Heaven Shall Burn
Iconoclast Part 1: The Final Resistance
posted on 2/2008 By:
Some people say that because Heaven Shall Burn use musical devices like breakdowns and blast beats they are, by the definition of the genre, metalcore. Others say they are not metalcore at all, rather a combination of death metal and hardcore. It may not be “metal” of me, but I say a rose by any name smells just as sweet. Metal culture focuses too much on these genre tags. They exist only to generalize, and rob the reader of the most metal thing of all: the opportunity to, based on analysis of the music, choose for him or herself. That said, who gives a fuck what one-word descriptors people attach to Heaven Shall Burn? Their music speaks for itself.
HSB has built a solid catalog since their 1996 inception. Asunder was a decent debut (though hardly a standout) and their sophomore Whatever it May Take showed progression and promise, carrying a raw, underproduced feel that some value in and of itself. It wasn’t until Antigone that the band truly hit its stride with what I consider to be their best album. While it marked an incorporation of much more melody than their more abrasive albums, it did so in a way that, to this reviewer at least, showed they could do more than just hammer away. Some rank the bludgeoning 2006 followup, Deaf to Our Prayers alongside or even above Antigone, but I thought it lacked the focus a decade-old band should have. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but it still earned a spot in my HSB top two. Iconoclast (Part I: The Final Resistance) changes all that.
What kills me about HSB, and Iconoclast in particular, is that they’re utterly uncompromising. For one, they’re uncompromisingly heavy. They took Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound,” gave it two Viagra®, about a dozen shots of human growth hormone and finished it off with a poison oak suppository. That’s enough to make one hell of an angry beast, and an angry beast Iconoclast is. Secondly, the band are uncompromising in having serious social messages, and I respect that. With many metal groups practicing gore one-upsmanship or singing about dragons, it takes balls to scream about issues like consumerism and being vegan.
At last, we arrive at the music. Iconoclast combines the best parts of the more melodic Antigone with the heaviest and fastest parts of the ripping Deaf to Our Prayers. If you’re unfamiliar with the band’s sound, vocalist Marcus Bischoff uses a vocal effect unique to HSB (as far as I can tell) that layers his vocal track atop itself, giving the vocals an otherworldly intensity that sounds downright demonic. Occasionally, the band also layers Bischoff’s higher range screams with his lower death metal growls, to great effect. The instrumentation features a dual-guitar approach, with blurringly fast palm-muted lows backing melodious highs in sometimes-catchy, sometimes-badass riff showcase. After a “we mean business” classical intro, second track “Endzeit” slams the disc into gear with the rage of a thousand itchy ass-beasts. “Like A Thousand Suns” continues this energy, but a hiccup in the form of a brief Static-X dance beat appears in “Murderer of All Murderers.” It doesn’t ruin the song, but it doesn’t fit with the song or the album at all (don’t worry). A few tracks along, “Joel” stands out with its diversity – the song hits on thrash, doom and death, all with a middle-eastern-sounding hook. Every song here is above average HSB, with atmospheric orchestral tracks “Awoken” and “Equinox” adding a bit of gravity to the mix. The cover of Edge of Sanity’s “Black Tears” proves a good listen and sounds vaguely like Hypocrisy, while final track “Atonement” marks the band’s first attempt at a real instrumental (aside from intros, outros and interludes).
While some subtleties get lost in the cacophony, the production is sharp. Brief missteps here and there prevent a 6 in songwriting and the musicianship is out of this world. Heaven Shall Burn have put together the best album of their career with Iconoclast (Part I: The Final Resistance). If the title is any indication, we’re in store for another helping of HSB’s brand of extreme heavy metal, and I have no idea how it’s going to live up to this.
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