Any late 80’s metal connoisseur will be thrilled with Sumerlands debut full length Sumerlands. But that’s not fair to everyone else so let’s just say the guitar wizardry and soaring vocals at the core of this album will illicit nods all across the metal nation, and beyond for that matter. A bit over the top? Maybe. But, it’s been a while since something as simple as a band flat out ruling 30-plus minutes sounded so good. And they do it with zero theatrics, showboating or endless noodling.
There was — and still is — magic in Ozzy’s early solo era (right up through The Ultimate Sin) likewise for Mercyful Fate’s Melissa and Don’t Break The Oath. The flair for searing solos, crisp and punchy drum work and of course the authoritative and memorable vocals from both camps are but a few reasons these albums still ring true. Not to mention the production — at the time there were cleaner sounding albums out there but the dirt under the fingernails of these benchmark picks was picture perfect and may as well have been an unspoken member. To this day when paths are crossed with these albums the type of elation felt is similar to seeing an old and dear friend for the first time in ages.
Sumerlands nail this feeling extremely well whether they’re sporting a blend of NWOBHM and power metal (“Spiral Infinite”) or letting their 80’s horror synth flag fly on the title track. As stated, this is a guitar driven album. The lead-rythym guitar work from Arthur Rizk (producer Inquisition, Power Trip) and John Powers evokes a time when guitar gods were the most important thing a band could have and this approach proves to be a great choice. But on the slightly doom tinged “Haunted Forever” this duo sound far better than Don Dokken and George Lynch ever did, even in their finest hour. And then there’s the vocals from Phil Swanson (Atlantean Kodex, Vestal Claret) that push an already amazing album into another realm. His work in other projects, let alone in Hour of 13, was great but he’s never sounded better than he does here. Gruff, smoky and full of life not a note is lost or wasted. His low register material is as clear and smooth as when he reaches deep for those high notes of “The Guardian”.
Much like the aforementioned bands/albums, the bass throughout Sumerlands is there but not easily evident. So much attention is paid to everything else going on that the doomy feel it lends sneaks up and doesn’t surface until around the third of fourth spin. The drums are tight and pack a huge punch. But again, they compliment the album so well that it takes a couple of listens to fully hear and take in just how amazing the percussion work truly is. As far as debuts go, this one demands some attention, and rightfully so. But it’s also one that doesn’t grow tiresome with multiple listens. Rather, it just gets better and better. Even though a first pass sounds simple — no fuss strings, drums and intelligible vocals — it blossoms into an easter egg hunt the more time that’s spent with it.
On their self-titled debut, Sumerlands have an album’s worth of exceptional classic, traditional heavy metal that’s as fresh and relevant today as it would’ve been if it was released 27 years ago. Maybe it’s the feeling of dejavu they conjure or maybe it’s in their no-nonsense approach to rockin’ like there’s no tomorrow. For me it’s both but one thing is for sure, Sumerlands is enthralling throughout this cannot miss debut.