Reviewed: [November 2020]
Released [2020 More Hate Productions]
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
They may hail from Finland, but Spiritual Holocaust certainly have an ear for old school Swedish death metal. The band’s second album is awash in the classic buzz-sawing, HM2 pedal-powered riffs and d-beat battery championed by Grave, Dismember, Unleashed, Entombed, Carnage, etc., 30 some years ago – and which endures to this day thanks to the hordes of revivalist acts that just keep coming.
These guys have been around for the better part of a decade and have an EP and full-length under their belts to this point. But like a few bands of this ilk, they have managed to take the vintage sound and give it if not a new at least a distinctive twist in both the approach and delivery.
Echoes of the Apocalypse, the band’s second album, actually has a few things that work in its favor. For one, there’s the burly chugginess Spiritual Holocaust employ throughout that really beefs up the overall sound, a la Bolt Thrower. Instead of sounding like a swarm of bees – or, I guess more fittingly, “murder hornets,” which apparently are a thing now – buzzing away at one speed, Apocalypse mixes up the tempos and delivers some genuine swagger and heft, especially on tracks like “Faceless Bodies,” “Awaken In Casket” or “Memories from Mass Grave.”
The guitar tandem of Janne Satokangas and Vesa Hämäläinen also employs some clever, yet modest tweaks to combat the constant buzz as well. Taking a page from thrash metal, while one of them saws away at the main riff the other will incorporate fleet black metal dalliances, melodic sweeps or theatrical textures to bring some depth to the presentation without resorting to flash.
This also makes for a welcome contrast to the guttural rasp of frontman Tomi Vähäkangas, who sounds like a hybrid of Chris Barnes from his Cannibal Corpse days and Deicide’s Glen Benton. His is a genuinely “death metal” voice, deeper and more vomitous than the typical “Swe-death” shouting, making Spiritual Holocaust’s bluster all the more fearsome, even with the flourishes mentioned above.
And for the most part, that is a good thing. A less imposing tone on the closing track “Last Rays of the Sun” – with its epic construction and dramatic swells – could have made it a truly “grand finale.” But the grandiosity is worn away by Vähäkangas’ uber abrasive voice. Still, it could have been worse or more awkward if he’d tried to tone things down, as witnessed on the last Amon Amarth album when Johan Hegg tried to clean things up on several tracks with cringe-worthy results.
Regardless, Spiritual Holocaust make a good go of it on Echoes of the Apocalypse. The band’s take on old-school Swedish death metal captures its spirit and raw power, yet without the usual unashamed reverence. By taking a few small steps to add some personal touches, they stand out from the herd and, as such, deserve to be heard.