Guest Review: Stan Gets Barbaric with Cult of the Empty Grave

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Barbarian are a three-piece hailing from Florence (Italy), and they’re about to lay waste to the world’s great civilizations with the gargantuan, primitive might of their new album, Cult of the Empty Grave. Grab your bluntest instrument and your hardiest leather, because our main man Stan is going to walk you through this tour-de-force in style.

CotEG is Barbarian’s third album, and it continues the progression away from the Celtic Frost veneration of their eponymous debut and their crushingly heavy interpretation of NWOBHM meets thrash displayed of Faith Extinguisher. While still harnessing and upholding all of the traditions of 80s metal, on CotEG Barbarian have taken the finest elements of the epoch and forcefully crammed them through an injection molder, producing something that is surprisingly fresh, lively and heavier than a concrete elephant. Simply put, what we have here are seven battle-ready anthems capable of inducing involuntary fist-pumps, coarse grunting and various other forms of erratic behavior.

Opening track “Bridgeburner” sets out the stall in fine fettle. The rampaging opening riff and deathly roar that lead the charge are followed closely by galloping guitars and pummeling drums. Tempo changes abound, and although none are particularly brisk, their structure creates urgency. Textural elements are provided by the heroic backing vocals of the chorus and a resonating solo, both of which add a nice counterpoint to all the bashing and bruising.

The next two songs, “Whores of Redemption” and “Cult of the Empty Grave”, are a tad less riotous, falling predominantly into the category of mid-tempo stompers, but don’t let that description mislead you. They are both full of dynamic riffs that could cleave your cranium clean off. Bludgeoning rhythms are intertwined with soaring leads and brief speed metal forays resulting in instantly catchy, diverse and rabble-rousing little ditties.

If you love metal, then you’ll absolutely love “Absolute Metal”. Tongue in cheek title aside, this is a banger of a tune that opens with one almighty Tom G Warrior “ooh”. Speed metal is the name of the game, although the chugging riff just before the two-minute mark will have you violently nodding your head in approval. In short, this song rips. Interestingly enough, there’s a song on Faith Extinguisher called “Total Metal”. I’m gonna petition the band to include “Sheer Metal” on the next album. Or maybe, “Outright Metal”. Leave other suggestions in the comments.

Next up is “Supreme Gift”, and we find the band returning to the more mid-paced arena in which guitar tones and bass lines are as thick as whale omelets.  While there’s plenty of tom-tom clobbering and powerful down-strum riffing, this song falls a little flat. The riffs and solos are there, the gruff vocals are there, the battery is there, but it feels like it’s missing some oomph. Maybe it’s just the come down after the colossal “Absolute Metal”.

Nevertheless, “Bone Knife” gets us back on track with one of the biggest sing-along choruses in the band’s repertoire. If you’re not shouting “Barbarian” during the chorus of this number, the CSI unit are going to have a hard time finding your pathetic corpse with one of their fancy metal detector things. This song will surely become a live favorite, and I can already envision the pit kicking off when the dynamics take a turn midway through.

Album closer “Remorseless Fury” is exactly what it says on the label. Everything that I like about Barbarian has been distilled into a potion so potent that it would etch steel. Riffs are piled upon riffs, each one complementing and enhancing that which came before and none ever outstaying their welcome. If there’s such a thing as a riff feast, this song is the last supper. The turbulent tempos constantly change every few bars, driven by the magnificent rhythm section and highlighted by numerous short but sweet leads.

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CotEG is so immediately catchy, I initially had to question how long it would take for me to tire of it. Well, iTunes tells me that I have listened to it a little over thirty times while writing this review and I still want to put it on again. It is only thirty-four minutes long, so either its brevity is acting in its favor, or the riffs are just that good. Adding to the album’s replay value is the stellar production job. It’s dense, it’s heavy, it’s got just the right amount of distortion, and the spaciousness of the mix allows every note to be heard clearly.

So having said all that, I do have a couple of gripes, the first one being the prevalence of mid-paced tempos. I just wish there where a few more songs, or even extended sections of songs, that focused more on the band’s speed metal influences. Sure there are moments of unchecked aggression, but I want more! Secondly, the album feels quite controlled, especially when compared to their previous releases. As their name implies, I prefer Barbarian to sound a little less polished and a lot more unruly. These are only minor quibbles, and when all is said and done, CotEG delivers.

4 out of 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

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Cult of the Empty Grave is out on April 15th via Hells Headbangers. You can pre-order it here and give the band a like here.

(image via Hells Headbangers and Facebook)

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