posted on 8/2010 By:
Of all the forms of metal, traditional metal is the hardest to get right, because it is the most conventionally musical form of metal and is thus measured by more rigid standards than other more extreme sub-genres. Although trad-metal is not necessarily the most technically demanding metal form, with no maelstrom of blast beats and tremolo picking to hide behind, any of the band’s technical deficiencies are laid bare and cannot be explained away as an artistic decision. If the guitarist cannot solo his way out of a paper bag, it will be immediately apparent. Similarly, the vocalist must be able to actually sing and sing well; grunting, growling or screaming your way through a song is not an option. Add to this the inevitable comparisons to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden that every traditional metal band must endure and, on top of that, having your record reviewed by some asshole construction worker, and it is enough to make the average band throw in the towel and play thrash instead. Not so Sweden’s Gallows End, a band that flies the traditional metal flag high and proud with its debut album Nemesis Divine.
While Nemesis Divine is not a perfect record, Gallows End does get a lot of things right. To start with, the band has the eighties metal sound down. The band’s guitar tone has a tight low end and a snarling mid-range reminiscent of the classic Flying V through a Marshall combo that put the crunch in anthems like “Balls to the Wall” and “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” Furthermore, in frontman Thord Klarström, the band has a worthy guitar hero. Klarström’s leads are generally fluid and thematic, but he is not afraid to burn the neck when aggression is called for. Klarström’s vocal prowess is not quite equal to his fretwork, but he can definitely carry a tune and deliver the big choruses that the style demands. The rest of the band proves perfectly capable of supporting the frontman through Galllows End’s fairly straightforward heavy metal, and when the music veers into heavier or more technical territory, the band handles the transitions effortlessly.
Over the course of Nemesis Divine’s twelve tracks Gallows End covers a fair amount of musical territory, from near speed metal (“Storm of Fate”) to mid-tempo stompers ( "No Return") and Maiden-esque epics (Riders of the North). To the band's credit, there really is not an outright dud in the bunch. Between the band's energetic riffs, memorable choruses and Klaström’s inspired playing, each track has something to catch the listener’s ear. The band is strongest, however, on the compact up-tempo numbers like the title track, “Kingdom of the Damned” and “Soul Collector”. The band stumbles a bit on “The End”, a comparatively plodding track that is the closest thing the album has to a ballad. With the guitar pyrotechnics taking a backseat to the vocals, some of Klarström’s limitations are brought to light. “Not Your Own” performs more solidly, but the band goes to the well one too many times for the chorus, and the track ends up overstaying its welcome by a couple minutes. Speaking of overstaying its welcome: at over ten minutes, the Viking-themed “Riders of the North” verges on Manöwar levels of bombast, but Klarström’s heroic soloing pulls it back from the brink.
Gallows End can definitely play and write a good tune, but like so many other good traditional and power metal bands, the vocals hold the band back. Thord Klarström is a good singer, but unfortunately the standard for this style of music is set at god-like levels. Klarström has enthusiasm and charisma, but he lacks the power and confidence to bring his band into the big leagues. Furthermore, Klarström’s accent and clichéd lyrics provide another hurdle to prevent the listener from really connecting with the music.
Gallows End may be a ways off from selling out stadiums and chartering its own jet, but as a debut recording, Nemesis Divine is quite impressive. If the band can dig a little deeper for lyrical subject matter and get a little more oomph in the vocal department they should at least be able to land a respectable festival gig or two.
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