In the world of heavy metal circa 2013, making a comeback is harder than ever before. There are so many bands popping up out of the woodwork and so many albums being released on a weekly basis, that fans are faced with a constant avalanche of new product, which in turn means it’s difficult for any band to stand out from the pack, whether new kids on the block or crafty veterans. Furthermore, with the internet now being such an important part of spreading metal to the masses, things move so fast that even going a year without releasing new material feels like an eternity. But it is still possible for a band to rise up from the ashes of inactivity and recapture their rightful place amidst the metal pantheon, as the following trio of bands has proven.
Of the three bands we’re going to look at, Sweden’s Sorcery had the longest layoff between releases, having not put out a full length in a whopping twenty-two years. To make matters worse, the band was broken up from 1997 to 2009, which surely presented them with an even more difficult road to getting back into fighting form. On the flipside, the band most likely benefitted from low or even nonexistent expectations, because while their demos and lone full length are well enough regarded slabs of Stockholm-style Swe-death, Sorcery never garnered the same accolades that their peers in bands like Entombed, Grave, Dismember and Unleashed ultimately had showered upon them.
This lack of expectations most likely meant a lack of pressure, allowing the band to just do what they do best without any unneeded stress. This is of course speculation on my part, but it’s hard to imagine this not being the scenario after listening to the band’s devastating comeback album, Arrival at Six. The publication of Daniel Ekeroth’s wonderfully comprehensive book Swedish Death Metal caused many forgotten Swe-death bands to reform, along with various labels unleashing a flood of reissues, and while it’s evident there is a good reason why some of these bands were never heard from again, there are also some excellent bands that never got a fair shake, and Sorcery is one of them, as evidenced by this stellar sophomore release.
For Arrival at Six, Sorcery wisely chose to obey the golden rule of a successful comeback album: under no circumstances whatsoever should you fuck with the formula. The band even went so far as to record at the legendary Sunlight Studios with Tomas Skogsberg behind the boards; the very epitome of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy that should almost always be honored in a comeback situation. If you’re going to change your sound and not give the fans what they want after being away for over two decades, you might as well fucking stay home. The only way in which Sorcery altered their approach was by upping their songwriting game, penning a batch of tunes that strike the catchy/crushing balance perfectly, blowing away recent releases by just about any of the more prominent old school Swedish death metal bands you could name, taking sheer quality and pairing it with a snarling hunger that might lead you to believe that this was a much younger band if you didn’t already know better.
While Sorcery are a great example of an under-the-radar band coming back from the depths of obscurity to prove their worthiness, Suicidal Tendencies are a different story all together. Even though they haven’t released an album since 2000, ST has remained a household name in the heavy music world, thanks to a string of classic albums in the ‘80s and ‘90s. They have also continued to play shows and tour over the years, even without new material to support, so some might argue that they never really went away, but considering the tumultuousness of Suicidal Tendencies’ history, I think we can all agree that they had a lot riding on 13, their first album in as many years. Things get even more perilous for ST when one considers that vocalist Mike Muir is the band’s only remaining original member; heavy music fans develop fondness for particular lineups of their beloved bands, and even though Muir has always been the driving force of the group, there’s always bound to be diehards clamoring for the original lineup or the “definitive/classic lineup.”
To their credit, Muir and his young guns didn’t exactly fuck with the formula for 13, but they didn’t take the safe route either. Rather than committing to any particular era of Suicidal Tendencies, the band mixed all the various styles the group has plowed through over the years (hardcore, thrash, funk, alternative metal, etc) and created one hell of a mash-up of everything they’re about. In the wrong hands, this could sound like a shamelessly pandering attempt to appeal to every fan of every era of the band (see: Bathory’s Destroyer of Worlds), but here’s the thing; Suicidal Tendencies sound like they’re having an absolute blast on 13. This album doesn’t reek of cashing in, rather it reeks of sincerity; Muir is saying these are the things I like, these are all the things that made Suicidal Tendencies such a great band, let’s fucking celebrate that.
