An alliance formed in 2007 immediately following the collapse of the underrated prefatory genius of Ceremonial Execution alongside members of underground doom metal kings Ocean Chief; Mjölby, Sweden horde Vanhelgd are no longer one of the country’s best kept secrets with the coming of their fifth full-length. Though they were an exploding crypt of Svenska-fied ‘Mental Funeral’ dynamic death/doom pacing from the start Vanhelgd have long broken the leash of expectation and typified fare. In hindsight their Hooded Menace-meets-Nihilist vision on ‘Cult of Lazarus’ (2008) is all the more clear upon revisiting those early days. Vanhelgd were onto something sharp, but easily overlooked. Upon discovering the band with the release of ‘Cult of Death’ (2011) it was clear their left hand path was professional but appeared merely iterative in the grand scheme of old school Swedish death metal. Maybe it was the slicker production or the glistening meat of a fresh guitar tone but I felt the band deserved greater media-boosted thronedom upon release of ‘Relics of Sulphur Salvation’ (2014). Having built upon an already great sound with increasingly compelling songwriting since that ‘breakthrough’, this new record finds Vanhelgd consistently landing upon above-average value. ‘Deimos Sanktuarium’ offers a truly dramatic reading of their already well-developed doomed death metal sound and an incredible entry point for the uninitiated masses.
The oozing, buried battery of Autopsy‘s ‘Retribution for the Dead’, the melodramatic coldness of Paradise Lost‘s first album (re-heated in Hooded Menace‘s toxic microwave), and the unhinged quality of early Slayer-birthed intensity of Necrophobic all still drip heavily like grotesque fungal muck from the cracks in Vanhelgd‘s tomb. The greater mind-flaying melodies that ripped through through the halls of ‘Temple of Phobos’ (2016) were revelation built upon revelation as each record leading up to that point capitalized upon the previous’ strengths. Few death metal bands evolve so naturally and while the jump from ‘Cult of Death’ to ‘Relics of Sulphur Salvation’ came as a small surprise every step forward since was felt logical as they arrived upon greater ownership of a distinct Vanhelgd sound.
Does ‘Deimos Sanktuarium’ take great stylistic leaps beyond the phenomenal ‘Temple of Phobos’? Yes and no. Their sound needed little polishing to impress again but some increased variety makes for a stunning, memorable release. What becomes evident in revisiting the band’s discography is that my suggestion of an ever ‘progressing’ vision with each iteration largely comes from elevated performative value. They’ve cranked up the melodramatic tension within compositions that take better advantage of increased fidelity; The previously mentioned ‘Mental Funeral’ fence-riding between death metal proper and death/doom has them landing just slightly more on doom’s haunted lawn.
While every track has its own interest to build, the duo of “Profaned is the Blood of the Covenant” and “The Ashes of Our Defeat” offer what is easily one of the most inspired and jaw-crushing feats of death/doom metal this year. “Profaned is the Blood of the Covenant” appears as a haunting incantation, a reading of purpose to invoke the minutes of a grand occult gathering; “The Ashes of Our Defeat” releases the tension built in the first half of the album in one great apocalyptic spell, unloading a gigantic doom riff that will have you wondering if you’d pressed play on ‘Never Cross the Dead’ by accident.
The listening experience gives the impression that Vanhelgd are taking only calculated ‘risks’ with their sound. These all generally pay off in terms of advancing their cause without straying below expectations. About half of the lyrics are still in Swedish and that’ll either add to the mystique of the message or, if you’re anything like me, implore you to drop them into a translation app for some extra meaning. The arc of the album might be better illuminated by a full lyric sheet but without this in hand my impression of the full listen is rough; ‘Deimos Sanktuarium’ initiates with a call to its cause and uses a heavier hammer of doom to slam down their spiritual defiance upon the listener in the second half. This pooling of heaviness in the middle enhances a great climbing high and a groaning Armageddon-fed release of tension. Vanhelgd smartly puts the greatest point of dramatic interest at the center of ‘Deimos Sanktuarium’; This helps repeated spins retain a true peak and renders any intention of a ‘casual’ listen nearly impossible.
‘Deimos Sanktuarium’ becomes all the more captivating with familiarity. There is a great push-and-pull felt when played in its intended order; As such, I have to recommend the full listen rather than sampled points of interest. Instead of pointing towards undeniable peaks of riff-craft or melody I’d rather suggest that vocal range experimentation coming from chants (“Har Finns Ingen Nad”), ‘spoken word’ (“Profaned is the Blood of the Covenant”) and even clean-shouts (“The Silent Observer”) lend a great deal of tonal variety to the listen that will eventually manifest as memorable peaks with familiarity grasped. The dual vocal approach adds to some of the chaos but also amplifies the focused insanity that has long driven the most memorable Vanhelgd moments thus far. This is a great point of growth and defining personality for the project as it has evolved.
For my own tastes ‘Deimos Sanktuarium’ serves as an equal companion and true compliment to ‘Temple of Phobos’ that arrives without any real pressure to surpass that predecessor in terms of guitar work or lasting impression. Where it earns a higher recommendation than previous comes with a boldness, a daunting heaviness that better capitalizes upon the aforementioned unhinged Autopsy-esque personality of the project thus far. There is a fanatic, ghastly spiritual darkness flinging from Vanhelgd‘s craft that is beyond captivating and I suspect the average death/doom metal attuned listener will find it more than capable of standing out in an already mind-blowing year for death metal.
Abiding great oaths of blasphemy. 4.25/5.0
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