‘There are only twelve notes in a scale – of course people repeat stuff’. That’s what my music teacher, Dr Jenkins used to say, and although I’ve no idea about whether he was right or not, it’s a phrase that’s stuck with me and one I like to bring out sagely whenever somebody accuses one of my fave bands of plagiary; So I’m going to say it now about Swedes Below before anybody accuses them of being a barefaced Candlemass knockoff…
The thing is, influences are only as good as the influencees; and in this lucky respect Below are very good indeed. Sure, there are massive nods to Candlemass and Mercyful Fate/King Diamond wherever you look on Upon a Pale Horse, but the whole album (like its predecessor, 2014’s Across a Dark River) is so well done, so superbly executed and so gloriously received that such nit-picking comparison is surely pointless in the face of the facts, the most important one of which is that vocalist Zeb might well be the best pure metal voice you’ve heard in a long, long time. He’s actually better than Messiah Marcolin and Kim Bendix Petersen, adding a steely shard of Geoff Tate in his prime to those two already massive throats, and every performance he makes on this record is pure, unadulterated gold. The scream with which he ends the track Suffer in Silence is the stuff of legend – I kid you not.
And so it’s almost redundant to try and review Upon a Pale Horse, because over the course of its eight song, forty seven minute duration Below don’t put a foot – or a riff – wrong, The music they make transcends the doom category that they find themselves placed in, although there’s a depressive, foreboding edge to their music that certain lends itself to the term; rather they take everything that has been glorious about true metal over the last thirty five years and mold it to their own ends with the touch of master craftsmen all. Melody is everywhere, even in the adamantine, lachrymose riffs of guitarists Paud and Berg or the rhythm tectonics of bassist Hedman and drummer Doc, but it’s all in the service of that voice, and it’s that voice that’s going to have you coming back to Below again and again and again. A new hero is born, a new metal God enters the pantheon. All hail Zeb!
Upon a Pale Horse is out now on Metal Blade