Release: 1 May 2020
Label: Napalm Records
Æther Realm’s latest release is by far their most extensively differentiated. Since their debut took a while to grow on me, I was rather surprised of the immediacy of impact that Redneck Vikings From Hell had on a track by track basis. There is certainly an incredible range of materials on offer with this album. While sometimes it feels like a mash up of completely different ideas, the lyrics come from the heart. The ideas are novel, and the humor is hard not to love. But as to whether this album is for you, there is one simple test: Do you fancy the idea of a song entitled “Redneck Cowboys from Hell” on a Metal album, which combines blatant country influences with Death Metal? If that idea does not appeal this album won’t either. But for everyone else, the title track is indeed a country influenced song, and most other tracks also occupy completely different orbitals than are traditionally associated with Melodic Death Metal.
In addition to the country and western influences, the title track combines the Æther realm sound from previous albums with significant country and western influences and soaring Malmsteen-esque leads. While I am not the same musical elitist I was in high school, I feel like such an unorthodox idea should have rubbed me the wrong way. However the brilliance of the implementation and the fact that there is a real authentic charm to it makes it impossible to not love the song. It may just be due to living in Texas for a while now, but considering some of the lyrical territories Power Metal and the more abstract Doom bands have gone through, it might just be that this is purely a foray into a field of music that is close to the songwriters (something that will happen across the album).
“Goodbye” has a more mature sound than most Death Metal songs. But then again, saying it is a purely Death Metal or even melodeath track is a stretch. There are some elements of a ballad in addition to the nice banging pace and the extreme vocals, and there’s quite emotional lyrics, that feel a bit sappy for what I would expect from the genre, but as I mentioned it has many transcendent qualities.
The next track picks up with the sort of catchy sing-along choruses and uplifting riffs one would expect from Power Metal. “Lean into the Wind” continues the lyrical theme of deeply personal content and has a message of taking things as they come. The track isn’t as heavy as the other tracks and the piano is used extensively, I would say to more emotional effect than the guitars themselves (which are already soaring like a Malmsteen solo). While none of the songs thus far featured the traditional melodeath “formula” the more typical tracks follow going forward.
“Hunger” isn’t as much formulaic as fits the mood and atmosphere associated with the genre better (that is to say it is a flushed out version of the lyrical feel bands like Wintersun go for). It opens with pining melodies, and a healthy dose of melancholia present throughout the piece. There are some nice rhythms and this time the song is slightly more open to interpretation (but it is unnecessary to cover vocals more extensively here).
Both “Guardian” and “One Hollow Word” cover similar lyrical grounds and are alike enough that it feels unnecessary to explain both in great detail. They are reminiscent of the emotionally grounded lyrics of “Hunger”, alternate between calmer and harsher elements instrumentally and in terms of growls and clean vocals. While they aren’t as starkly differentiated as the preceding songs they still don’t seem to follow any sort of formula, and still manage to maintain a unique approach is refreshing. One problem with “One Hollow Word” is there are places where it just plods along.
“She’s Back” goes into much more morbid lyrical areas. The song follows a witch that massacres some villagers and cooks them in crockpots. You have your growls, the melodic choruses, all the elements that usually make songs you would expect of melodic death metal. The timing of the song feels well done, because its thrown in at the exact point where things might begin to become repetitive, offering something that’s high octane, and much grimmer than much of the other content on offer.
“Slave to the riff” keeps the aggression, but adds in more personal topics again by expounding on the issues with perfectionism. While this track is on the heavier end of the material on offer, there is definitely a biting air of melancholy.
The next song, “Cycle” seems to be about a different kind of depression, about the how disappointment and expectations can lead to a vicious cycle. Much of the music feels in the same vein as the previous track, however there is a markable contrast in how sorrowful each track comes across as.
“THMC” was released as a music video, and was my only prior exposure to the content that I would be reviewing. However, using only the content presented on the album, there is once again a shift towards even more aggression and speed. It’s one of those “united by metal songs” and given all the cathartic sorrows that have so far been presented to the listener, it probably will feel like the audience is that much closer to the band. Rather than describing the music in detail, I’d encourage readers to watch the music video. It’s probable that even if you hate the band the antics in the video will somehow be entertaining. But with regards to the music, it is essentially the musical climax of the album and sufficiently gives closure to all the stuff on the table.
The closing instrumental was well written, it may run on the long side for people who aren’t fans of purely acoustic tracks. However, it does feel like a purely stylistic complaint, and given how diverse and emotional the album was it is understandable that it would be done unplugged.
Overall, while I do acknowledge I would usually penalize an album that has such a range of influences and styles quite a few points on a consistency basis, it feels different this time. The tracks all fall into place, and there is a legitimizing passion and a sense of seasoned experience in the delivery, something which I feel contributes to the issue of the more “emo” lyrics of some starter Doom and Black Metal bands. So while I can clearly picture some purists being divided on this album there’s quality content on offer for those who wish to try something different.
- I. Redneck Vikings From Hell
- II. Goodbye
- III. Lean Into The Wind
- IV. Hunger
- V. Guardian
- VI. One Hollow Word
- VII. She’s Back
- VIII. Slave To The Riff
- IX. Cycle
- X. TMHC
- XI. Craft And The Creator