MALLEUS – The Fires of Heaven (2023)REVIEW

Let the fuming channels of Hell sort out our charred. — The delusion of piety, the mental illness of hyperreligiosity in its recklessly seizuring godliness, is a plague which leaves dents and craters in the history of mankind. It is the prime dysfunction and storied source of exploitation which defines the cluelessly slow-crumbling state of western civilization. As the firmament trickles beneath the feet of human capital the death knell of an enslaved society will never include a moments reflection upon the follies of belief as victims increasingly succumb to unchecked power. Incensed by pointed reflection upon the history of religious corruption and the divisive mutilation of innocents by the self-appointed divine Boston, Massachusetts-based black/heavy metal quartet Malleus shine a black mirror upon the fields of burning sheep around them, horrifying the herd with their debut full-length album. ‘The Fires of Heaven‘ pulls us deep into the dark past of religious zealotry in the original colonies and right upon the pulse of the Puritans as they command the blazing traditions of first wave black metal and its speed metalpunk girded heft ’til the pyre resultant manifests a striding heavy metal epic eager to call for war.

Malleus formed sometime before 2016 between members/ex-members of lo-fi black metal project Akrasia, a former bassist from Morne, and a couple folks who’d played in hardcore punk group Dry Hump. They’d started out hitting a decidedly Hellhammer influenced note with their first mLP (‘Storm of Witchcraft‘, 2016) a substantial release that’d clocked in at longplayer length in serious tribute to 80’s black metal which does not by default approach from a classic speed metal angle. One of the more endearing traits to the riff driven but mid-paced aggression of that first release was their use of guitar noise, feedback and bent chords to lend some character to transitional moments or to color the “doomed speed metal” and hardcore punk riffs otherwise. When their current label (Armageddon Label) reissued that first mLP alongside the follow-up 7″ (‘Night Raids‘, 2018) back in early 2020 it definitely felt like that first record made the connection between collective extreme metalpunk ideals but the 7″ corrected course with greater capability, locking into a black/thrash metal attack closer to the spirit of early Bathory on one side and a more Venom-esque stomp and mid-80’s mosh riffing on Side B. It’d be the best indication of where ‘Fires of Heaven‘ would eventually go, though they’ve not exclusively stuck to 8-9 minute epics on this debut full-length.

Fires of Heaven‘ stands well above average in the realm of black/heavy metal for the sake of its relentless and (eventually) well-rounded approach to a classic form, a listening experience which considers the need for an exciting onboard, a menacing attack intending to depict the darkness of mankind, and a dramatic exit from the fray which leaves the ear in awe. Folks well in tune with extreme thrash metal a la early Merciless and the accelerated education that is ‘Blood Fire Death‘ should appreciate the source of thier evil speed metal ire per classic influences but also the violence of their actions, the percussive rapping of each chord which comes from a hardcore punk informed understanding of energetic displacement and the potential impact of a spirited thrash metal riff. That’d be the most important takeaway from my first couple of listens, taking in the fiery accost of Malleus‘ debut and appreciating the conviction with which they present their take on a decidedly ‘old school’ form of extreme metal. On further passes-thru we find a maniac thread split into two reasonably different halves but to start the brunt of it has caustic tunnel vision for the task at hand.

The first ~25 minutes (or, six songs) are nearly an album unto itself in terms of the band holding onto the momentum which “A Dark Sun Rises” establishes beyond the soured groans of the cellos which introduce the album (per “The Tempest”.) Punk driven swells of fidgeting commando riffs and simple chord progressions quickly signify a classic intent up front — There is a fine line between simplicity for the sake of impact and plain (or, generic) arrangements yet Malleus‘ guitarists typically land on the side of impact within some manner of memorable rhythmic phrase or technique. It isn’t enough to say they’ve got “riffs” so much as there is a purposeful direction signaled within each song that makes for an engaging listen. Granted this won’t read as a retread of what they had done on previous recordings since we get less of the screaming hot Hellhammer/Celtic Frost-isms from this record in general, maybe a hit of “Jewel Throne”-era chugging on standout piece “Beyond the Pale“. While they’re still thrashing at their gig just a few of songs into the record ‘The Fires of Heaven‘ strikes an uglier, scraping metalpunk jog with “Prophetess” as the pacing and feeling of “Beyond the Pale” is upheld but siphoned through a sort of ‘Beat the Bastards‘ sized kick. This’d always left me feeling like they’d pinched off their first barrage as it ended, a final blow before the album takes the first of a couple turns before its run is up.

“The Fires of Heaven” slows down and forces the listener to interface with the venomous layers which vocalist The Channeler presents, it’d been an impressive blood-dripping sort of rasping horror tone up ’til that point but here some additional room to snarl makes this title track feel like an important tonal milestone and a fine way to end Side A. There were a few riffs which I could’ve done without on the first half of the full listen but as we step into the slower, more Quorthonian side of the band in approach of Side B it’d felt like Malleus were a bit more at home within longer, more elaborately constructed black/thrash epics rather than faster, succinct burners which called for editing down to pure impact; I’ll eat my words for a moment as we land upon “Into the Flesh”, one of the more effective ancient hell-thrashers on the record, but I don’t think their knack for average sized stabs at classicist black/speed metal were always as thrilling as the longer pieces which accompany ’em.

With this in mind “Awakening” and “Mourning War” could be perceived as general reprisal of the band’s modus on ‘Night Raids‘ as the pair of ~8-9 minute songs showcase the maniac, noisome side and the “epic” sides of what Malleus do. We find “Awakening” reading as a corridor of hellish passage, an enduring introduction which doesn’t necessarily feed right into the grand finale of “Mourning War”. I’d found this lacking when concentrated on the moment-by-moment action of the full listen but a dissociative and atmospheric passage during more casual listens. “Mourning War” speaks a bit of ‘Blood Fire Death‘ in its stride but with keyboards which have a sort of early Greek black metal allure just as well. I’d particularly liked the riff change around ~6:40 minutes into the piece and I figure moments like that’ll play best on stage where the momentum of the song has built its striding, eerie furor.

All in all a full ride through ‘The Fires of Heaven‘ feels like a dynamic event, a feat which is at once dense with ideas but still able to pull back and fill the room with heinous, marching noise when called for. What it lacks in showy gimmickry leaves plenty of room for substantive guitar work and a strong study of classicist heavy metal modes which feed into the greater black/heavy metal zeitgeist rather than parasitize it. In this sense Malleus show their work and make a serious argument for their brand of relentless thrashing madness, work arisen from the crypts of the old ways as a point of admirable purpose. It’ll be an easy sell to folks who want an apex item from the greater black/thrash metal mode without the traditions of heavy metal and black metalpunk compromised. If these sub-genre nuances and traditions aren’t well studied on the part of the listener, it is still a ripping ride. I’d found myself immediately pulled in for several listens and left with an enduring impression of memorable enough songcraft and strong guitar work. Though I’d felt like the album needed one outright catchier big “riff” song to nail it (“Beyond the Pale” comes close) there were enough memorable moments that’d call for another spin, enough inspiration generated that I’d heartily recommend the experience to all walks. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:The Fires of Heaven
LABEL(S):Armageddon Label
RELEASE DATE:January 27th, 2023

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