For the past four years, German extreme metal masters Heaven Shall Burn have been on a creative journey unprecedented in their long career. Of Truth and Sacrifice, their eagerly-awaited ninth studio album, is a labour of love; the band stepped away from the music industry cycle to take their time and pour their emotions into composing and recording without deadline pressures. The result, to be released on 20th March, is a double album with nineteen tracks and almost one hundred minutes of music. Has their bold undertaking paid off?
A portentous instrumental introduction, “March Of Retribution,” announces the enormous scale and vision of this album. The band defined their concept first; the complexity of the notion of truth in an era of fake news and hypocrisy, versus the sacrifice required to get to the real truth and overcome the dumbing down of mankind. With the first half of the album dedicated to Truth, and the second to Sacrifice, the overriding mood is one of angst-ridden fury. The frenetic pace is punctuated with moments of poignant reflection, but the song titles alone (“La Résistance,” “Terminate The Unconcern,” “Weakness Leaving My Heart”) make it clear that this music is not about bitter disenchantment with the modern world – it’s a call to arms.
Heaven Shall Burn are no strangers to musical collaboration, having released several split albums and charity singles with other bands. But this time they have broadened their collaborative horizons further. They partnered with composer Sven Helbig (Rammstein, Pet Shop Boys), and the electro-industrial influence is striking in “Ubermacht” and “La Résistance.” They also brought in classical influences with renowned conductor Wilhelm Keitel, orchestrating string sections in “Expatriate” and several other tracks. There are also synths, piano, and clean singing in “The Sorrow Of Victory,” all of which add up to give the album a cinematic feel. The band has also just released a German-language documentary, ‘My Green Heart In Dark Times,’ which is being shown in German movie theatres and will be included in limited-edition versions of the album. Combined with the iconic cover art from Eliran Kantor, Of Truth and Sacrifice is truly a multi-media event.
But does it still sound like Heaven Shall Burn? The group’s core sound is characterized by heavy-artillery double-kick drumming, ultra-dense rolling riffs, and those signature alto guitar melodies, so subtly woven into the fabric of the music that their simple brilliance creeps up on you slowly. Not forgetting, of course, the unremitting anger and passion of Marcus Bischoff’s growl. Heavier than melodic death, more layered and sophisticated than metalcore or deathcore, Heaven Shall Burn is somewhere in between, with thrash and punk references too. And fans of this sound will not be disappointed, because Of Truth and Sacrifice is essentially a natural progression of the sound HSB has honed over their most recent two albums, Veto (2013) and Wanderer (2016). The band was not tempted to overdo the electronic and classical innovations, and out of nineteen tracks, fifteen can be described as heavy and up-tempo, with the trademark HSB sound.
There are some stand-out tracks; “Protector,” the first single to be released, is an exhilarating End Times anthem that gets more beautiful on every listen. “Children Of A Lesser God,” the first song they wrote for this album, is filled with Gothenburg melodeath catchiness, and there is gorgeous guitar work on “Eradicate.” Heaven Shall Burn has always been keen on covers, and there’s a suitable addition here with their version of Nuclear Assault’s prophetic 1989 ecological warning “Critical Mass.” The slow and poignant intros, outros and interludes do nothing to temper the aggression – indeed there is so much heaviness that these thoughtful moments work well to break up the unremitting intensity. They also force the listener to consider the message, which is no doubt the aim.
Because Heaven Shall Burn has always been a political band, and the years have not softened their stance at all. Since their beginnings in the late ‘90s they have been known for their straight-edge lifestyles, support for animal rights, and vocal opposition to injustice and intolerance. This album is their most passionate yet, with Marcus’ voice a boiling cauldron of emotion. Titles such as “Stateless,” “Expatriate,” and “Thoughts and Prayers” – that vacuous statement uttered whenever a mass shooting occurs in the U.S. – are just some of the profoundly contemporary references in this album. For “My Heart And The Ocean,” Heaven Shall Burn partnered with Sea Shepherd to make a video plea for marine conservation. The lyrics to “Protector” are terrifying in their apocalyptic imagery (“This is the very end… I am the last resort…”), and there is no forgiveness for the guilty (“..no amnesty for their felonies..”), but there is hope and resilience too (“I am your shield and sword.. this new dominion will be born”). The final brooding outro track is a wall of grim determination: “your spirit is still strong within you, and our enemies will face you through my words and by my deeds, finally I know that all this pain is just weakness leaving my heart.”
It’s tempting to be cynical about an album of this length – surely it’s self-indulgence to have this many tracks? But for fans, it’s a gift, filled with surprises, and moreover there’s an impressive coherence to all of this. Musical, lyrical and thematic motifs are linked throughout. For example, the unsettling discordance of the tremolo guitars in “What War Means” are referenced later in “The Sorrows Of Victory,” in a clever musical link between the two sides of the album. A story is being told here, and it rewards multiple listens, as new layers are discovered. Heaven Shall Burn has reached a stage in their career where, instead of resting on their laurels, they have used their success to push creative boundaries and deliver a message. The band is back on the festival circuit this summer with a tour planned next year, and these anthemic new tracks are going to be formidable additions to their powerful live performances.
Of Truth and Sacrifice Track Listing:
1. March Of Retribution
2. Thoughts And Prayers
6. My Heart And The Ocean
8. What War Means
9. Terminate The Unconcern
10. The Ashes Of My Enemies
1. Children Of A Lesser God
2. La Résistance
3. The Sorrows Of Victory
7. Critical Mass
8. Eagles Among Vultures
9. Weakness Leaving My Heart
Run Time: 1:37:36
Release Date: March 20, 2020
Record Label: Century Media Records