Review – Barbarian: Cult of the Empty Grave

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  • Bio: n/a
  • Label: Hells Headbangers
  • Release Date: April 15th, 2016
  • Genre: Black Metal, Speed Metal, Thrash Metal
  • Website: Visit Website
  • Rating (out of 10):

When it comes to unearthing some of the most intriguing of unknown talents, Hells Headbangers often has a keen ear to pick out overlooked bands. This is one of the reasons why the label has become such a powerhouse for those hungry for the more sinister side of metal, the kind that doesn’t get the normal airplay at places like Sirius XM’s Liquid Metal channel. This time around, they set their eyes on Italy’s own Barbarian, a group that mixes a number of styles into their black metal template. This should come as no surprise considering it contains drummer Lore of Murk and Nightshock fame, not to mention guitarist and vocalist Borys Crossburn from Children of Technology. The three-piece originally formed in 2009, issuing a demo a year later, and their self-titled debut album, which received plenty of praise. Fast forward to 2016 and their third album, Cult of the Empty Grave, is set for release. But does it hold up to their two previous outings?

If you’re unfamiliar with Barbarian, the best way to explain it would be to cross Sabaton with early Venom, but throw in some other metal styles for good measure. Of course, the group does dabble in that late eighties analog output sound, but there’s a distinct modern production value to it that makes the music fairly crisp without losing much bite or becoming a gimmick. It’s as if Cult of the Empty Grave was torn straight from the first wave of black metal with its heavy and loud bass presence, bulky riffs with cleaner leads similar to early Motorhead output when needed, a harsh vocal approach, and a strong drum presence that really fills up the background of this darkly atmospheric production in line with the debut Candlemass album.

A good example is the opening track “Bridgeburner”. At times, the riffs can sound as though they pulled inspiration from the chorus of “Gott mit uns” by Sabaton, leading me to expect some powerful cleaner vocals to be belted out instead of the steady blend of harsh growling we’re given, a darker nordic side Sweden’s Unleashed would approve of. “Supreme Gift” carries more of a chugging presence in the riffs with additional heavy metal hooks scattered about in the bridges or haunting lead-ups to the richer segments ripe with stronger drummer that can channel more of a tribal sensation to the Celtic Frost tinged foundation.

Meanwhile there’s cuts like “Whores of Redemption” and its obvious early punk influence. The main chunk of the performance easily falls into the afforementioned realm of first wave of black metal influence, really pulling the deeper pulses and bouts of twang in the bass guitar forward to weave an addictive track that sounds pulled right out of the early dust-covered post-apocalyptic landscapes that the eighties would often weave. However, it’s some of the hooks that appear in the chorus that pull the song more into a horror punk realm, adding an additional layer to the already viking soaked atmosphere. You also get “Absolute Metal” which thrusts the group directly into the early speed metal world full of hard-hitting Exciter inspired riffage and cheesy metal manliness with lyrics that assert how powerful the genre is, not to mention capitulating with the listener’s wife.

Cult of the Empty Grave isn’t the most captivating of vintage metal worship, but it stands as a superb example of why so many still enjoy the classic approach to the style to this very day. A mixture of first wave roots with a few other slight accommodations scream vinyl pressings of nordic and greek gods high in the air while mankind squabbles among themselves in an age where barbaric tribes and self-preservation ruled the dusty and savage bloodsoaked lands with the harshest of iron fists. If you have yet to experience this trio from Tuscany, Cult of the Empty Grave is a solid starting point.


Digital review copy of this release provided by Hells Headbangers.