What is “Metal?” Pick 20 metalheads and chances are you’ll get 20 different ideas. “Metal” as a category gets tossed around so much the image is fuzzy at best. But hear the words “Heavy Metal” and the image starts to crystallize: razor sharp power chords; bass and drums locked in a four to the floor frenzy as a voice rises in majesty to carry the melody to the tops of mountains, to the caves of dragons. It’s epic, it’s full of might and story and proud to thump its chest at self made mythologies. Call it traditional, call it power…call it whatever you want but make sure to count among its rank Quicksand Dream whose first album in 16 years, Beheading Tyrants, is a clarion call to the likes of early Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road, an album that revels in the majestic stomp of what Carl Jung surely would have defined as the Heavy Metal Archetype.
Hailing from Sweden, Patrick Backlund (also of Mortalicum) and Göran Jacobson have been playing in some iteration of the band since 1993, releasing their first album Aelin – A Story About Destiny in 2000. A concept record about a wizard who seeks and trains a young child in the ways of magic, it was a little rough around the edges but otherwise everything you’d want in a traditional metal album, although its reach was limited at best: about 30 CDR copies (the album was later re-pressed by trad metal hero Chris Black and his Planet Metal label in 2010) were made. And then things went dark, leaving Quicksand Dream an odd footnote. Thankfully the duo kept the fires stoked (Backlund’s Mortalicum band mates round out the crew on Tyrants – and if you haven’t checked out Mortalicum what are you waiting for?) and decided now was the time to forge in iron the gift of Beheading Tyrants.
Opener “Daughters of Eve” starts off deceptively, two guitars engaged in sad harmony as a bass lays down a third line. For a full minute it sounds like a struggle to keep things together, and just when you think it’s going to slip the song takes off in a gallop of distortion and drums. If you’ve kept up with recent efforts from Sumerlands and Eternal Champion you know what to expect here, and you get it in spades. After 16 years being away Quicksand Dream tightened everything up, packing a devastating punch with Beheading Tyrants. Music like this lives or dies by how well the vocalist sells the song: if you’re going to sing about necromancers (“Cloud of Screams”) you believe it in your soul. Fortunately Jacobson has the chops to not only sell the imagery but hammer it home with a perfect low tenor voice that’s strong without being shrill or piercing. He’s stellar on barn burners like “The Girl From the Island” and in the quiet introduction to “The Shadow That Bleeds.” On the music front Backlund shines on every single track, his bass never content to sit behind the scenes. If it’s not laying down the melody behind the guitars it’s right in your face, daring to be relegated to a supporting role. Doing double duty on guitars everything is on point from the rhythm track to the harmonized leads. “The Girl From the Island” is a perfect example of this compactness: less than four minutes long it does everything you want an epic trad metal song to do, and it does it with an authenticity and passion many bands are lacking because they just don’t believe it enough.
In today’s world it’s easy for more traditional metal music to get bypassed in favor of the latest flavor of the week metal. Sometimes we get so caught up in the latest movement, the most current in anti-fashion that we forget our roots, the primal battle cry that brought the call to so many people looking for a change from what was on the radio. Thankfully, we have bands like Quicksand Dream not only carrying the torch for traditional, “heavy” metal, but holding it high as an example for others to follow and on Beheading Tyrants they do just that. Don’t sulk in irony: find the flame and let it ignite the heavy metal in your heart.