Swedish quartet, Tungsten, are one of the most unique groups in metal. Not because of their sound, but because they started as the brainchild of Hammerfall/Manowar drummer, Anders Johannson, as a quest to form a band with his two sons. Both Nick Johansson (guitars) and Karl Johansson (bass) are excellent musicians but working with dad must spur them on even more. Bliss is their third album since their 2019 debut and will disappoint nobody in the power and folk metal scenes. Those of you that dip into these sub-genres with tepid enthusiasm will be less excited.
It’s a bit worrying that Tungsten’s idea of experimenting with contemporary music is to incorporate elements of an anachronistic industrial metal into their library. Look what happened to Morbid Angel in 2011 when they misinterpreted the direction of history. Yet album opener, ‘In the Center’, makes a triumph of the tuba samples and dramatic tom drums and rocks with a mighty drop-tuned riff. Imagine if Manowar asked Septicflesh to co-write a song with them with a pivot towards the crowd-rousing “woe-owe-oh” chant in the middle eight. Eleven anthems of this calibre could keep you awake.
Unfortunately, the cut and crunch of track number one seldom find expression in the other compositions on this record. ‘Dreamers’ sets a blueprint of using celestial keyboard hooks for the vocalist to follow in the chorus. Is there a bigger cliché in power metal than repeating the chorus on the fourth rendition using a higher octave range, just like Bon Jovi do in ‘Living on a Prayer’? ‘On the Sea’ is guilty of this predictable technique. ‘Come This Way’ uses a synth loop that German cringe-pop duo, Modern Talking, would reject as too weak. This is music for the much-derided Dungeons & Dragons afterschool club.
But with pedigree comes quality, and nobody can accuse Tungsten of lacking craftsmanship. The title track is a splendid mesh of industrial groove metal with blood-seeking vocals and a crushing breakdown riff at the end. This would be one of the strongest songs on the latest Dagoba album. ‘Wonderland’ venerates the crystal-clear air and breath-taking power of the mountainous landscape of northern Europe, yet it subsists on an extravagant guitar lick. Both would be even better if the throwaway folk metal of ‘Afraid of the Light’ and ‘Eye of the Storm’ did not follow so soon after. One cannot criticise the supreme ability of Mike Andersson to tell a story with the power of his singing voice, but the band’s decision to embrace this at the expense of their heavier side spoils the last third of this record. What happened to the moody industrial aggression of the first four tracks?
Tungsten have fun making music, and they want you to enjoy the audio experience. Most of the time you can. You should cherish those moments when they conjure images of fawns and unicorns on the enchanting ‘Heart of Rust’. Why not hold your beer aloft for those singalong choruses that transport you to the Oktoberfest and every other international beer festival in Europe with a national costume and a modicum of peasant play-acting? Be expressive – get that head spinning to every muscular guitar groove they deliver.
And yet for all the fun and bravado, you must ask the question – would you listen to this LP again? Tungsten say this album is darker than its predecessor, but a smattering of death metal growls and the occasional rampage on the double-bass pedal do not make for essential listening. Your face wears a smirk when it should be gurning. Maybe some bands belong on a live stage…
Release Date: 17/06/2022
Record Label: Arising Empire Records
Standout tracks: In the Center, March Along, Bliss
Suggested Further Listening: Falconer – From a Dying Ember (2020), Hammerfall – Glory to the Brave (1997), Warkings – Revenge (2020)