Barbarian - Cult of the Empty Grave - (9/10)
Published on April 2, 2016
Eschewing modern sounds for the tried and true way of first wave, Barbarian burst forth with their third full length, Cult of the Empty Grave. It’s the band’s first release through Hells Headbangers Records, and it’s hard to imagine the band fitting quite so well with any other label. While Barbarian rages forth in a primitive hellstorm of speeding, thrashing riffs and chest thumping rhythms, the heart of the music is heavy metal plain and simple.
If one were to judge this album by the cover art alone, it would probably be a pretty fair guess as to what this sounds like. I mean, what should you expect when a fire-engulfed, blood drenched warrior is standing victorious a top a pile broken bodies and skeletons? Imagery aside, Cult of the Empty pummels viciously with its thrashy, oft-blackened speed metal mayhem, yet underneath the grizzled exterior lies the heart of old school, epic heavy metal. So basically, the album sounds like a grand amalgamation of the blackened first wave histrionics of Celtic Frost morphed with Running Wild’s Under Jolly Roger or early Grave Digger. It’s an extremely catchy, yet undeniably heavy and scorching affair.
Most of the songs are driven forth by rollicking double kick percussion, but the riffs take the spotlight. Sure, the vocals are pretty cool, focusing primarily on vicious snarls (and plenty Tom G. Warrior oughhs), but it’s Barbarian’s penchant for merging the heavy handed nature of early extreme metal with the powerfully epic nature of early ’80s heavy metal. The resulting music muscles through blackened forays and speedy, thrashing movements, yet everything is slathered with oil and dressed in loincloths as tinges of Manowar creep in.
It’s hard to fathom that a band was able to merge Celtic Frost and Running Wild, let alone do so in such an impressive manner. From start to finish, Cult of the Empty Grave is a freaking blast. Recalling the days when heavy metal was heavy metal and subgenres could go pound sand, Barbarian’s latest effort is an authentic blend of everything that makes heavy metal so fucking great. This is one of the times where you can judge an album by its cover; and it did not disappoint in the least bit.