HEAVEN SHALL BURN – Of Truth And Sacrifice

HEAVEN SHALL BURN – Of Truth And Sacrifice

The German metalcore/melodeath hybrid Heaven Shall Burn is one of those bands which both frustrate me and delight me with their music. On one hand, they are some of the most brilliant songwriters in the business with fantastic ear for melody and balance (Iconoclast). On the other hand, they can produce some of the most generic and lifeless albums (Invictus), and that one after another. Thankfully, the double disc, a whopping 97 minute "Of Truth And Sacrifice" shows more of the former and very little of the latter, with the most eclectic work of their existence.

The roots of the ensemble, according to Encyclopedia Metallum, go back to 1996 when guitarist Maik Weichert and drummer Matthias Voigt formed Consense. They released at least one demo under that name. They soon included vocalist Marcus Bischoff and bassist Eric Bischoff and subsequently changed their name to Heaven Shall Burn (referred to HSB in the rest of this review), which they took from the Marduk album "Heaven Shall Burn… When We Are Gathered". In interviews, however, they’d deny any Satanic inclinations claiming that by the "heaven" they meant the false sanctuary in the minds of the deluded, that is, false heaven, which, indeed, should burn and they would help make it so. In any case, their lyrical approach has been rather humanist ateistic with a left-wing leanings akin to Kreator’s or Darkest Hour, with the latter sharing a similarity in sound and similary history of development of that sound. HSB’s first recording was "In Battle There Is No Law" EP (1998) followed by 1st LP "Asunder" (2000) and 2nd, "Whatever It May Take" (2002), the latter name possibly taken from Kreator’s song on "Outcast" album, but there’s no way to tell for sure.

My first encounter with the Germans was on the Century Media promo which included "The Weapon They Fear", the first single from the 3rd LP "Antigone" (2004). I heard the single and I was instantly sold. The references to Darkest Hour and Killswitch Engage were obvious but the riffs and melodies sounded fresh and professional, and most importantly, more metal-lic than hardcore. Subsequently, I purchased "Antigone" (named after the Sophocles-ian heroine in the Oedipus epic) and was delighted that the entire album was excellent. This encouraged me to get into the 4th LP "Death To Our Prayers", and, especially, the 5th, "Iconoclast", an album which haunts "Of Truth And Sacrifice". I had noticed how HSB was not keeping to one formula but wanted to taste from many pots, mostly succeeding. Even though, next to industrial, techno, thrash and old school death, they introduced black metal influence on the subsequent 6th album, "Invictus" (Iconoclast III) the material failed to impress me and I lost track of the guys. Fortunately, the subsequent 7th and 8th LPs,"Veto" (2013 and "Wanderer" (2016), were excellent and I regained my trust in their work in anticipation for more.

Whether the idea for a 2 disc album, each with a different name, may have been inspired by The Smashing Pumpkins’ "Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness", which was also in 2 discs – "Dawn to Dusk" and "Twilight to Starlight", cannot be acertained. What we do know is that the concept is concerning our age of "fake news" on both the internet and our "official" media channels, whereby the truth has become scarcer than gold and to get to it one must sacrifice. Before working on this album Marcus Bischoff (vocals), Maik Weichert (guitar), Alexander Dietz (guitar), Eric Bischoff (bass) and Christian Bass (drums) shut down all touring plans, business relations and all other distraction to focus solely on writing and recording, each member giving it 100% of their ability and talent, which you can hear for yourself.

As hinted in the opening paragraph, "Of Truth And Sacrifice", divided into 2 discs – "Of Truth" and "Of Sacrifice" – is definitely HSB’s most varied material to date. The stylistic range, reaching even beyond metal, is mindblowing yet every track, including the excellent cover of Nuclear Assault’s "Critical Mass", has the signature HSB sound so as to make it into a new standard for them. Next to the signature multimelodic metalcore they are known for, such as the Killswitch Engage-sque "Eradicate", At The Gates-ian "Terminate The Unconcern", or the perfect "Protector" and "Children Of A Lesser God" (the latter with a pleasing progressive Insomnium-ic twist) there are complex progressive epics, such as the brilliant Amon Amarth-ian "My Heart And The Ocean", "Archangelsk/Irridium" Dark Tranquility/Scar Symmetry-ic "The Sorrows Of Victory" with a touch of black metal (the only song with sung clean vocals, which even recall Dark Tranquillity’s Bengt Mikael Stanne) , or the very atmospheric key-driven Depeche Mode-ic "Weakness Leaving My Heart" a’la Machine Head’s "The Burning Red" or Nine Inch Nails’ "The Great Divide", with elements of postmetal and with a fitting finale for both discs. There’s a mandatory techno/house a’la Fear Factory’s "New Breed" (La Résistance) and industrial melodeath marrying Rammstein and In Flames (Übermacht). But there’s also a very strong murky old school death presence here, on the Dismember-ic/Grave-ian "Stateless" or the Obituary by Revocation of "What War Means" as well as the more melodic, akin to Hypocrisy or early In Flames (Tirpitz). Finally, two heavily classical instrumentals, "March Of Retribution" and "The Ashes Of My Enemies", envelop Disc 1 "Of Truth" for additional grandiose and epic touch. The melodic instructs the brutal which instructs the epic which instructs the progressive. Truly and clearly tons of thought made work went into the making of this album.

As is usually the case with sprawling concepts and, even more, with double disc albums, there are some tracks which could have been better shorter (Expatriate) or are good but bring nothing different to the table (Truther, Eagles Among Vultures), but with this volume of material in terms of style, pace and mood, we can’t expect everything to be killer.

Overall, Heaven Shall Burn delivered their most mature and complete work to date. Is it their best album? Among "Antigone", "Iconoclast" and "Veto" it’s a tough call but it is certainly work they can be extremely proud of, with their knowledge, skills and abilities on full display. The band will not stay pigeonholed in either metalcore or melodeath, while embracing both and so much more and that is an additional positive aspect of this album, and you have to appreciate that the two discs are equal in quality and innovation.

I highly recommend this album to lovers of all things metal as I am convinced every one will find something to enjoy here.