Bloodred Hourglass – Your Highness


Finland has more melodic death metal bands per square mile than snow ploughs. If that’s not true, it should be. For reasons unknown, the citizens of this progressive social democracy have a fondness for the genre that Carcass and At the Gates pioneered in the early 1990s, to the point where you now look to Finland rather than Sweden for the next generation of artists. Bloodred Hourglass are one of the new melodeath merchants pushing the boundaries forward, but they sound nothing like Iron Maiden with growling vocals. In fact, reducing their art to a generic term does them no justice. Your Highness is an epic commando assault with a distinctive European M.O. and a penchant for chivalrous metal riffs.

One way to approach this record is to dispense with any pre-conceived notions about Finnish metal and to imagine that Bloodred Hourglass are a UK contemporary of Employed to Serve and Svalbard. Another is to picture them as a metalcore version of Harakiri for the Sky. You could even call them a melodic death metal interpretation of Paradise Lost. The point is this band are wise enough to keep you guessing. Opener, ‘Leaves’, starts like ‘My Last Serenade’ by Killswitch Engage but soon settles into a bizarre hybrid of chunky metallic syncopation with atmospheric lead guitar melodies and throat flagellations that will leave you touching your Adam’s apple in sympathy. On first listen, this reviewer heard black metal textures and an icy northern European breeze blowing through the music but could not recapture this feeling on repeat listens. Maybe this is the true mystery of Bloodred Hourglass. Like a chameleon, they change colours and make you question your own certainties. What’s not in doubt is their quintessential European sound. ‘Drag Me the Rain’ mixes tremolo rhythms and sorrowful choruses with galloping thrash riffs and heroic melodies. You can see why they need three guitarists to produce such a wide range of sound frequencies across the audio spectrum.

Perhaps the strongest aspect of Bloodred Hourglass is their ability to convey the snow-topped pines and enchanted woodlands through the moon glow of their music. ‘Nightmares are Dreams Too’ conjures images of Vikings battling each other in Lapland. You can even feel the frost on the tips of your fingers when you tune into ‘Change of Heart’. Yet they think nothing of inserting a metalcore suite of breakdown riffing among this chest-beating metallic onslaught. Be under no illusions: this is a heavy album with no shortage of colossal guitar riffing. ‘Veritas’ and ‘Leave Out All the Rest’ should get the attention of any stadium metal band passing through Finland on their next tour. The guitar work is exquisite in the way it balances an expressive presence among the fast riffing and atmospheric layering.

For an album that relies on the intoxication and thrill of action, Your Highness has few faults. But a couple of things appear after further analysis. The band’s determination to extend their intros with meandering synths feel like yesterday’s clichés. Likewise, they leave you with the impression that they’re still searching for the perfect ballad, despite their best efforts on ‘My Prime of Kneel’. This song would be destined for mediocrity if not for a sudden outburst of technical scale shredding. It reminds you that the line between gothic metal and melodic death metal lies somewhere in a shapeless and desolate no man’s land that should only be approached with extreme caution.

There’s no doubt Your Highness is a unique album. It can appeal to both post-hardcore and atmospheric black metal audiences without sacrificing its core identity as a record for Amorphis and Amon Amarth fans. We can only guess where Bloodred Hourglass will go after this, but their expeditionary enthusiasm leaves you wondering if this is just the beginning of an epic adventure.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 22/10/2021

Record Label: Out of Line Music

Standout tracks: Drag Me the Rain, Veritas, Gone for Now

Suggested Further Listening: Harakiri for the Sky – Mӕre (2021), Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better? (2020), Blood Youth – Vision of Another Hell (2021)