Released: 2016, Hells Headbanger Records
Reviewer: Michael De Los Muertos
I remember about 16 or 17 years ago, in the year 1999 or 2000, I went to a metal show—I think the headliner was Neurosis, but I can’t be 100% sure because after a certain number of years they all blur together—and during one of the opening acts I wound up hanging out with a guy I remember quite distinctly. He had a bunch of piercings in his face and was wearing a T-shirt advertising some band I did not like. Somehow, when I went up to the bar for a beer, we wound up chatting. I don’t recall what we talked about, but he turned out to be a perfectly delightful guy and I had a great time hanging out with him. I don’t remember his name and I never saw him again but this was a pleasant way to spend an evening. This guy would never have been my best friend, but for having a couple of beers and chatting at a metal show, he was all right.
Barbarian’s Cult of the Empty Grave is exactly like that experience. This is not a transcendental album. Barbarian will never be my favorite band. I’m not going to spend my life savings hitchhiking to Florence (the band is from Italy) to stalk them because I’m an obsessed fan who can’t get enough. But honestly I can’t find anything negative to say about their third album, Cult of the Empty Grave. I started listening to it in my kitchen as I was cooking one night. As the opening track, “Bridgeburner,” came on, I started thinking, “Hey, that’s not bad.” As the album went on with its chunky riffs, croaky vocals and generally down-tuned production, I found myself following along happily in what I think was precisely the thrash/black metal vibe that the band intended its listeners to follow. I was down with the program. They didn’t take me anyplace necessarily new and groundbreaking, but I thoroughly enjoyed the album, which in fact grew on me upon a second listen. I especially liked the tracks “Absolute Metal” and “Bone Knife,” which explored some aural territory just a bit more complex than you’d expect from a band that promises only to play metal competently and to provide their fans with a solid listening experience that is, if not artistic and trail-blazing, at least well worth their time and money.
This album never disappointed me. Every track was fast, heavy in its style, consistent in its approach and well-executed in its musicianship. These Italians are workaday metalheads who know the sort of thing you want to play on your stereo when you invite your friends over for a couple of beers after work. In a sense this is the highest compliment I can pay them, because they obviously know exactly what they’re doing, exactly who their audience is and they succeed in doing everything they set out to do. Honestly we need more bands like this. No poseuring or posturing, just good, solid, worth-your-while metal. Heavy metal is one of those rare musical genres where fans and listeners reward sincerity and honesty. You should reward Barbarian by buying their album, because it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed.