March 14, 2018 Susperia – The Lyricist (Album Review)
With a roster of members whose résumés include a list of well-known outfits, Susperia have ironically enjoyed a long, stable lineup and existence. Rising from the ashes of side project Seven Sins, Bassist Memnock (previously of Old Man’s Child), Drummer Tjoldav (having departed Dimmu Borgir), Guitarists Cyrus (ex-Satyricon, later of Dimmu Borgir) and Elvorn, and Vocalist Athera took the name Susperia in 2000 and released a strong series of albums in the 2000s.
Early works including 2002’s Vindication and 2004’s Unlimited cemented their style of Blackened Death Metal and still hold their weight today. Later on, the band adapted an almost Nu Metal groove in later works such as 2007’s Cut From Stone and 2009’s Attitude. Other than a brief tenure on keyboards by Mustis (Dimmu Borgir), the lineup was solid until health issues forced Vocalist Athera to the sidelines. The remaining members recruited Vocalist Bernt “Dagon” Fjellstad to fill in for live appearances during this convalescence, but ultimately Athera chose to leave the band entirely. Now, after much anticipation, Susperia are set to return with their new album, The Lyricist, on Friday, March 16, 2018 through Agonia Records.
A different band without Athera, in his parting announcement, he strongly suggested Memnock assume lead vocal duties, and, assuming the bassist was interested in the extra work, The Lyricist might be a different album. While it is true Dagon has been working with the band for almost a decade, his first recorded output, at times, sounds a bit out of place. Filling the shoes of an established member can be a daunting task, especially for a vocalist; performing in the exact style of your predecessor is likely to alienate fans about as much as establishing a new creative direction. Even with the understanding of being inside a can’t-win situation, the new style used by Dagon may take some getting used to.
The aptly titled opener, “I Entered,” announces Dagon with force, and his Power Metal background takes center stage. The instrumental portions of the track are classic Susperia; rhythm breakdowns and screeching guitar solos abound, but the new style of vocals seem a bit out of place, and moreover, they are often laid over simple progressions rather than meatier parts of the song, which does little to help the existing band blend with the distinct style of their new vocalist.
“Heretic” follows with a sound that is slightly over-polished, but that has always been the charm of Susperia – the underlying aggression of their songs is always present, and their fast pacing cannot be denied, but their production style tends to smooth the delivery a bit. The growlier vocal portions on this track fit the band much better here than the higher pitch work.
Moving on, the first thirty seconds of the title-track, “The Lyricist,” could serve as a blueprint for the lineup going forward: screeching guitars over rolling blast beats, with raspy vocals that are unique to Dagon, but also fit within the overall style Susperia have spent twenty years crafting. As quickly as the vibes feel familiar here, the tempo changes and the vocals shift their styling. The middle instrumental portion of the song again returns to something promising, almost like the band is back to its old tricks, and when the vocals return, they sound more at place with the band as a whole; in short, Dagon (and the mix) is singing with, not over, the band, as the track rolls to its finish.
A video was released for “My Darkest Moment,” a slow, nearly Deathrock track that eventually shifts into the band’s familiar aggressive progressions. As with “The Lyricist,” the vocals again sit a little better here, though the track does take an odd detour into a spoken word direction. Thereafter, “Day I Died” is also a strong melding of the Susperia sound with their new vocalist’s range.
On the other hand, “Void” is a mix of styles, while “Feed the Fire” is notable mainly for its simple chorus, amounting to little more than the song title repeated as if to energize a crowd. “Whore of Man” begins with healthy servings of Iron Maiden gallops before moving into Testament-style Thrash, which continues into the closer, “Come Alive,” a strong Thrash track that also leaves a good sign as to what the band can do going forward.
The Lyricist was recorded in three different studios, and it shows – it is hard to find a clear narrative across the various tracks. Athera is gone, and has been for quite some time; while Dagon is certainly comfortable using several different vocal styles, the sheer number of styles he tries is overwhelming, making it different to get a handle on what the band will sound like going forward.
Aside from the overtly operatic vocals of “I Entered,” a choice or three from the remaining styles would fit well within the overall Susperia landscape. For many, there may just be too many new things to adjust to from this album. That said, the title-track gives hope that a tighter writing and recording schedule will even out some of the bumps here. Based on sheer aggression and the promise of a new vocalist fitting the style going forward, CrypticRock gives The Lyricist 3.5 out of 5 stars.