International death metallers Khazaddum have returned with their self-released debut, Plagues Upon Arda. Wherever the hell Arda is. It’s quite apparent that aside from the films and games, I’m no Tolkien buff. Though I will respect his contribution to the world of fantasy. Prezir‘s Luka Djordjevic is featured on vocals, while the majority of guitar compositions are performed by Alex Rausa. Tony Cannizzaro handles the bass and Peter Kissane is on drums. Though all of these gentlemen hold their own and Trae Titus is responsible for the Tolkien-esque symphonics featured on the disc, it doesn’t honestly feel like it belongs in the world of Tolkien. In fact, the best way that I could describe Khazaddum is Nile for Tolkien fans. Though I’d be fooling myself if there weren’t any early Swedish death slabs popping up as an influence here too. (I’m not going to keep saying Grave all the time, you know what I mean by now). The overall product isn’t bad, comes off rather pummeling and in completely different territory than you’d expect (like I said, early Swedish death) but the album cover and such might come off with the wrong idea. I guess if there were a bunch of dead dwarven warriors on the front cover slaughtered by orcs or something in the traditional of gory Swedish death covers, it would fit the sound a little better. To be honest, the artwork here looks like something common for a power metal act, and maybe there needs to be a bit of blood dripping from those mountains in the band’s logo. It just doesn’t match what a listener would expect to hear, so it’s a bit of an odd fit. This may sound like a petty concern, but I think it would be as apparent as a major label concern as well.
That being said, if we strip all the adventure gear from these guys, they come off as pretty solid death metal. I think the 64% on Metal Archives was just a little harsh here, as I’d at least bump that up to a 70%. They’re not terrible by any means, and obviously taste is subjective; but I’ve certainly heard more boring approaches from this genre – and at least it isn’t riddled with core elements. I even think that if death metal fans (and yes, I am marketing this to fans of classic death metal, synths aside) give this one a few listens, they’re going to find that it’s a suitable album in the genre. The production is raw, but audible; the vocals are as scathing and volatile as we’d like them to be, the bass nodes thunder, the leads full of heat and fire – it definitely matches the sound of classic death metal. The disc is a little on the short side, but it’s about average length for a death metal disc. It opens with a nice synthy intro and throws into synths every now and again, but these sections often feel forced. Maybe on a future album, they won’t. Don’t get me wrong, I would like these guys to continue and explore this “Tolkien Death Metal” concept, but I’d like a better melding of the fantasy elements. Something that would take me into the dark side of Tolkien. I’d love to see that happening.
There are a couple of guitar solos here and there, and a really nice riff idea on “Oathkeeper’s Curse” right at the very beginning. It’s obvious that Rausa can write, even throwing it into black metal a bit. But I still think that this debut shows the kind of band that Khazaddum can be, rather than what they will be. Out of all of Luka’s many projects, I find Prezir to be the strongest as of this writing. Though I won’t say that Khazaddum doesn’t have a chance of becoming the next big thing in death metal, either. They might just need to analyze the formula a little bit, and make some possible changes that will take this idea into the next stage of evolution. Plagues Upon Arda is a very promising recording, but it needs to be a bit more to make it past the hurdle. If they have a “Giant Growth” somewhere in their Magic deck, it might be a good time to tap a few lands and put it in play.
If you want me to be honest, if they just switched spots between “Oathkeeper’s Curse” and “The Halls Of Khazaddum” the album would open and close much better than it did. From the very minute you hear the beginning of “Oathkeeper’s Curse” and those awesome melodic leads, plus the majestic drumming, you soon realize that this switch-up would have made all the difference.
(9 Tracks, 37:00)