When you hear the term “Death Metal” what comes to mind? Crushing riffs? Profane lyrics? Guttural vocals? How about “melodic?” Believe it or not, Melodic Death Metal has existed since the legendary British band Carcass dropped their 1993 release “Heartwork” and has been occupying a unique corner of the extreme metal world ever since. Finnish metalliers Horizon Ignited are hoping to follow up their 2019 release “After the Storm” with their upcoming record “Towards the Dying Lands” but will it nail the delicate balance between melodic beauty and crushing death metal to create an album that will be adored by its niche, or will it become too confused and directionless to be remembered even beyond the month it is released in?
Right away, we’re welcomed into the album by a pleasant and strikingly melodious guitar riff that has more than a little Atmo-Black influence to it, before we’re quickly introduced to harsh and thick distorted riffs that are relatively restrained and simple, yet entirely captivating and sufficiently brutal to provide a nice sonic contrast. Combine this alternating structure with pleasant clean vocals that swap places with stormy and menacing harsh vocals and the initial effect of the track is one of intrigue and variety. Horizon Ignited have done well here in “Beyond Your Reach” to provide a good example of their general sound right off the bat – a taster as such to get the tastebuds (or eardrums as such) tingling and the listener well and truly primed for what comes next.
It is great then that the next track, “Servant” with it’s tempestuous opening, run along pre-choruses and accessible yet biting chorus is such a tight and well put together development of that sound, with the song being noticeably harsher but still in the same ballpark of intensity as the opener. This is how you start an album; you introduce the ideas in a neat little package and then go for a noticeable, yet not intimidating escalation of this style in the following song. It is perhaps ever so slightly regrettable that such an addictive track is only a meagre three minutes in length. However, it is ultimately better that a song is short but well accomplished than long and meandering or even worse – directionless.
One of the first things that really hits you listening to “Towards the Dying Lands” is just how nicely the extreme and melodic elements are tied together within the compositions, Horizon Ignited have clearly expended time and effort in ensuring that what they put together didn’t sound like death metal that was scared to be harsh, or general heavy metal trying to be edgy, but instead represented a resplendent symbiosis of the two styles, with each one complimenting the other in near perfect harmony to create detailed and tantalizing compositions with a distinct and memorable sonic core that is as every part welcomingly listenable as it is unique and challenging.
Carrying on the good run is track number three and one of the singles, the album title bearing “Towards the Dying Lands.” It’s easy to see why this is one of the songs the band decided to turn into a single as it’s perhaps a smidge more traditional in structure and is likely to have a slightly wider appeal than some of the other tracks on the album, with a more verse-chorus-verse style structure and a perhaps ever so slightly softer sound. This is not to the detriment of the composition though, it’s somewhat catchy, there’s some solid lyrics and it’s a sufficient change of pace from what came before it to allow it to stand out within the album. It’s not worse than the other songs, just somewhat different, it’ll be some folk’s favourite song on the album and for others like me it’ll probably just sit somewhere around the middle of the order, but when that order is so roundly good, that’s no grave shame. Ultimately, to get the listeners in from backgrounds outside of the genre itself, you must market cleverly, and you can’t begrudge Horizon Ignited one bit for doing so.
Track four, “End of the Line” starts with some strong blast beats with a tense sounding, slightly electro-tinged guitar playing over top. This is a song that takes it’s time to layer up, getting harsher and harsher and more and more epic, there’s a sense of underlying rage here, a feeling of a swirling malevolence that’s cracking through a stoic barrier and exploding out into an effervescent rage. The emotional balance of the song is perhaps slightly amiss, but not everything needs to be restrained and articulate, occasionally it is better for emotions to displayed forthright and with candour, but you’ve got to have a talented set of musicians to convey that in a way that doesn’t seem too overboard or cliché’d, thankfully, Horizon Ignited are every bit of those talented musicians.
Despite all the praise lavished upon the album so far in this review, I do have a slight qualm worth raising before diving into the second half of the album. As well as everything is mixed together, and as interesting as the genre hybrid is, I do sometimes feel myself wanting just a little extra edge, just a little more of a frantic sound, it feels too orderly, almost too clean cut and I do wish that more of the rawness of Death Metal had been retained to some degree. The album is still plenty harsh of course, and it’s still engaging, but ever so occasionally I do feel a yearning for a little bit of chaos.
