Desolate Realm

I’ve mentioned this more than once on this site (most recently on my review for Megaton Sword‘s excellent Might & Power), but I take great pleasure in imagining the world of Traditional Heavy Metal as an endless sea of mighty warriors clashing in righteous battle for the right to sit upon the throne of Heavy Metal and reign over their kingdom. Every new song, every new album another hammer blow to any and all enemies standing in their path. I spend WAY too much time thinking about this. I’m an adult. I have responsibilities. I know my limited brainpower should not be spent so negligently on this pointless endeavor, but I have also accepted there’s probably not a whole lot to be done about it without adderall involved. Que sera, sera.

And here, another contender enters the fray – lumbering in from the dark Finnish canyons of Doom-drenched Heavy Metal, trained for battle in the traditions of Candlemass, Cirith Ungol and Solitude Aeturnus. Stand back and marvel! For the might of this two-man colossus, Desolate Realm, will be felt throughout the lands. This album friggin’ rips.

So like, are Scandinavian Heavy Metal duos a thing? Because last year, Sweden’s Sordid Blade dropped their two-headed Manilla Road-loving banger of a record, Every Battle Has its Glory and it came out of seemingly nowhere to becoming one of my favorite records of the year, unabashedly wearing their influences on their sleeves and giving every ounce of effort they had into their performances for an endlessly endearing listen. While Desolate Realm may cling to slightly different heroes, the end result on Legions is still a completely lovable, “Heavy Metal for Heavy Metal’s sake” offering made to make your heart swell with glory. From first note of titular opener “Legions,” this mighty twosome makes it perfectly clear that this sophomore effort is here to firmly plant the band at the front of the pack, swinging confidently at their opponents with fantastic, muscles-flexed riffing and bravado-filled vocals that could inspire entire armies to ford the coldest rivers and climb the highest mountains just to belt along with singer/guitarist/bassist Matias Natolin (Decaying, Altar of Betelgeuze) on top of the world for all to hear. Genuinely, his mix of burly, gruff baritone and the occasional falsetto scream offer such a commanding presence that one could be forgiven for being coaxed into taking up sword and shield in fanatic defense of their new Finnish overlords, and gods know they’d have one hell of a soundtrack to take to war with them – whether it’s the more aggressive “Forsaken Ground” moving down lesser foes with cunning speed, or more epic, anthemic offerings like “Betrayal” and especially “The Lost One” which hammer enemies down with pummeling, relentless force – Desolate Realm is ready, capable, and willing to hit you from any angle.

But of course, the band is truly at its best when it’s most natural colors are shown, and as robust and stout a force as the band is capable of being, it’s when they embrace their darker, plodding inner beast that they’re at their most visceral. Tracks like the friggin’ STANKY “Through the Depths” reveal the band’s towering, moss-covered golem spirit, lumbering from the dankest of bogs to assert their dreary, doom-drenched will. When the song’s bridge starts  just past the half-way mark, the band really starts to cook, first unleashing an almost Bolt Thrower-like rumble that builds and builds before Natolin returns to a super strong riff introduced earlier in the song, and lunching his most blood-pumping, eagles-screaming falsetto yet. If that track can’t get you swinging a war hammer with reckless fervor and glee, maybe the crushing heft of “Revelation” is enough to stomp your bitter foes like the ants they are. Of all tracks, this certainly showcases Desolate Realm at peak doom – hulking it’s way forward with maximum heft and punishing groove, bordering closer and closer to Crowbar/Eyehategod sludge territory to drag you through the muck and the mud and leave all standing in their way a smear upon the earth. I’d imagine if I were a troll being unleashed on Helm’s Deep, this is the track that’d be playing in my head while swimming in the blood of humans and elves being crushed beneath my boulder-sized fists, if that paints a proper enough picture for you.

These two tracks do an especially nice job of highlighting my favorite part of Legions – and that’s Natolin’s perfectly filthy guitar tone that gives Desolate Realm more grunt than some of their genre counterparts. While certainly not the all-out chainsaw barrage of HM-2 fiends like Entombed or Dismember,  there is juuuuuust enough of a buzzy bite in those guitars that you can really feel their gnarly teeth dig in and take hold. To use yet another Lord of the Rings reference, it’s a tone unbefitting of Elves, Men or even Dwarves – this is the kind of  tone the Black Uruks might deploy; dank, murky, but with enough cutting edge to leave a deep, nasty mark on any target unfortunate enough to be caught within the arc of their blades. If you’re not a dork like me and have no idea what I’m on about, I just mean it’s just the right amount of dirty as to feel evil and foreboding. And then there’s the dude’s voice – a commanding, assertive presence that oozes strength and power, but still with that gruff undertone that makes him more Saruman than Gandalf – righteous and all-powerful, but with an evil edge. It’s a perfect harmony between vocals and guitars that make Desolate Realm all the more compelling.

As Heavy Metal’s theater of battle continues to swell with heroes of all shapes, sizes and manner of intent, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the efforts of this two-man bringer of thunder and doom. Their punch, it seems, hits with much greater force than their diminutive numbers might otherwise suggest. The dark horses have arrived, and they’re not to be taken lightly. Legions is one hell of a hammer blow.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
March 23rd, 2023


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