Too often I settle into the too-easy conclusion that it was perhaps ‘Master of Reality’ that sold me on heavy metal as a genre and a personal obsession but in no way did that vital discovery create a lifestyle so much as it provided a set of dauntless girders to build upon in every direction. True love for heavy metal came from the weirdos and the bands that I’d discover by accident while scouring record stores and the internet for auld and long-sealed beasts of yore. The first big discovery within traditional heavy metal was absolutely Manilla Road‘s ‘Crystal Logic’, which’d made my copy of ‘Somewhere in Time’ suddenly appear extra dorky and plastic. The moony battle-strut of Omen would follow soon after before I’d most memorably discover Brocas Helm‘s ‘Black Death’ while searching for Dream Death‘s debut. Somewhere in the midst of this circle of 80’s US heavy metal I fell deeply in love with the greater genre in earnest. Not for the kitsch or the odd ‘retro’ fetishization of heavy metal today but for the incurably memorable songwriting and personality driven sensibilities of a bolder era now long dead. Since I’ve never fully recovered from the sights and sounds of ‘homespun’ 1980’s US heavy metal on vinyl I am perhaps the exact right mark for a basement cranked epic heavy/speed metal band like Helsinki, Finland based Chevalier who deliver their finest work to date with the grimy ‘n acid-soaked speed metal of their debut ‘Destiny Calls’.
Much of the conversation surrounding this Finnish bands output since forming in 2016 between members of Steel Machine, Decaying and Demon’s Gate surrounds their use of very simple and raw recording techniques perhaps for the sake of intended authenticity. To be fair those gritty and raw sounds are a huge draw and as such much of the reviews I’d written for ‘A Call to Arms’ (2017) and ‘Chapitre II’ (2018) demos were spent fawning over the gristly boombox recordings and how much nicer they’d sounded when their current record label, Gates of Hell Records, remastered each for vinyl release. Not only were these lo-fi basement brewed releases exciting as dirtied relics but the guitar work and vocal performances quickly established Chevalier as a force of personality and solid riffcraft alike. The obvious comparisons were instant enough with hints of Acid, Hellion, and even Chastain reasonable enough reference points but the real revelation came with their professed love for the raw and energetic thrust of French heavy/speed metal a la ADX, Sortilège or if you’d ask me Titan. There was yet something I couldn’t put my finger on, a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that eventually registered in my mind as a heavy influence from US 80’s heavy metal and specifically the more free-wheeling classicist mania of Brocas Helm. This is where I was fully on board as the major selling point of ‘Destiny Calls’ as a piece of heavy metal revolved around not only this resemblance but on the distinct vocal presence of Emma Grönqvist.
With ‘Destiny Calls’ Chevalier have placed a meaningful stake in the ground making it clear that their cryptic production sound will continue as intended, to enhance the sonic personality of the music rather than solely resemble the old dead gods of underground heavy metal. Their songwriting however does pay respect to the greats in subtle tribute (see: “Road of Light” lyrics) or direct feature such as Kenny Powell (Omen) providing a solo on “In the Grip of the Night”. Though I’ve rubbed the stink of the 80’s all over my description of ‘Destiny Calls’ the truth is that there is an oddly leftover from 70’s vibe given to the record with plenty of inspired psychedelic transitions, effects, and spacious analog production. This is all aided massively by Grönqvist‘s distinct vocal style, which heavily resembles Grace Slick at least a bit more than it does Leather Leone (Chastain) or Ann Boleyn (Hellion). At the end of the day Chevalier is still a speed metal band but, one that is ‘epic’ and delivered with a wildly dramatic, tripped-out flair that is entirely unique.
The art of the heavy metal intro found within this release surely dates back to early Priest the way these Finns nail each and every bombastic opening; It begins to feel like Chevalier have a leg up in their understanding of 80’s heavy metal, and perhaps that’d be where ‘Destiny Calls’ feels like a work of tireless obsession rather than casual ‘letting off steam’ side-project, there is a dedication to getting it ‘right’ by going just overboard enough. Beyond the intro featuring keyboards from Annick Giroux (Cauchemar) “The Immurement” explodes as if Satan and Brocas Helm had hit the stage in unison circa 1984 and this moment sets a magical tone for the full listen whilst leading the charge towards catchy choruses and the sort of guitar solos worth crediting in the lyric sheet. Where the band earn the ‘epic speed metal’ description comes primarily from longer compositions which typically range between 6-8 minutes, a natural influence of epic heavy metal minus any real progressive rock intentions you might find in comparable groups.
There is never any sort of internal battle of Chevalier‘s sub-genre hybridization as the approach reads unpretentious thanks to a raw and oddly spacious production sound that is often soaked in analog effects. In fact many of the best tracks on ‘Destiny Calls’ stand out initially for the odd sounds and guitar tricks they’ve inserted. “Stormbringer” immediately stands out beyond the intro where a certain guitar effect denotes certain verses, a similar approach is used on “The Curse of the Dead Star” but with entirely different results and intention. Where the guitar work shines most are the faster, more intense riffs (second section of “Road to Light”, “In the Grip of Night”) that come to create an off-kilter speed metal album that still sounds fiercely traditional. The track list is remarkably balanced between the two sides though ‘Destiny Calls’ still feels like one ‘book’ with chapters that all relate beautifully into one grand epic. If I have come across one absolute and undeniable ‘grower’ this year it is absolutely this debut full-length from Chevalier. It isn’t that it was off-putting to begin with but, that there is such an adjustment to be made in approaching ‘Destiny Calls’ versus the many (self-similar) epic heavy metal records being released this year alone. It stands out beautifully and somehow stood taller for my tastes in the long run, hence why I’d taken a couple of extra weeks to consider its value. Very high recommendation. For preview I’d say “Introduction” b/w “The Immurement” is the only appropriate way to begin experiencing the album but if you want to hear Chevalier at their most ‘in the pocket’ moments the duo of “Stormbringer” and “In the Grip of the Night” will be undeniably effective.
Dream and reality entwined. 4.5/5.0
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