Essex quintet, Beneath the Embers, are heroes of their local scene and fine purveyors of high-adrenaline heavy metal. Formed in 2016 by Lewis Roland (vocals) and Clint Bredin (lead guitar), the Colchester natives know only one tempo, and that’s the rocket trajectory of a space shuttle. Their 2017 EP, Ashes, helped them play shows beyond the south-east England and establish their name on the circuit, but the real work begins now with their long-awaited debut and an upcoming tour in support of Tarja (ex-Nightwish). Condemned has some magnificent moments of air-clutching suspense and head-banging drama, but it’s not without flaws.
Two things you can commend about this record are its fleet-footed sparring posture and high blood pressure. Beneath the Embers are like greyhounds waiting for their cages to spring open on ‘Set Me Free’. It’s clear they’re unwilling to commit to one dominant strain of thrash, melodic death metal or metalcore during the three minutes and sixteen seconds of this track, and the confusion it ought to cause does not tax you with too much difficulty. The heavy parts are devastating, yet the melodic chorus sparkles like a pop metal triumph from the 1980s. Think classic Metallica covering Dark Tranquillity with an undercurrent of Avenged Sevenfold. It’s slap bang in the middle of a stadium metal orgy, yet it never fails to get your pulses racing. Unfortunately, Lewis Roland can’t decide if his palette should be tainted by a raw animal blood feast or the camera wink of metalcore-lite. Listen to the intro to ‘Battleborn’ as a case in point: it starts like At the Gates but slips into a Bullet for My Valentine pastiche within thirty seconds. You wonder if you’re back in 2005 when people still consumed their music on CD and Killswitch Engage were the future of metal.
Every song here starts with a dynamite intro of crunchy guitar riffing and ferocious vocal roaring, but few of them stay this way. That’s because Lewis Roland has an impressive vocal register and no interest in sticking to one style. How much better would ‘Drag You to the Grave’ be if he dropped his lighter vocal moments by an octave and sung with a huskier tone like, say, John Bush (Armored Saint/Anthrax)? The same problem haunts ‘Breaking Down the Walls’ and the title track, both of which house some of the most urgent thrash metal rhythms you’ll hear all year with some off the most unnecessary pop metal choruses this side of Def Leppard.
When Beneath the Embers get it right, they do it with a sense of urgency that few bands can replicate. The bass work is exquisite in tone and technical precision, just as the colossal drum engineering makes you feel like you’re at the mixing desk of a Mutt Lange session. ‘Undead’ hints at a prog metal landscape with its psychedelic guitar rotations and a surprise nod to the glorious vocal dynamics of Björn Strid (Soilwork). Make no mistake: Beneath the Embers like to use the heaviest gears in metal to remind you of their mission. The monumental guitar distortion and crisp bite of the palm-mutes here will chop you down like a threshing blade. They don’t forget the obligatory breakdowns, either. Can any modern metal band with visions of a mile-long festival audience leave out the glorious unison of the double-kick drums and chugging guitars when the people demand a violent climax?
Forty-five minutes could be trimmed down to thirty-five minutes here with no drop in standard, and fans of the 2017 debut EP might wonder if re-recording three of the tracks from that record is a good idea. Too many of the choruses wander into American mall rock/emo territory (see ‘What You’ve Become’ and ‘Demonised’), but you cannot fault the energy levels or the ferocity of the delivery. Indeed, closing track, ‘Fade Away’, demonstrates that Beneath the Embers have more than just speed and anthemic repetition in their armoury. Lewis Roland lays down a poignant dual harmony chorus like a ghost from the dead reflecting on his former life. It will make the skin tighten on your forehead, and you’ll wonder why they could not produce more of this at the mid-way point of the album.
Beneath the Embers have the production, the riffs, and the self-belief to take things to the next level. Let this be a learning curve for them – the objective is within their grasp, but they need to make a few refinements to their sound if they’re to emancipate beyond their current status as local metal heroes.
Release Date: 04/11/2022
Record Label: Metal Massacre Records
Standout tracks: Set Me Free, Undead, Fade Away
Suggested Further Listening: Avenged Sevenfold – City of Evil (2005), Dark Tranquillity – Projector (1999), Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse: “The Settlers Saga Pt.1” (2022)