“Guiding Light” brings us into the second half of the album with a subdued start, before erupting volcanically into a much harsher and more energetic sound. Of particular note here are the high- and low-pitched harsh vocals which are both executed excellently, why just have one style when you can have two! “Guiding Light” is a great little track, it’s dynamic, it’s imposing, it evolves in an intuitive way and it has enough intensity to keep interest levels up at the point where in lesser albums they would begin to fall a bit.
The mixed harsh vocal styles are once again used to great effect in the sixth song of the album, “Reveries.” There’s some really expressive and rich cleans here too that lend a more restrained and mature sound to proceedings than in other compositions on the album, these combine with a more subdued instrumental that occasionally takes on a slight eastern flair to create what is once again, a varied and impressive contribution to the album as a whole.
The centre of the album wouldn’t be complete without “Aching Wings” with its synth flairs and somewhat more pondering riffs giving rise to a track with absolutely no harsh vocals at all. There’s an awareness of just how good the cleans are generated by this particular effort, they’re so wonderfully rich and are absolutely pitch perfect, with a restrained smokiness to them that gives them the emotional impact of a much harsher style whilst also remaining excellently restrained and convincingly delivered. The result is an extremely palatable listen that serves as an excellent example of the breadth of compositional, instrumental and practical talent within the band – it may be an oddity within the album but it’s perhaps one of the best songs on it for sure.
It has to be said that this is the perfect album for music fans who are just branching over into extreme metal from softer, less harsh genres. There is a through and through intensity present throughout the album that is matched by a cunningly implemented core that is equal parts hard rock, metalcore and dare I even say it, Nu Metal. This isn’t to say the sound can be boiled down to its influences, far from it, Horizon Ignited have cultivated an extremely idiosyncratic sound that belongs to them alone, but by working from these accessible building blocks, “Towards the Dying Lands” looks set to be an album that brings the relatively uninitiated into the extreme metal circle much like bands such as Harakiri For the Sky and White Ward do on the black metal side of things.
As we approach the end of the album, the intensity ramps up again with the anguish laced and forlorn “Death Has Left Her Side.” A song of loss and contemplation that isn’t afraid to convey feelings of futility and exasperation as well, “Death Has Left Her Side” is an emotional focal point within the album that feels intelligently placed and well understood by its creators. It’s nothing revolutionary on the instrumental side barring a decent solo section and as a result feels more like it contributes thematically to that album rather than compositionally, but that’s a necessity for a well fleshed out album.
In contrast to this, “Fall Apart” is a high octane, hard charging, spine crushing, eardrum bursting festival of punchy percussion and tormented vocals that crashes over itself in waves of indignation and dares to drown the tranquil shores of melody that have been so carefully integrated so far. This is what the album desperately needed by this point, a song of outright brutality, one of reckless abandon and unyielding chaos, it’s over as soon as it begins really and yet its impact is so profound and strongly felt.
Lastly, but certainly not least, the wonderfully named “Eventide of Abysmal Guilt” is a conclusive affair, tying in all of the elements presented thus far into a neat package and allowing for a moment of reflection upon the auditory experience that led up to this point, it’s vast, it’s sweeping and it’s a crafty ending to a splendid album, worthy of everything that contributes to it.
Horizon Ignited have delivered a phenomenal album in “Towards the Dying Lands” that’s every part captivating as it is harmonious. It’s an album of perfect contrasts and dizzying highs that is worth a listen for newcomers and oldtimers.
Released By: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: July 1st, 2022
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
- Okka Solantera / Vocals
- Johannes Makinen / Guitar
- Villi Vottonen / Guitar
- Miska Ek / Keyboards
- Jukka Haarala / Bass
- Jiri Vanhatalo / Drums
“Towards the Dying Lands” Track List:
- Beyond Your Reach
- Towards the Dying Lands
- End of the Line
- Guiding Light
- Aching Wings
- Death Has Left Her Side
- Fall Apart
- Eventide of Abysmal Grief
An absolutely stellar effort from Horizon Ignited makes “Towards the Dying Lands” an absolutely must listen for anyone trying to get into harsher music or grizzled extreme metal veterans alike, even if there’s a slightly disappointing lack of chaos in the first half of the album