dream killer plays like the soundtrack to the training montage in an imaginary 1980s film where an unlikely and tormented protagonist faces terrible odds under skies constantly on the verge of biblical rain. If that sounds like an oddly specific setting for a 35-minute metal album in 2022, then remember that Sumerlands is helmed by Arthur Rizk, the Philadelphia-based producer who helped create the atmosphere for many of the heavyweight releases. most crucial of the last decade. . With Sumerlands, he uses this gift for meticulous staging to explore a very particular fantasy, constructing a dream world that is real enough to live in.

It’s heavy metal in the traditional sense: the songs have catchy operatic choruses and choking riffs that you only need to hear once before you can play the guitar, all presented with a brilliant high quality, so it doesn’t take much to imagine them blasting out of the speakers in an arena. “We’re dancing on a knife’s edge / So much closer to death than life,” commands the quintet’s new vocalist, Brendan Radigan, in one of the best choruses on the record, with no context as to why our situation is so urgent or precarious. And yet, we know exactly what he is talking about: in fact, we are there with him, dancing, raging, defying mortality.

As a result, enjoyment of this music is somewhat counter-intuitive to the usual measures of good taste. Between Rizk and guitarist John Powers, there is an unspoken agreement: why let a note of a solo sound when you can decorate it with a ton of little hammers? Why say “I feel sad” when you could say “the stars have delivered a million sorrows to the winds”? Should Radigan’s voice – a high-pitched breath of autumn wind, soaring across the desert plains – should be presented organically to showcase his natural talent? Not even remotely: it must be coated in supernatural effects so that, when attuned to itself, it sounds like a keyboard on the tuning of the church organ. Does a song called “Force of a Storm” that incorporates images of a “storm” and “lost shelter” and people “thrown into the fray” get the message across? Not without thunderous sound effects to really seal the deal.

In other words, subtlety is not the goal. The musicality is meant to inspire awe at the uncanny, studio-honed precision, and the words are meant to invoke vast, timeless feelings. Innovation is not the issue either. The familiarity and immediacy of the music are key to its appeal. At the same time, what other recent record sounds like that? dream killer is too inspired, too sincere, to be classified as a simple pastiche. Compared to the doomier, Sabbath-indebted mist from 2016’s self-titled debut album, dream killer adopts a warmer tone, closer to classic rock. If the pleasure of summer lands imagined the sound of a discarded demo tape dug up in an old metalhead’s basement, then dream killer aspires to a kind of cheap ubiquity. Songs like “Edge of a Knife” and “Twilight Points the Way” might have been hits in another era – songs for football stadiums, uniting dorks and jocks in the stands.