PICK OF THE WEEK: Sumerlands sit in driver’s seat for classic metal odyssey on blazing ‘Dreamkiller’

Photo by Jaclyn Woollard

Walk with me a moment as I think back to my high school years, late summer, right after finishing cutting the gigantic lawn (I got push mower duties). I’d make a little bit of money doing that, and those earnings almost always were turned into heavy metal cassettes, all different styles since I listened to just about everything. I get nostalgic about that, and it makes me think of when metal first claimed me.

That brings me to “Dreamkiller,” the second record from Sumerlands, a band that drinks deeply from the pools of classic heavy metal from the late 1970s and early 1980s. All of that is woven into their sound, and it gets me right in the chest because it reminds me of the days scouring for albums after finishing my lawn work. There has been a major change with the band since their 2016 self-titled debut, that being the exit of singer Phil Swanson and the arrival of new vocalist Brendan Radigan (formerly of Magic Circle), an element that made me skeptical despite being a fan of Radigan’s work. One trip with these eight songs dashed all of that as Radigan takes this thing to a new level of greatness, and the rest of the band—guitarist John Powers, guitarist/synth player Arthur Rizk, bassist Brad Raub, drummer Justin DeTore—responds in kind, turning out an insane performance that practically takes you in a collision course with metal’s history from the first seeds right up to this day.

“Twilight Points the Way” gets things off to a rousing start as riffs tangle and Radigan’s killer voice guides, calling for “one final strike against the setting sun.” The chorus is awesome and sticks in your brain, and as Radigan calls, “Will you remember our name?” the only answer is the affirmative. “Heavens Above” delivers a Dio vibe as the track feels warmer and is less intent on bruising, which is a nice change of pace. Shimmery hazes hypnotize as the tempo pushes back, and the muscular chorus mesmerizes and leaves behind its mark. The title track is spirited with the synth pulsating and forceful vocals as Radigan lashes, “Killer of dreams, stealer of time.” Great soloing launches itself across the horizon as the power eventually fades and is swallowed by space. “Night Ride” slowly builds and lets the ambiance set itself, bringing fiery early 1980s energy. The bass plods as Radigan admits, “I won’t live to see tomorrow,” as things get cooler, and the keys replace your body’s heat with icy madness.

“Edge of the Knife” brings jolting guitars and a welcoming summer feel, Radigan wailing, “We dance on the edge of the knife.” The soloing utterly melts while the chorus rushes, the steam rises, and the final moments zap away. “Force of a Storm” enters amid synth that chills bones and a vibe that’s almost tangibly neon. The gears of the machine keep moving as the singing reaches the stratosphere in spots, blistering before draining away. “The Savior’s Lie” is balmy as the keys mix into the picture, and the playing moves elegantly through clouds and into shadows. The pressure rises as the vocals hit a fever pitch, bowing to pastoral keys that pull a blanket of storm clouds across the earth. Closer “Death to Mercy” unloads with a killer riff and a blistering tempo, Radigan wailing, “On to desolation, led by the war machines.” Synth swirls and melts with blazing guitars, the playing exercises a push-pull philosophy, and everything fades into the final rays of daylight.

It’s been a long wait to get a second album from Sumerlands, but, as cliched as this will sound, it was absolutely worth the wait. “Dreamkiller” is an incredible record, one that’s been on constant rotation since the promo landed, and it brings back huge vibes from my own formative days as a metal fan. This is a perfect classic metal record from the playing to the emotion to the production, and it’s the ideal way to proclaim Sumerlands remain a devastating force that will not be toppled.  

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/sumerlands/

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/b/sumerlands

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/RelapseRecords

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