It’s a shame the self titled debut album from Seattle based traditional heavy metal group Substratum came out right at the tail end of last year – it would have definitely ended up on the best albums of 2016 list for sure. They play traditional heavy metal with hints of power metal and thrash, taking the pure heavy metal spirit of the 1980’s, and updating it with their own great modern sound. Substratum isn’t just a carbon copy tribute of all the heavy metal band of years gone by though, there’s no living in the past, just the perennial spirit of true fucking heavy metal.
They barrel straight into it from the first track By Any Means, fast and heavy thrashy drumming and fast incisive riffs opening the song in style before they change gear and up the melody on the guitars and the drums take more of a classic metal pace, completely headbangable and fun. The riffs are melodic, memorable and mostly simple, but with flourishes of technical flair now and then, as well as great changes of tempo throughout – the two lead guitarists do a great job throughout the album at keeping you both guessing and headbanging. Amy Carlson on vocals has a powerful voice, gritty but with a high register, with a bit of similarity to Angel Witch’s Kevin Heybourne, belting it out with a badass classic metal attitude throughout, she really steals the show throughout the album. The thrashy gangshout style backing vocals that come through sporadically throughout the album change it up and give it that extra bit of attitude. Storli on bass doesn’t just follow the riffs, and the heavy Harris-esque rhythms really cement the heavy sound throughout alongside with the creative drumming. As mentioned before they evoke a classic metal sound, but there’s never really a point where you can put your finger on what bands they’re particularly inspired by because it sounds so unique. The production may be a little rough around the edges at times but it still kicks ass harder than most other bands in this style and it’s the only minor negative one can point to across the album.
Songwise there isn’t any filler on the album, but there’s definitely some which really stand out above the rest. Last Voyage with it’s blazing intro and powerful riffs along with some of Carlson’s best vocals and the memorable chorus make it really fun, while Room of Eyes almost sound like Rush with it’s softer intro and high pitch vocals before it changes style, going thrashy with it’s chugged riffs and aggressive vocals. The Curse of the Soothsayer trilogy in it’s three parts starts off with a killer guitar solo over a backing acoustic before it kicks off with double bass drumming and a badass vocal performance and chugged riffs as the start of a 20 minute epic (with no self-indulgent prog to be found!) Pain God is the best of the bunch though, the guitar solo in the intro moving into some of the most headbangable riffs and memorable vocal lines over the whole album and it doesn’t feel anywhere near it’s 6 and a half minute length as it just rips the whole time.
Substratum are proof if you ever needed it that the traditional heavy metal sound doesn’t just have to consist of modern bands trying their hardest to be Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath and there are still bands playing fresh and original sounding pure fucking heavy metal. Drink some beer, blast Substratum and headbang!