Album Title: Empyrean
Label: Redefining Darkness Records
Date of Release: 26 February 2021
Recorded between 2019 and 2020, ‘Empyrean’ is the debut full-length release from Swedish band Paranorm, a quartet that formed way back in 2007, releasing two EPs to date. Their style is demonstrably thrash metal with a dash of black and death metal thanks in part to the gruff vocals, and some progressive leanings, with many of their songs on ‘Empyrean’ spanning over seven minutes in length. I understand that sheer length of tracks doesn’t necessarily mean something is progressive, but in this case, there is plenty of evidence to enable that conclusion to be drawn. There’s also an argument to throw the descriptor ‘neo-classical’ into the mix as well.
Essentially then, what the four musicians within Paranorm have achieved, is very commendable, because they manage to blend an awful lot into their music whilst making it a thoroughly enjoyable affair. Kudos should therefore go to vocalist/guitarist Markus Hiltunen, guitarist Fredrik Kjellgren, bassist Marcus Blom, and drummer Samuel Karlstrand for their debut album.
What grabbed me initially to the Paranorm cause is the way in which the music sounds both ‘old-school’ and entirely modern and relevant in today’s metal scene. It is fair to say that the Swedes haven’t completely reinvented the thrash metal wheel, because if you listen carefully enough, you’ll hear plenty of their influences within the eight tracks on ‘Empyrean’, ranging from Metallica and Megadeth, through to Kreator and latter-day Dissection just to name a few. However, what I like is the way that there’s no copycat activity here; yes they pay a certain homage to the bands they love, but it is done in a way that is entirely authentic and incredibly professionally put together.
The musicianship throughout the album is, without question, out of the top drawer, with each member of the band displaying a prowess that cannot be ignored. Whether it is the wave upon wave of sharp, incisive riffing, the lead breaks, the commanding and deep bass, or the frantic drumming, it’s all there and done in a way that’s seriously impressive.
I hate to single out anyone specifically within a review but to be honest, for me, it is the riffing and guitar work that stands out the most on ‘Empyrean’. Hiltunen and Kjellgren don’t stop; they deliver riff after riff, most of which are really great to listen to, be they faster-paced or slower and more groove-oriented. And they are accomplished soloists too, with an ear for more than just speed of the notes being played.
On to the songs themselves and ‘Edge Of The Horizon’ is one of the stand-out compositions on offer because it has a little bit of everything within it that makes Paranorm such a positive listening experience as far as I’m concerned. It opens with a gorgeous acoustic intro, upon which the bass and electric guitars build elegantly. It has more of a black metal feel to my ears, something that continues throughout the song, with copious amounts of dark, raspy vocals and plenty of atmosphere. And yet, the band effortlessly branch off into a break-neck thrash attack whilst keeping it perfectly in step with the overall tone of the song. The pace varies brilliantly, with a sinister but catchy-as-hell chorus rearing its head, led by an imploring lead guitar line and supplemented by blistering drumming. Swift lead breaks, some with a definite neo-classical vibe litter the song expertly, whilst the twists and turns in tempo, direction and musical dexterity underline the progressive credentials without any doubt. I especially love the nuanced drumming and exuberant bass at points within the song. But to be honest, it’s just a great piece of music from start to finish.
When I mentioned earlier the lead guitar prowess on display on ‘Empyrian’, then look no further than ‘Cannibal’ for some of the best examples to justify what I was getting at. The track itself is a pretty savage affair. Fast and aggressive for large parts, it’s a snarling darkened thrash beast. But there’s also a strong groovy riff that emerges, followed by an exquisite lead solo that literally sings with melody before changing tack to something much quicker and piercing.
The 80s Bay Area thrash influences loom large within the opening minutes of the title track, another gargantuan piece of music that rivals ‘Edge Of Horizon’ in terms of sheer variety but which still manages to allow enough in the way of hooks and melody to ensure it’s an engrossing listen. The sombre and melodic acoustic-led mid-section is fantastic for example, as are the dual neo-classical harmonies that emerge as the track progresses.
In terms of all-out melody, a word has to go to the final composition, ‘Desolate Worlds (Distant Dimensions)’. The savagery of the Paranorm black/thrash approach is present from the opening notes of course but suddenly, all aggression is replaced by an acoustic guitar and rumbling bass signalling a rather poignant instrumental interlude, as the quartet get out their metaphorical lighters and wave them in the sky. The rest of the song reverts to their uncompromising norm, but the juxtaposition works really well in my opinion.
In fact, most of the music on this album works really well with very little to fault it. As such, it has provided me with a most pleasant surprise and plenty of enjoyment over the past week or two. I’m beginning to develop a bit of a soft spot for this kind of bastardised thrash metal, and Paranorm are the perfect example of why that is. When the music is of such a high quality and it gets coupled with great songwriting and a willingness to experiment a little, it’s hard not to fall for its charms. I therefore have no qualms in recommending ‘Empyrean’ very highly indeed.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%
Further reviews from 2021:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: