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Wonderfully realized, terribly underrated - 84%

Noktorn, June 8th, 2011

You see? All USBM isn't bad, just most of it! Sumeria is a refreshing entry in the style's catalog: unique, spirited, and intelligent, not falling into the typical traps of bland depressive meandering or tryhard norsecore extremity that kill so many other USBM bands. In fact, Sumeria generally rejects modern black metal tropes roundly in favor of a style more generally rooted in the '80s. You can hear traces of Venom, early Mayhem, Sodom, and other formative black/thrash bands all over this record, but Sumeria injects plenty of their own, unique style to prevent this from being just another retro release. This is a rather quiet album that doesn't receive a lot of attention, but I can tell you for sure that it's one of the better underground USBM releases out there.

The opening of 'Why I Lived and You Died' might make you think you accidentally stuck a Forefather demo into your player- the folky, rather British style of riffing seems just as sculpted from Skyclad as anything in black metal, but this is just one of many elements that define Sumeria's sound. A rough picture of the band might combine early black/thrash and heavy/power metal (surprisingly enough) with the more modern, elaborately structured strains of older Taake. This makes for music that often sounds like '80s or even '70s heavy metal overdriven into a black metal style of playing and production; many of the riffs on this release don't sound too far removed from the Judas Priest catalog, just simplified and accelerated into a blistering tremolo and blast. Of course, this is tempered by concessions to the usual suspects of Norwegian black metal: the self-titled debut of Burzum and 'A Blaze in the Northern Sky' being obvious candidates as major influences upon this collective. Still, the pervasive influence of traditional metal never really leaves, giving 'All Paths Lead to Insanity' a distinct and unusual feel amongst its USBM contemporaries.

The Taake influence is what provides a substantial amount of the meat on the bones of these songs, though: tracks like 'The Traveller' practically drip with the wild, untamed melodic sense of 'Over Bjoergvin Graater Himmerik' and similar albums, and it's in the contrast between the oldschool, thrashy sound Sumeria pays tribute to and the more modern style they aspire to that the real greatness of this music is found. Tremolo riffs over rolling, Immortal-style blast beats tug the listener forward, alternately melodic and dissonant before collapsing into something that sounds like the heaviest moment of Iron Maiden's catalog- there's always something exciting and novel going on, and it seems that Sumeria isn't particularly concerned with obeying the typical tropes of black metal. Of course, there's more overt experimentalism too- the sprawling intro, the lengthy ambient paean 'Al Azziif'- but the heart of this music is really in the marriage of old and new wrapped tightly in a bow of degraded production and enthusiastic, intense instrumental ability.

It's a shame that albums like these are shunted aside for their less aesthetically appealing elements- the harsh and reedy (but still very audible, even for the bass) production, the less overtly impressive artwork and layout- in favor of more immediate, obvious releases, when albums like 'All Paths Lead to Insanity' have so much more staying power than anything by scene heroes like Xasthur or Leviathan. This is an absolutely necessary purchase for USBM aficionados seeking something intelligent, fascinating, and unapologetically metal- if you can hunt this one down, you won't be disappointed.