Album: Cult of the Empty Grave
Label: Hells Headbangers
Italian band Barbarian is back on the scene with their third album, Cult of the Empty Grave. The album mixes elements from a multitude of styles across the spectrum of ’80s classic metal, including some early first wave black metal and some awesome speed metal. The result is a surprisingly fresh take on a genre despite being heavily characterized by its nostalgic influences.
I actually discovered this album looking for black/thrash material–it’s one of the genres I follow fairly closely when it comes to new releases. Black/thrash has a lot of tropes that agree with me–a nice mix of prominent riffs, a knack for speed, and a hectic atmosphere that combines the hedonism and mysticism of extreme metal. Needless to say, after hearing the promo single “Absolute Metal” I thought I was into a similar experience with Barbarian.
Upon listening it felt much less like that throughout the rest of the tracks–what I found was an overall quick affair with not as many breakneck riffs as I expected. When I went into it expecting a relentless assault, I didn’t get exactly what I was looking for. I didn’t expect some sort of mythological black metal assault like Absu, but what I found still felt more of a cousin to Venom than a descendant.
It took a few listens before I realized that Barbarian was meant to be consumed at a much more reasonable pace. There are these breakneck moments that are meant to be furious–but Barbarian is not afraid to slow it down and isolate the riffs. In some ways, the comparison made by the label to early Running Wild isn’t exactly inaccurate. Tracks like “Bone Knife” didn’t catch my attention but after as I stopped expecting the album to blow past me, the pace and feel of the track really resonated with me. And when it does speed up–it’s heavy metal fury. The whole album has a classic feel that feels more at home with Motorhead and Saxon than it does early Sodom or Destruction.
The album is incredibly tight–it feels very professional. Maybe not what one would expect from a bunch of guys finding a middle ground between old school speed metal and something like Bulldozer, but it does very much work. It does have its shortcomings–songs like “Supreme Gift” don’t scratch the same itch. But within the moment, there is something here for the classic metal fan rather than the extreme. Imagine it as a black/speed metal album done by a heavy metal band.
Support them on Bandcamp: https://hellsheadbangers.bandcamp.com/album/cult-of-the-empty-grave