I think what I really enjoy about 13 though is the fact that Muir hasn’t lost his trademark sense of humor; this is evident as early as opening song “Shake It Out,” when the singer asks for a Diet Pepsi, which serves as both a reference to ST’s classic “Institutionalized,” and an acknowledgement of Muir’s advancing age. Perhaps he’s saying “I might be getting older, but I still feel like the twenty year old lunatic that I was when ‘Institutionalized’ was recorded.” Muir is also responsible for my favorite lyrical couplet of the year, courtesy of the track “Cyco Style:”
“Charging like a cracked out ram / we don’t mosh, we fuckin’ slam!”
Pure fucking poetry right there, kidz, and characteristic of an album that flat-out kicks ass and is incredibly fun to listen to.
Not as well-known as Suicidal Tendencies, but not as underground as Sorcery, Summoning are the very definition of a cult band, having created a hardcore following for themselves thanks to a highly idiosyncratic sound and conceptual basis. While Tolkien-inspired lyrical themes and epic, highly textured, symphonic songwriting aren’t uncommon in metal, few if any bands are as fully committed or as capable of creating a totally immersive listening experience. Indeed, the Austrian duo of Protector and Silenius have been sorely missed during their half-decade-plus of total silence; other bands have attempted to follow in their footsteps, but none have been able to replicate the blackened majesty that these two musicians conjure so effortlessly.
It’s a bit ironic that I use the term “effortless” when discussing Summoning’s comeback, for it is actually them that had the most difficult uphill climb of any of the three bands discussed in this piece. When I interviewed them last month, it was revealed that vocalist/keyboardist/bassist Silenius suffered a heart attack at some point during their hiatus. Now, any other band might have been able to move forward with a replacement or session musicians, but when you’re a duo comprised of two driving creative forces, this simply isn’t an option. Thankfully, Silenius survived his ordeal, and while it prolonged Summoning’s absence, it also served to re-light the creative fires, resulting in the absolutely immense recording that is Old Mornings Dawn.
With Old Mornings Dawn, Summoning have against all odds made a comeback that both lives up to their legacy and shows them continuing to evolve as a band. The album still possesses the buzzing, trebly wash of guitar distortion that has characterized Summoning since the early days, but there is also a clarity to the production that’s like night and day compared to previous releases, especially the deliberately dark and somewhat murky-sounding Oath Bound. Old Morning’s Dawn also features some of the Summoning’s strongest vocal work ever; this is the first time I find myself paying attention to the vocals as their own entity, rather than just another texture amidst the guitars, synths and programmed drums. Speaking of textures, this might be the most richly layered recording to date from Protector and Silenius; rather than simply revisiting everything they’ve done in the past, they’ve amplified it a thousandfold, improving upon the formula rather than just sticking with it.
What’s most amazing about Old Mornings Dawn, and really the entirety of the Summoning oeuvre, is how impossibly detailed and ornate each song is; one can’t help but marvel at the painstaking work that must go into sculpting the sonics behind tracks such as “The White Tower” and the title track. In spite of the high level of meticulousness, nothing about the album ever sounds over-cooked or calculated, rather it is the sound of two men who have mastered their craft through years of hard work honing their skills doing what they do best. Simply put, Summoning have become one of the most highly respected elder bands in the black metal underground and fans were foaming at the mouth over the prospect of the duo’s first release since 2006 for a fucking reason, and Old Mornings Dawn is that reason personified.
The trio of bands we’ve examined here couldn’t possibly be more different from one another, yet all three have managed to overcome adversity in one form or another and release killer comeback albums. Slicing your way through the detritus that clogs the metal scene is no small feat, but these three bands did it the old fashioned way; by putting an emphasis on quality and staying true to what made them great, giving fans what they crave while at the same time never resorting to half-assed pandering or attempting to “sell out” (is it even possible for a metal band to sell out anymore?).
When we look around at the near-constant brown-nosing, glad-handing and poop-polishing that goes on in the underground circa 2013, it’s hard to believe that things like integrity and purity of vision still exist. Sorcery, Suicidal Tendencies and Summoning are shining examples of these rare qualities, which is what has ultimately lead them to successfully reclaiming their respective stakes in this glorious thing we call heavy metal. Bands both young and old should take note; this is how it’s fucking done.