain established bands in the genre over the last few years.
Their 3-song promo from a couple of years back – when the band was still a one-man project – whetted my appetite and I felt bold enough to make the predication that if the CD wasn’t one of the best of this year then I would be left sorely disappointed. Thankfully they haven’t let me or anyone else down and while ‘Nemesis divine’ probably won’t cap my year-end list, it already has a place in the top 10 locked down.
All 3 songs from the promo are here in re-recorded form, keeping the company of 9 new tracks to make for a generous 59 minutes of metal that tellingly doesn’t become a chore to work through. Though there are deviations that keep the overall tempo ebbing and flowing, Gamma Ray-derived intensity is the band’s main mission and the CD maintains a lively pace throughout.
The department they excel most in is arguable, but the bucketloads of guitar solos are a significant part of the charm, popping up all over the place rather than just being predictably sandwiched in before the last chorus. Indeed, the opening title track wastes no time in this regard, and after the narrative opening (guest vocalist Svante Skoog doing his best Thulsa Doom-era James Earl Jones impression) Thord Klarström lets rips with a guitar salvo that sets down a marker for what is to come.
Klarström is the founder of the project and also the lynchpin – aside from his excellent guitar playing (matched well by axe partner Peter Samuelsson) and presence at the microphone, he is something of an expert in the studio and serves as the producer here too. He has been called on to work on the mixing and mastering of a few CDs from his label mates on Farvahar Records, and brings a typically rich, full sound to ‘Nemesis divine’ that belies its humble origins, with a particularly aggressive guitar tone giving the songs an extra edge.
The frontman’s vocal style similarly adds a bit of grit to the songs – he doesn’t have the cleanest of tones, and don’t expect any glass-shattering high notes, but the passion in his voice is audible and he brings a certain inimitable power to the soaring choruses – “Not your own” and “Kingdom of the damned” having 2 of the best, with the latter being the pick of the entire CD in this sense.
Short, punchy songs are the meat of the CD, but there are a few surprises amongst all the galloping – midtempo anthem “Set the world in flames” is a real success, focusing more on inspirational melodies than speed for its charisma, and the keyboard assistance on “The curse” adds an extra dimension to the song not seen elsewhere on the CD.
It is the titanic closing track, “Riders of the north” that really steals the show though – clocking in at 10 minutes, it stands on it’s own after the more conventional arrangements of the preceding 11 songs, and also shows there is more to the band than just Klarström as (along with “The curse” and “Not your own”) the music was written entirely by Samuelsson.
Tied together by a recurring bass motif, there are several sections to the song – a typically fast and aggressive opening segment and a hammering midtempo march the most notable, it not only makes for a stunning end to the CD on its own but also closes a trio of songs that prove the old ‘save the best for last adage’ is often correct.
“The unborn flag” was my pick for the best of the 3 songs on the promo and is perhaps the best on this CD too, a extraordinary bit of power/speed mastery with some typically excellent riffs and lead playing, while “Storm of fate” rattles you immediately with a stunning solo duel, and after a brief respite kicks back into top gear to become probably the fastest song on the CD.
Admittedly, not all the songs meet the same high standard as those I have specifically picked out, but there are no bad tracks here – and when the best picks are of the level of quality Gallows End meet on this debut it is easy to forgive a couple that don’t quite keep pace. All said, ‘Nemesis divine’ is not only a terrific start from the Swedes but a reminder of just how powerful this style can be when approached with a freshness and enthusiasm that a lot of their contemporaries seem to have lost along the way.
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