Released: 2009, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
While attending this year’s Summer Slaughter tour, I came across the merch booth of a new band from Canada named Blackguard. In talking to bass player Etienne Mailloux about the debut album that the band was supporting, entitled PROFUGUS MORTIS, with a sly grin he told me “it’s epic.” As the band would be officially opening up the day’s festivities, I told him that if I liked what I heard, I’d come back and shell out the $10 for the disc. Sufficed to say, as far as I was concerned, their brief 30-minute performance was the highlight of the show and I gladly parted ways with my ten-spot.
Blackguard were the winners of a Myspace contest where up and coming bands could win a record deal with the fine folks at Nuclear Blast. And while PROFUGUS MORTIS is technically the debut album under the Blackguard moniker, the band released a full length and an EP under the name of Profugus Mortis, changing the name to Blackguard in 2008 (are you still with me?). Name changes aside, the band play a speed driven, folk inspired brand of melodic death/thrash (are you sure you’re still with me?). Whatever you want to call it, they do it well. The album consists of 9 songs of synthed out fist pumping metal that will keep your head banging for the full 40 minutes of the disc.
For a relatively young band, they’re exceptionally tight performance wise. The guitar team of Terry Deschenes and Kim Gosselin layers punchy, upbeat rhythms with melodic lead runs riding atop. The rhythm section of Mailloux and Justine Ethier are on point, but unfortunately get lost in the mix all to frequently. But the real highlights on PROFUGUS MORTIS are vocalist Paul Ablaze and keyboardist Jonathan Lefrancois-Leduc. Ablaze has a biting high/low scowl that’s just dirty enough to please the heavier end of the spectrum while still being melodic and intelligible enough to please the power/traditional metal ilk. The keyboard work creates a seamless tapestry of atmosphere throughout the disc and deserves most of the credit for the band’s successes here.
Underneath the wall of symphonic elements, Blackguard come pretty close to the typical Soilwork territory, combining crisp thrash riffing with oodles of melody. But it’s that wall of symphonic elements that gives Blackguard its character. There’s a heavy Celtic/folk inspiration within the song arrangements coupled with lyrics fueled by stories of good and evil and the choices we make, providing the album with a momentous, Braveheart style vibe. From the anthemic intro to “Scarlet to Snow,” to the galloping battle stride of “In Time,” to the manic pace of “Cinder,” to the accordion lines of my new favorite drinking anthem “This Round’s On Me,” PROFUGUS MORTIS is just plain fun to listen to. The songs are fast, catchy, powerful and feel so damn metal! As good as the disc is, I wish the production elements had been a little more balanced. As mentioned, the band has a great rhythm section that’s barely heard in the mix and Ablaze’s vocals are flat with the rest of the band rather than being up front and pronounced.
Nitpicking aside, Blackguard has set the bar high with this first release. Full of speedy, rollicking metal anthems, PROFUGUS MORTIS is an impressive affair from start to finish. Bright and upbeat enough to please the power metal crowd and mean enough to get the thrash crowd going in a circle pit, Blackguard should appeal to a wide audience. Check this one out for sure.