Review Summary: Lady Godiva means more than just good chocolate on Heaven Shall Burn's return via a touch of regression
Change doesn’t necessarily have to be an earth-shattering endeavor. A band could just as easily throw in a few hooks, a few unexpected twists and turns and make the end product sound fresher than ever. Aside from being a relatively simple task, the risk of altering something in an unintentionally errant way is greatly reduced. If any band really needed some change, Heaven Shall Burn were that band. Since 2004’s Antigone
, they have been walking the same path, rutting it deep and milking it dry. Their blend of vicious political metalcore sans most metalcore clichés – clean vocals and breakdowns, namely – was a great thing for people who wanted the genre in a more pure form than it has devolved to today, but as with many great things they don’t remain great after a lot of repetition. By the time Invictus
came out things were dire, and many people noticed that Heaven Shall Burn just weren’t what they used to be. Gone was the muddy depravity of Whatever it May Take
and the freshness of Antigone
, and instead we had a pure and simple devolution in a fashion not unlike the metalcore genre as a whole. So what is a band to do in genre such as this with a predicament such as the one they were in? Apparently let things work themselves out, taking in a lot of the old while cleverly sliding in quite a bit of unexpected elements.
Ok, so Heaven Shall Burn haven’t really changed themselves entirely. This is still the same band that has been with us the past three albums, but they tidied their act up quite a bit. The band have always had a bit of a melodic death metal slant, and on Veto
they explore that territory more than ever before. “Die Stürme Rufen Dich” and especially the brilliant “Like Gods Among Mortals” feature fantastic leads that add weight to their respective tracks, lifting the normally bland riffing of metalcore verses into a higher form of existence. Unlike many other bands in the genre, the melodic aspect of their sound is not some sort of glitter to make things sound all nice and pretty to an audience who otherwise wouldn’t quite understand the point to the music. Here it is fused at the hip with the bombastic drumming and crushing riffing when things pick up in intensity. Don’t expect cleanly sung choruses or moody bridges – with, of course, the most welcome exception of Hansi Kürsch letting his vocal talents ring across the cover of Blind Guardian’s “Valhalla” – instead, be ready to strap in and face what is mostly a wall of noise for fifty straight minutes. But that’s what we expect from Heaven Shall Burn, even more recently. What we don’t expect, and what we haven’t heard since arguably their best album Whatever it May Take
, is that ability to combine both simple melodies and more winding affairs in songs that still retain an overall identity of pure anger and discontent. For me, that is a component that defines quality metalcore.
Of course, the album does stray a bit into territories it shouldn’t, with “You Will Be Godless” sounding too much like deathcore for an album like this. Maybe that’s a bit of Invictus
leaking into the equation, but thankfully enough the song is an anomaly on Veto
and is over with itself rather quickly. The sterile nature of Marcus Bischoff’s vocals have not changed a bit – and haven’t in over 8 years – and that is a bit of a letdown, but that doesn’t stop his tearing screams from being some of the most powerful in the entire genre. Speaking of sterility, the production itself lands too much in the clean room for anything this heavy. As is the case with most death metal, a squeaky clean mix does not lend itself to the overall impact of the record very well. There are moments on Veto
where I was almost begging for the production of Asunder
or Whatever it May Take
(the latter of which was remixed a few years ago from its glorious, muddy original form to this type of travesty) , but never once did the break come. Sure, during tracks like “Beyond Redemption” I understand the need for the guitar soloing to shine with a crystal clear production, but “Fallen” or the explosive opener “Godiva” could be slammed into the mud and be much more at home. As it is, the bass is completely lost – a talent that the band seems to have mastered, as Eric Bischoff is rarely ever heard on their newer studio releases – so why not make the low-end mash together in a way that accents the heaviness that comprises their role, one that is so critical to the overall atmosphere of the album.
Despite these shortcomings, Veto
is just a marvel. Put next to Invictus
it is a masterpiece, and next to an album like Antigone
it stands its own. Not only is Veto
the best Heaven Shall Burn album since 2004, it is a leap forward for the band despite the fact that they really haven’t changed too much. They’ve brought forth more melodies, laid down a few impressive guitar solos, put in an extremely unexpected cover song utilizing a very well-played guest spot, and recovered the “brutality with a purpose” approach that they lost a few albums ago. I haven’t had a Heaven Shall Burn album on replay in years, but Veto
keeps on spinning. It is far from perfect simply because there are some stragglers that reflect their recent hiccups, but as a whole it is far from where they were last time – a rise from their recent regression, and proof that they learned from their mistakes and took their music back to the days when the songs actually meant something. Heaven Shall Burn used to be like a more modern representation of the old values of metalcore – politically-charged, emotionally moving, soul-crushingly heavy – but after they gained some traction and success they lost their way. Veto
is the album Heaven Shall Burn wanted to put out - needed
to put out - because it is the definition of who they are as a band, a definition that in recent years has become quite blurry, until now.