Not much more than three years ago my ears heard a sound that redefined any premise I had regarding the concept of intrigue. This rather thoughtful and progressive opus dubbed “Nescience” was brought forth by a new player in the Power Metal scene called HEATHENDOM hailing from the somewhat unlikely nation of Greece. This album was marked by a rather unusual blending of theatrical Doom Metal aesthetics, catchy melodic hooks, classically tinged symphonic additives, and an extremely charismatic vocalist who covered a number of differing styles and incarnations. While being somewhat stylized in spite of its uniqueness, playing off this dreamlike concept of ghostly choirs in the vain of KING DIAMOND intermingling with dark introspective themes, there came with it a promise of not being bound to one particular craft, and that is what has come to pass with “The Symbolist”, the second manifestation of a fold of ingenious sound sculptors.
This is a rather strong departure from the slowed down, creeping character of the debut, but it definitely retains enough of the former sound to still be recognizable. The tempo has been ratcheted up pretty strongly, the riffs have gone from a trudging drag to a mixture of flashy Thrash riffs and pummeling grooves, conjuring up imagery of recent day NEVERMORE and also some of the better offerings of the early 90s Thrash Metal scene. But most particularly noteworthy is that the vocal onslaught of Dimitris Koutsouvelis has expanded massively, incorporating deeper and darker characters reminiscent of Geoff Tate when in his occasional bellowing baritone, while maintaining the gut piercing Halford wails and child-like falsetto choirs. This is the sort of vocal character that Warrel Dane could probably pull off if he hadn’t shredded his vocal chords on cigarettes and overdoing the guttural noises for two decades.
As an album, this is the sort of intellectually driven, esoteric blending of social and philosophical themes that one might expect out of FATES WARNING or COMMUNIC, but articulated in an even more modernistic template that somehow manages to reach back almost as much as it does forward. The songs have a similar duality to them that both unites them all, yet keeps them quite distinct from each other, though at times all the differing elements can start to blend together to anyone who is expecting typical verses and choruses. Some keep the tendencies towards a symphonic expression that merges aspects of “This Godless Endeavor” with something out of latest Danny Elfman composition, particularly that of “Endistancement By The Null Position” and “The Symbolist”, and maybe even “Black Euphoria” though with less of an overt creepiness. “Alternate Sickness” and “My Obedience” differ a bit with a slightly more Thrash oriented and guitar emphasized sound, but more in the vain of a post-Groove character as opposed to the orthodoxy one might expect from, say, MEGADETH.
Part of me is a little disappointed that the doom aspects that made “Nescience” so strikingly original were not maintained through most of what is heard on here, save perhaps the slower paced and slightly SABBATH informed “Die Insane”. But given the continued brilliance coming from all at work on here, particularly that of Koutsouvelis, it’s not a significant downturn by any stretch of the imagination. This is the sort of album that gets it right on both ends, being catchy enough to taste good on the way down, yet also intricate and varied enough to make for a long period of reflection and digestion. There’s a lot here to take into account, as the new drummer heard on here is quite apt at mixing things up a bit, and the guitar work has developed into something that rivals the fancy riff work of Jeff Loomis, though the guitar solo work is much more tame and reserved by comparison. It’s unusual that I’m taken in wholly and completely by a modern revamping of Power Metal, but HEATHENDOM have done it yet again. If nothing else, this is a band to continue following, because with this big of a shift and still keeping things interesting, there are few limitations that can be placed on where this band could go next.
(Online April 10, 2011)