Death metal heathens Weapon refined, just as evil on ‘Embers and Revelations’

There is nothing wrong with moving up in the world and improving one’s lot in life. It’s something we all should aspire to, instead of running in place and never getting any further than where we are right now. Yeah, some people damn progress, but mostly those are folks who likely never would have gotten ahead themselves.

I was pretty surprised when Canadian death metal heathens Weapon signed with Relapse. They had been recording for the Ajna Offensive, a label where they sonically and philosophically seemed perfectly placed, and their sooty, gritty sound was one that seemed to exemplify a band trying to keep things as ugly and evil as possible. Everything sounded just right. Their first two full-length records–2009’s “Draconian Paradigm” and 2010’s “From the Devil’s Tomb”–lit the underground metal scene on fire, and while they didn’t have a huge profile, they certainly were wholly respected.

And then there was the jump to Relapse. It’s not like they’re fishes out of water there. It’s a fine home for them, and if they have ambition to get their music to a larger audience, there was little to criticize about the move. It just surprised me, as a listener, that they did it, and I was even more knocked back when I heard their new album “Embers and Revelations.” It sounds … pristine. It’s not dirty at all, doesn’t give you the sensation of a campfire strangling your lungs, and doesn’t give off that bizarre, cult-like aura of their first two records. It took some adjustment.

At the same time, and a lot of writers like myself get caught in this trap, the bottom line was the album didn’t sound like what I expected. And whose fault is that? It’s mine. Too many people judge work based on their own expectations rather than on what’s in front of them that it offers a blurry, misguided picture. I didn’t want to fall into that trap when discussing “Embers and Revelations,” so I made sure I spent extra time with the record so I fully understood what I was hearing. As it turns out, the record revealed itself, my expectations faded, and I was able to see the music for what it is: an expertly played, strongly produced album that puts more focus on the band’s ability as songwriters and players and less on simply making sure it sounds evil. Just listen to the words. That shit’s still there in spades.

Weapon is, and I’m assuming always will be, led by guitarist/vocalist Vetis Monarch, whose been at the helm since day one, and with him are guitarist Rom Surtr, bassist Kha Tumos, and drummer The Disciple, who all take on assumed names. Their work on “Embers and Revelations” is channeled and aggressive, and their musical prowess is highlighted by producer Terry Paholek, who really refined the band’s sound, making a record that sounds like a classic-era Megadeth, Morbid Angel, or Iron Maiden production. As noted, they’re moving up in the world, they’re taking their campaign higher, and what better way than with a record that sounds as good as this one? Yeah, some people that cling to lo-fi emanations may bitch, but it’s not their decision. Plus, you can hear a progression from their early EPs, to “Paradigm,” to now, where they were headed down this path, and they finally hit on the right sound for them. They also kept this record to a tight 37 minutes, which helps them stay lean and mean. Good move.

For those new to Weapon, their lyrical content isn’t for the weak of heart. This is Satanic death metal through and through, and not in the way of Slayer or Venom. There’s an adoration, a discipleship here that gets full commitment, and that’s balanced along with their rage and desire to do audio violence both on their records and at their live shows. I don’t know why I have to point this out to a metal readership, but just in case your favorite band is Nightwish …

“I live a life of sin,” Monarch growls on opening cut “The First Witnesses of Lucifer,” a thrashy and crushing opener that immediately lets you know you’re in for a different kind of Weapon assault. “Vanguard of the Morning Star” has some strong lead guitar lines, melodies that rain down like a mist of nails, and more gruff vocals from Monarch. “Crepuscular Swamp, Unhinged Swine” takes the band in a different direction, as the playing gets more spacious and exploratory, and the way they progress through the song always keeps you guessing. “Liber Lilith” actually has a deathrock feel to it at the start, with its watery guitar work and slower gaze, but then it ignites, leaving a fury of flames. Those guitar solos, by the way, give me nostalgia about “Rust in Peace,” before Megadeth shat the bed repeatedly.

“Grotesque Carven Portal” is a bizarre interlude, with space lab noises, alien-like transmissions, and eventually razor-sharp guitar work to disrupt the dreams. The title cut brings the heaviness back to full tilt, with Monarch proclaiming the “king of kings” and the band offering up homage of “hail!” which always sounds to me like they’re saying “heil.” They’re not, but it just sounds that way. It did on “Paradigm” too. “Disavowing Each in Aum” also is aggressive, but their atmospheric tendencies return, making for one of the most interesting tracks on the record. We end with “Shahenshah,” a term that also means “king of kings,” and the calculated pace and chanted chorus make for a mesmerizing scene.

So yes, Weapon have changed. Actually, let’s call it evolved. They’re on a bigger label, they have better opportunities, and they responded with a record that should help them expand their base. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, as long as the music is true and strong. “Embers and Revelations” is a powerful tool, and I expect Weapon will use it to carve a path for themselves to wherever they feel like going.

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