HEAVY LOAD - Riders Of The Ancient Storm
October 5, 2023, 2 months ago
For decades, the White Whale of the European festival circuit, eventual live appearances, then the inevitable query, "What about new music?" Well, here it (finally) is! Between '78 and '83, the original output was limited to a trio of full lengths and an EP, then disappeared off the face of the Earth, just as the globe embraced the style of traditional/Euro metal the Swedes had perfected.
First single "Ride The Night" kicks off the disc and serves as a primer, for those that might be unfamiliar with the Load: repetitive, simple lyrics, but an infectious anthem that owes a debt to ABBA, yet retains a basic metallic core. The accompanying performance videos, with the guys seemingly just older versions of their ‘80s selves (down to the same stage clothes), shows how "out-of-fashion" Heavy Load was, in the image conscious heyday. Yet, 40 years later, how many diehard metalheads are clamoring for new music from their contemporaries, who did/didn't enjoy greater success? Not many. The mysterious disappearance, on the verge of international stardom, may have initially relegated Heavy Load to a niche fan base, that's insanely loyal and rabid. In the intervening years, the legend grew and now they're pretty much universally lauded for what they started, decades ago.
It's always a danger to "return" with new music after an extended "hiatus," fans living with the previous output for a lifetime. Can this material live up to expectations culled from repeated listens to a legendary catalog? The pre-pandemic reissues, also courtesy of No Remorse, included some energetic, previously unreleased bonus tracks. So there was hope going into this new studio recording. Unfortunately, the lead cut is the best of the batch and, in all honesty, the lone inclusion that approximates yesteryear. OK, there's a little bit too many poppy keyboard fanfares for my metal blood, but it's a minor complaint across the other half dozen newbies.
The Wahlquist brothers (Styrbjörn, guitar/vocals and Ragne, on drums) are in their sixties and have been out of the music scene for a long time, but this is not their strongest stuff. "We Rock The World" is mid-tempo and grittier, with a ‘70s, Zeppelin-esque, hard rock vibe, albeit with keys. A mid-paced, fist thrusting stomper, meandering "Walhalla Warriors" is built around an extended bass solo/jam. "Angel Dark" is decidedly metal, and behind the single, hints at former (death or) glory, but fails to go off, or embrace the spark within most Heavy Load classics.
About half way through its 6:11 running time, it switches gears (temporarily) reverting to the slower/glum speed of it predecessors. Thankfully short, it's happier sounds to the conclusion. Plodding "Slave No More" inhabits similar territory to the "Day Of Dream" extra, off the expanded edition of Stronger Than Evil. Once again Led Zep is a touchstone, whereas "Raven Is Calling" bounces atop Styrbjörn's high pitched sustain. The "Sail Away" finale rides a synth undercurrent and little guitar flourishes that recall a Blackmore/Rainbow piece.
If this album gets them onstage, to play (mostly) oldies, at the expense of a couple of these, I'm all for it. Therefore, an extra/sympathetic point incorporated for nostalgic significance, but definitely NOT the place for the uninitiated to investigate Heavy Load.