Heathendom - Nescience 3.5/5

Reviewed: 1-9-09


1. Oranges & lemons (intro)
2. Nescience
3. Burn
4. The doll house
5. Mirror of memories
6. Scenes of old
7. I bleed
8. A sick man's dreams - blissful hell
9. Hell within
10. War & pain (bonus track)

One of the more welcome developments in 2008 for devotees of pure unadulterated underground heavy metal was the emergence of Metal on Metal Records. The label was co-founded by renowned graphic artist Jowita Kaminska, whose striking cover art adorns and enhances many true metal CDs (e.g., Arctic Flame, Dantesco, Attacker, Metal Law, Paragon, Metal Inquisitor, etc.) of the last few years. I view Metal on Metal as something of a European counterpart to Sentinel Steel Records, to-wit: a label focused on delivering high-quality releases (from the music to the production to the cover art to the booklet layout and content) for the niche "true metal" audience. The Metal on Metal imprint has been a virtual guarantee of quality to this juncture of its admittedly young lifespan, and at least to this point all of its releases have justified "blind buy" status, given their emphasis on the "Keep It True" style and their unwavering diligence and quality control.

An early highlight of the Metal on Metal stable's opening salvo of releases is 'Nescience', the debut CD from Greece's Heathendom. Encapsulating Heathendom's sound in a few words is a daunting endeavor because the band creatively and astutely melds a number of disparate elements into a unique package. Some reviews have tagged Heathendom as a mix of King Diamond and Solitude Aeturnus, but that description only scratches the surface. The foundation of the band's sound is a kind of dark, riffy power metal that recalls acts like Sanctuary or Attacker. There are certainly leaden doomy passages (especially on songs like "Mirror of memories" or "I Bleed") that bring to mind Candlemass or Solitude Aeturnus, but it would be a vast oversimplification to classify Heathendom as a classic doom clone band. Added to this mix is a healthy dose of haunting atmosphere, from the Andy LaRocque-inspired guitar licks to the sometimes-theatrical vocals of Dimitris Koutsouvelis, a talented if schizophrenic singer who runs the gamut from early stratospheric Ray Alder to mournful, emotive Warrel Dane to demented, tormented and delusional King Diamond. Direct band comparisons for this kind of musical amalgamation are challenging, but perhaps the most accurate names to give you would be the Memento Mori/Memory Garden power/doom family of bands or, for a more obscure reference, Ravensthorn, whose 'Hauntings and possessions' release on Hellion Records in 2004 is an overlooked gem.

Clearly, then, what we have here is an interesting fusion of metal sounds, a refreshingly creative departure from the cookie-cutter pigeon-holing that characterizes so much of our music scene today. And it's executed well, too. The level of musicianship is high, the riffs are solid, and the production job is one of the finest I've ever heard on a Greek CD. All of that being said, however, I cannot join the ranks of metal journalists that have heaped breathless superlatives on 'Nescience' as some kind of torch-bearing release that represents the pinnacle of the genre in 2008. It's difficult to explain why I part company with my brethren here. The ingredients are excellent, the artistic vision is laudable, and the execution is highly competent. I guess that ultimately the problem is that too many of the songs, despite having enticing elements, never grab me but instead pass in something of an anonymous fog. A perfect example would be the epic 8 1/2 minute closer of the CD proper, "Hell within", an ambitious 6-part track that sounds killer at any given moment. But it's so scattered that it leaves the listener with nothing to latch onto when the song is over. Too often, it seems that Heathendom sacrifice monster riffage for haunting atmospherics, or forego awe-inspiring vocal melodies for creepy shape-shifting. Thus, while I enjoy 'Nescience' and think it's a fully worthy addition to the collections of rivetheads specializing in dark power metal and doom, maybe I'm just too traditional-minded to appreciate its full twisted brilliance. Don't let that deter you, though. Heathendom deserve to be heard, and can be justifiably proud of their fine work on 'Nescience'.




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