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Album Review: Sumerlands – Sumerlands

Album Review: Sumerlands – Sumerlands

We all have that 80s hard rock/metal album that is just a riff fest all of the way through. Where the riffs are only broken by a stratospheric solo and a vocal performance that’s mostly unintelligible but where you mimic and hang off every nuance. Well, do I have a deal for you!

Introducing Sumerlands; who are a five piece, Philadelphia based band signed to Relapse Records. This eponymous album is eight tracks born in the seventies with the vocal performance of Phil Swanson but has the grove of a mid-eighties hard rock album without overdoing it with the synth line.

Let’s talk about the greats of this album. Numero uno(s) are the riffs, which are not quite Striker insane but hard rocking nonetheless. Hearing as many albums as I do I occasionally hear a riff and think, ‘ah yes, that’s whatever’. Here the riffs are all very fresh but you get the the feel that someone in the band loves the barely under control guitar of Jake E Lee and the mild mentalness of Blackmore. You can hear that influence and it’s very welcome. Second point are the solos. The albums we love and crave never shied away from blasting through a solo per song and this is no different. The great thing here is that you never get the impression that the song has been written around a solo. Its eight songs, each different from the others.

Couple of things that gave me a, ‘what the….’ moment. The first was the mix of the vocal which has that vibe of being recorded totally separate from the band and ‘behind’ them in the mix. Slight echo and a bit of reverb makes it sound like Phil is in a different room. Vocal performance is good but the mix is off putting at times. The only other moment is the final track which sounds like a four minute synth versus feedback performance which is more Boris than it is classic rock. Those slight distractions aside, let’s get to the goods.

We kick off with, ‘Seventh Seal’, which has a sort of Lee/Schenker intro and then straight to a solo. That’s how you open an album kids. Spaced out vocals about ‘judgement’ and ‘fate’, with the mix placing Phil a couple of blocks away from the rest of the band. Yes, ok, I’m being unfair , as in this first track the mix is spot on and matches the vibe. It’s an upbeat Brimstone Coven and the guitar arches use towards another simple riff that closes out the track. Track two, ‘The Guardian’, is a melody that is pretty close to the majesty that you’ll find on the Fair Warning album. This is a track that has a straight forward melody and a catchy lyric that, just as its dissolving, squeezes in another solo.

And it carries on. ‘Timelash’ and ‘Blind’ are both guitar driven melodies. Sumerlands have a thick, deep sound that suits this style of music perfectly. There’s a maturity on this recording that far outstrips the short time that the band has been recording together. ‘Haunted Forever’ has early Sabbath written all over it and we hear the first hint of synth breaking through a mechanical riff.

Then, strap yourselves in people, as it’s the best track on this album. ‘Spiral Infinite’, is the most upbeat song on the album and it’s a face melter, plain and simple. ‘Time, space, infinite whatever and sands of time’ screamed out in the lyric, plus a mind-bending solo. What more do you need? I’m sure I got a speeding ticket to this song. It’s a corker, pick of the bunch and worth the admission price of the album on its own.

The penultimate track is, ‘Lost My Mind’, which is fair enough given what’s just happened in the track before. It’s a mid-80s, top down in the car type of a song with a solo that probably has lots of pointing and staring off into the distance going on. It’s a solid end to the album, before we get to the synth / feedback track which seems like a cool down session.

Big thumbs up for Sumerlands, by Sumerlands. Apart from the final track which is called, what else but, ‘Sumerlands’, as it seems like a bit of an orphan. Other than that, it’s a well thought out, lovingly put together rock-fest. Personally I think that a recording of this sort screams out to be played in vinyl and I believe that the good people at Relapse Records have a nice coloured vinyl edition available. Anyway, seek out Sumerlands if you enjoy traditional heavy rock in the style of our old mates Red Fang. Enjoy.

Review: Craig Grant

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