There is a giant difference between imitation and paying homage. Countless metal bands scratch the superficial surface of genre-defining titans and turn in perfectly acceptable, and completely forgettable, copycat records. The sheer volume of B-grade, bong-ripping, bastardizations of Black Sabbath is, to be blunt, just kind of boring. There is nothing wrong with traditionalism, but true tribute requires both a demonstration of deep reverence for the source material and the internal fire to write a new chapter in the story. Philadelphia’s Sumerlands have not simply added a few pages with their debut self-titled LP, they’ve finished the book and lit the fucking thing on fire.
Although the guitar tone of opening track “Seventh Seal” provides a healthy dose of sonic time travel, it is the song’s catchy, cocksure swagger that instantly evokes classic Power Metal and NWOBHM acts like Cirith Ungol and Judas Priest. While this style of traditional heavy metal is known for its proclivity for tasty riffs, the opening guitar line of “Seal” will compel even the most jaded hesher to roll down the windows of their newly purchased panel van and throw up the horns. Lead singer Phil Swanson’s audacious, reverb-drenched croon further imbues the music with a sense of noble power.
Unsurprisingly, the propulsive energy of Sumerlands’ music is powered by the incredible performances from guitarists Arthur Rizk and John Power. The two trade blistering, face-melting leads throughout the record. Outside of the fret-board acrobatics, the sheer density of riffs within each song is at “Grandma’s Christmas Fruit Cake” level. Despite all of this flourish, none of the music feels disjointed. All of the songs on Sumerlands feel concise and complete.
Sumerlands also demonstrate a comfort working across a range of tempos. Slower jams “Guardian” and “Lost My Mind” feel just as robust and forceful as brisk bangers “Blind” and “Spirit Infinite,” and the albums broad range in both speed and dynamics further compel a mashing of the repeat button. The band also employs synth sounds in a masterful way: whether it’s used to add subtle background atmospherics or as an occasional pop of color, the overall effect infuses Sumerlands with additional nuance an depth.
Metal fans: clear your schedule, don your best pair of Manowar Underoos, and turn Sumerlands all the fucking way up.
Written by Jesse Gainer
*edited by Kate Erickson