Like fans of any underground or niche music genre, metalheads are often very protective of the music that they love so much and, as such, there are always arguments to be had and defences to be made. Whether these altercations concern whether or not Deafheaven can be classified as a black metal band, or whether or not Deafheaven represent the commercialised bastardisation of metal, or whether or not Deafheaven are sell-outs for being endorsed by Ray-Ban, there are always ongoing flame wars within the metal community, most of which seem to revolve around Deafheaven. Of course, even before the release of the blackgaze band’s breakout album, Sunbather, in 2013, the dingiest corners of the Internet’s discussion forums would find metal fans attempting to define a specific style as to make the case for why a particular band should or should not be categorised under that genre. One such subgenre of metal to occasionally find itself under the magnifying glass is melodic death metal, which arguably represents somewhat of a grey area for these debates. With extreme metal enthusiasts, in particular, often being especially pedantic when it comes to classifying genres, melodeath can become an exceptionally contentious style, in that it incorporates “non-extreme” elements of the melody and harmony of traditional heavy metal or the new wave of British heavy metal into the “extreme” aesthetic of death metal. With all this being said, however, there have always been certain melodic death metal outfits whose ear for melody is so angular and biting that “extreme” is the only way to describe them. In the case of Wrath of Belial, a decade-old group who have been honing their sound on the Danish underground metal circuit up until the release of their debut album, Bloodstained Rebellion, the frenzied edge to their riffs and the general eccentricity of their multi-faceted songwriting style are extreme through and through. Although cut from the same cloth as fellow melodeath misfits, with The Black Dahlia Murder coming to mind as a definite influence on the group’s varied and innovative attitude towards composing, Wrath of Belial pull heavily from thrash metal as well, with their meandering song structures, labyrinthine riffage and knotty technical chops being reminiscent of the fluid and convoluted compositional approach of more progressive thrashers, such as Vektor or Voivod. Needless to say, on Bloodstained Rebellion, although firmly rooted in the groundwork laid by their influences, Wrath of Belial establish an attitude towards songwriting and riff-crafting that is impressively their own at times, whilst seldom letting up on the high-octane intensity pervasive through the band’s powerful performances and twisting technicalities across much of the tracklisting.
Undoubtedly, one of the best selling points of Bloodstained Rebellion is Wrath of Belial’s incredible dexterity when it comes to lacing these songs with numerous intertwining passages that progress with a fantastically pleasing amount of grace, making for a generally satisfying listening experience. Perhaps no better example of this comes in the form of the album’s opening track, Traitors, which is almost through-composed with the number of linear sections that are conjoined over the course of its four-minute runtime. The immediate outbreak of blast beats and frantic fretwork is instantly attention-grabbing, setting the stage for the impressively polished, tight and thrash-tinged riffage that ensues, whilst the guttural growls of vocalist Kasper Hornstrup pack all the death metal punch one could need. The soaring guitar lines that arise during what could be considered the first chorus encapsulate how melody can perfectly accompany death metal, with these triumphant runs elevating Hornstrup’s roars to splendorous heights, which is perfectly reinforced by the plodding but straightforward and disciplined drumming. Following a finely-worked and heavy-hitting build-up, the rest of Traitors gallops forth with abounding passages of oppressive riffs, crushing snarls and hulking drumming, making this one of the most gripping and engaging album openers of any metal album I’ve heard so far this year.
The best tracks from Bloodstained Rebellion follow suit, whilst occasionally retaining their own individual quirk or two to distinguish them from the surrounding cuts in the tracklisting. Aftermath of a Tyrant is filled to the brim with memorable melodies, but it’s the exceptionally impressive contributions from Jacob Jørgensen behind the kit that raise this track to its position as one of the most eventful and noteworthy tracks on the record. The drummer’s frenetic work on the snare throughout much of the song makes for a particularly punctuated piece, with the cascades of searing riffage being accentuated in a forceful and fascinating fashion, whilst Jørgensen’s skills are exhibited elsewhere through rapid flurries of fills and other small details that leave a big impact. Set Sails For The End of The World, being in 3/4 time, is much more groove-orientated than the surrounding cuts from Bloodstained Rebellion, and Wrath of Belial play with this in a really compelling manner, with the sluggish tone in which the majority of the song is rooted occasionally giving way to wisps of faster, thrashing drumming, before plummeting back down to the original, trudging tempo. Similarly, Battleborn retains a pummelling thrash groove, whilst abrupt accents are peppered periodically throughout the song’s duration, battering the listener with left-hooks each time the cut’s riding rhythm is disturbed by the tightly-executed outbursts of crashing cadences. Indeed, whether it be the rapid-fire, shotgun snares of Six Feet Under Pandora or the slight metalcore complexion of A Diaphanous Signature Written By The Lost, Wrath of Belial’s conscious effort to keep things fresh across the course of Bloodstained Rebellion makes for an album that isn’t solely intriguing courtesy of the band’s kaleidoscopic compositional style, but also thanks to the engaging degree of diversity featured throughout the tracklisting, with practically every song matching the last’s level of fervour and adroitness.
Ultimately, although nothing new in principle or in execution, Wrath of Belial prove themselves to be an invigorating breath of fresh air for the melodic death metal scene on Bloodstained Rebellion, with their fine deftness as musicians being met with monumental compositional endeavours that provide the perfect frontier for the group to flex their muscles as musicians. With their debut being such an urgent statement, one can only keep a watchful eye on Wrath of Belial because, as fantastic as Bloodstained Rebellion is, it nevertheless displays room for the band to focus on crafting a definitive musical identity for themselves in the future. Indeed, the cues taken from The Black Dahlia Murder, Hatesphere, Soilwork and other melodeath outfits are very prevalent in Wrath of Belial’s blueprint, so it would be an incredibly compelling move if the group managed to apply their songwriting chops and on-point musicianship to a style that was more their own at its core. Outside of this, however, Bloodstained Rebellion is absolutely flooring for a first foray into full-length, recorded material, and the fluency and intensity with which Wrath of Belial approach their brand of thrash-tinted melodic death metal make this record an exhilarating dose of extreme music.
The Vinyl Verdict: 8/10