Almost nine years to the day of their previous release, Blackguard made their long-awaited return to the forefront of the underground melodic death metal scene with the release of Storm. After the punishing Montreal outfit put an end to their four-year hiatus last March with a live show in Toronto, a new album was bound to be released. While melodic death metal tends to make regular appearances on my playlist, this was my first experience with the local group, so my curiosity was piqued.
Melodic death metal band? Check. Local act? Check. Nine years in between albums? Check. With all the boxes ticked off, one would expect that a record marking the return of a rejuvenated band would be excellent, right? Well, there’s no real triumphant return here. Although Storm is a banger through and through, the shortage of creativity and originality leaves quite a bitter taste. An overarching issue throughout the record is the lack of standout moments and earth-shattering breakdowns hectic enough to fuel a mile-long mosh pit. Instead, it sounds like a retread of albums past, comprising slight alterations tuned to their melodic and theatric style. However, the use of orchestrations creates an epic sound complement the blast beats and crunchy riffs laced throughout the record, providing enough intrigue to keep listening. Blackguard utilizes a substantial number of operatic nuances to conceive “epic” moments; unfortunately, they are sparse and fail to leave an enduring impact.
Luckily, there are some hidden treasures on the album. “Bite My Hand,” the band’s first single, introduces the epic overtones that have been a staple in the band’s music since their inception. The heavy dose of theatrics and relentless beats seamlessly blend to deliver a crushing experience. Other tracks, like the frantic “The Hunted” and mid-tempo delight “Mourning Star,” add a bit of diversity by stepping outside the box on a seemingly monotonous album. “The Hunted” begins with metalcore-style riffs complemented by death metal vocals, almost transcending genres before packing a wallop and a half by turning the intensity up to 11. “Mourning Star,” on the other hand, employs a more melodic approach, exhibiting influences of Dimmu Borgir before reverting to a frenetic pace. The musicianship displayed is impeccable, with a deft assault in the form of a solo making an appearance before the song’s conclusion.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album is rather insipid and void of freshness. The Blackguard song I was most impressed with this past week was “Allegiance,” a track from their second album. That alone should speak volumes about how much of a step back Storm is in comparison to their back catalogue. On that track alone, more inventiveness and imaginative songwriting ability were on display than their entire new record. Storm would have likely been an appropriate release when melodic death metal was still nascent, but nowadays, the reaction is more “been there, done that.”
For a band that focuses on delivering bruising epic metal, there’s a considerable lack of cathartic moments. Additionally, the songwriting seems to be moderately repetitive, with most songs reworking the same formula rather than experimenting beyond the genre’s expectations. Employing a business-like approach to churning out a record for the sake of igniting a comeback diminishes the overall listening experience, especially when Blackguard is capable of more.
This album is somewhat frustrating, especially as I listen to more of their previous releases. While there’s a sense of invigoration permeating the recording, it’s just not a memorable album and lacks the ingenuity prevalent among the genre’s titans.
Written by Jonathan Berthold
*edited by Mike Milito