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An aptly named Nordic powerhouse. - 88%

hells_unicorn, September 13th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2016, Digital, Independent (Amazon)

It has become a fashionable practice to deride anything with even the faintest hint of orthodoxy, as today's cult of preference is the one of progress. While this trend doesn't necessarily imply a near universal fascination with the avant-garde, it definitely tends towards an unrealistic expectation of progression coupled with a critical tendency towards anything nostalgic. What is so off-putting about this mentality is that having a predetermined stylistic template does not preclude an original outcome, nor does it stifle the general concept of creativity or genre expansion. Indeed, when approaching the multi-national, yet largely Nordic power metal machine that is Parsifal, new ground has been broken largely by reaffirming the cliches of the turn-of-the-millennium revival and merging them with some other non-power metal orthodoxies that are both older and newer than the aforementioned one.

As the second installment of this independent collaboration, Heavy Duty expands upon the practices that began on their 2013 debut Here From The Past largely by exaggerating and refining them. The formula consists largely of a Swedish tinged brand of power metal that emphasizes speed and heavier, guitar-based fervor with a side order of keyboard atmosphere typified in Freternia and Insania, but along for the ride is an assortment of Folk and more extreme metal elements that remind a bit of the likes of Vexillum, Elvenking, Ensiferum and Suidakra, making for a listening experience that is both orthodox yet in some ways, anything but that. Combined with an assortment of flute and assorted folksy additives that wouldn't be out of place on a Winterstorm album and a high octane driving feel that occasionally rivals Dragonforce, not to mention a vocalist in Oscar Pelin that is competent in higher registers but spends more time in a huskier mid-range area similar to former Conorach vocalist Jacco de Wijs.

True to form, the musical quest for originality begins on a fairly typical note, galloping triumphantly and featuring a fair bit of atmosphere to complement the speed. In essence, "Storming The Reaper" is a quintessential power metal anthem, save the husky baritone swagger that the vocals begin on and frequently refer back to amid the sea of majestic drums and guitars. It's essentially a song that effectively merges the nimbleness and hook-driven splendor of ReinXeed with the somewhat darker yet still triumphant Viking power of Black Messiah. What follows is a spectrum of predictable yet highly effective power/speed brilliance in such songs as "The Volunteer" and the Dragonforce-inspired melodic thrill ride "The Battle Conundrum", firing the double bass M-60 non-stop with matching shred-happy guitars to make Sam Totman do a triple take. On the other side of things is the folksy romp with a Viking edge "Row" and the almost black metal tinged blasting affair of an epic "The Seven Sorrows", carrying the symphonic bluster of Equilibrium and also the thrashing fury of Brymir.

To put it mildly, this album is an exercise in constancy; constant speed, grandeur, and a consistent tendency to introduce some needed points of contrast at just the right spots to keep things from getting redundant. About the only real flaw to speak of here is that the vocals get a tad bit overblown, as Oscar Pelin throws just about everything out there but the kitchen sink and occasionally gets a tad bit sloppy. It's the one part of this otherwise brilliant formula that is something of an acquired taste, though it definitely plays well to this band's atypical elements. In truth, atypical is perhaps the best way to describe a band that sounds mostly like a Euro power metal revivalist act yet sports an album cover that is more oriented towards an atmospheric black metal band, but in a world where being typical is unfashionable and music generally continues to be that, it is nice to get something that walks the line between the two effectively.