Released: 2008, Recital Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
After a 10 year hiatus, Portugal’s Heavenwood return to the metal world with their third full length release, REDEMPTION. The band has traveled an interesting path to get to where they are today. Originating as a death metal band under the moniker Disgorged (not to be confused with the U.S. band of the same name), the group underwent a stylistic change in the mid-‘90s towards gothic metal a la Moonspell and thus adopted the new persona of Heavenwood. Two releases would follow, 1996’s DIVA and 1998’s SWALLOW. The band appeared to gain some traction on the European circuit with some high profile tours when things started to fall apart. All of the usual suspects reared their heads - internal issues, label problems, and creative differences culminated simultaneously causing the band’s activity to stall. Core members Ernesto Guerra, Ricardo Dias and Bruno Silva managed to get the ball rolling again in 2007, accompanied by session musicians to round out their rhythm section (Hugo Pires and Luiz Ferreira on bass and drums respectively). The resulting REDEMPTION is thankfully worth the wait and shows the creative forces in the band taking some bold action.
REDEMPTION shows Heavenwood adopting a hard rock driven approach with gothic infusions, not too far removed from Amorphis’ ELEGY – coincidentally also a turning point album for the latter band. While that may seem sketchy in print, the music itself is pretty remarkable. The album is full of hooks and grooves with mainstream sensibilities, while still keeping themselves tethered to their metal roots. Album opener “13th Room” sets the tone for the rest of the album, with its drum roll opening and swaggering guitar lines. The vocals are all over the place, with some deathly growls combined with some actual singing. “Me and You” is reminiscent of DRACONIAN TIMES-era Paradise Lost, a more mid-tempo affair with layers of vocals creating a rich atmosphere driven by a crunchy guitar. “Bridge to Neverland” is a heavier affair, with some eastern-influences present. “Fragile” sounds like it’s destined to be a single somewhere. While still keeping with the ethereal flow of the album, it wouldn’t sound out of place on rock radio stations. “Her Scent in the Spiral” picks up the eastern influences again in the main melody, ebbing and flowing between aggressive tendencies and more mellow interludes. “Slumber” is probably the most outright “metal” song on REDEMPTION, resurrecting some of the band’s own history to close the disc.
For some, words like “accessible” or “mainstream” automatically give them the heebie jeebies, fearing that their favorite bands will suddenly turn into Nickleback. But those concepts don’t have to be negatives, assuming that the intentions of the band are true and the integrity is unchallenged. Heavenwood have managed to successfully incorporate mainstream accessibility into a tried and true formula of gothic metal to create something special. REDEMPTION is a creative, catchy collection of songs that apparently needed a little bit more time in the womb before coming to fruition. With the right promotion and album distribution, Heavenwood could find their star rising once again.