A level of skepticism is in order when dealing with Power Metal hybrids given the mixed track record of late, but when it comes to this album it would be best to just throw caution to the wind and let its Epic Doom and Symphonic additives work their magic on you. Whether it’s something in the water, or just the will of Mt. Olympus, Greece has put forward some astonishingly good Doom projects in the past couple years, and HEATHENDOM has instantaneously become a personal favorite of mine. With regards to a fair share of 2008 releases you’d likely be putting forth a concerted effort to find things to like, but in the case of “Nescience”, whose applicable definition would appear to be agnosticism, you’ll be hard pressed to find things not to like.
The contents on here definitely point towards a slight tilt in favor of Epic Doom Metal, achieving dark and haunting atmospheres very much in line with the SOLITUDE AETURNUS model. The Power Metal elements mostly come in the form of epic riff construction in the mold of MANILLA ROAD and VIRGIN STEELE, though some occasional commonalities between their elder Greek forefathers SARISSA also pop up. The average tempo of the album is just a little too fast for an all out Doom band, but definitely falls short of the common Speed Metal emulation common to the mainline Power Metal bands of Western Europe. The most intriguing part of the band is the vocal delivery, which establishes this oddly fitting blend of a Messiah Marcolin’s solemn and depressing baritone with King Diamond’s ghostly falsetto harmonies.
But in spite of all the interesting individual attributes brought together here, the sum proves to be much more than the parts, as everything from start to finish superimposes innovative songwriting with a perfect blend of atmosphere and riff work. At first listen, the twisted lullaby intro “Oranges & Lemons” sounds like a homage to the beginning of KING DIAMOND’s “At The Graves”, but with a denser orchestral texture rather than a couple of keyboard tracks. When the title track kicks in what ensues can only be described as a twisted musical nightmare of old-guard Speed Metal ala MERCYFUL FATE with a few extremely odd interludes. There is this one really spooky march section where Dimitris Koutsouvelis almost sounds like a child trying to sing away his fear of the dark.
From here on in, everything is consistently dark, yet ironically fun at the same time, taking on this adventurous quality that horror films of a mystical/supernatural persuasion often do. Well thought out and complex rhythm guitar ideas evolve within a tight arrangement of up tempo and down tempo sections as Dimitris exploits an extremely versatile vocal range and plethora of differing voice characters. On certain parts of “Burn” he actually throws in a few guttural death growls along side the falsetto wails and full voiced baritone parts. Meanwhile, on “Scenes Of Old” a sense of smoothness in the upper range is employed to add smoothness to the choral mix that provides the perfect contrast to the rapid paced, deep and dark guitar riffs playing against an extremely down paced harmonic rhythm.
Although the songs don’t quite venture into the extremely long durations that MANILLA ROAD has been dabbling with of late, the band has no problem keeping things interested when they break the 6 minute threshold that many European Power Metal acts only occasionally delve into. The best example of this prowess is on the last album track on here “Hell Within”, which again employs female vocals to complement the assortment of vocal characters already established. A wide variety of orchestral instruments from a Baroque harpsichord, harp, and a large string section are employed tastefully to establish this sort of half Neo-Romantic/half Expressionistic atmosphere between some fairly aggressive and fast riff sections. Dimitris’ vocals are probably the closest to an operatic character on here as well, and he carries it just as well as the rest of the voice styles he successfully pulls off earlier.
Of all the albums I’ve heard so far this year, in addition to being the best representation of Epic Doom Metal, this probably has the largest amount of crossover appeal of anything this year. If you go in the Gothic/Symphonic direction of THERION or the Power/Symphonic direction of DIONYSUS, this will definitely win you over to the principle genre that this represents. Doom Metal has been one of those genres that I hadn’t had much experience in besides BLACK SABBATH until recently, and this has been one of those crossover albums that helped win me over. This is definitely a band to keep a close watch on, as there is no telling where these guys could go next given the amazing precedent that they’ve set here.
(Online September 15, 2008)