Thrash is off to a flyer in 2021. The classic metal genre has dished up numerous quality releases in the first chunk of the year, headlined by top notch releases from Enforced, Demoniac, Demiser and Cryptosis. Young guns rising to ensure it is not left to the old dogs and veteran warhorses to keep the thrash flame alive and kicking. However, perhaps the most impressive of them all is the scorching debut full-length from Sweden’s Paranorm. Empyrean caught me off guard, as these unheralded thrashers dropped an album of serious magnitude during the earlier stages of the year, some 10 years after they formed. A couple of EPs aside, Empyrean marks the most substantial chunk of material the band has compiled, resulting in an epic opus, combining muscular, technical thrash with a vibrant, complex progressive death streak. And the dual guitar work is something quite remarkable, spearheading the Paranorm attack with oodles of technical skills and melodic grace.

Opening in style, combining slick, cutthroat execution, impressive musical chops, and hooky goodness, “Critical Mass” explodes out the blocks with attitude and finesse. For the uninitiated, it marks a stellar beginning to the album and strong taste of what is in store throughout the weighty 54 minutes of material Paranorm cooked up. This is far from a straightforward thrash release, a point that may be conflicting for some genre fans. Although structurally the progressive elements are certainly embedded in the eight weighty tunes, they do not overshadow the band’s more explosive thrash impulses, nor does it sacrifice overall cohesion and fluency. Speedy tempos, dynamic shifts, clever pacing, and a truckload of killer riffs and sharp hooks are the norm throughout a uniformly tight offering. Longer songs, including multi-faceted epic “Edge of the Horizon,” impressive title track, and hard-hitting urgency and invigorating twists of closer “Desolate Worlds (Distant Dimensions),” featuring mellow acoustic mid-section and scorched, blackened propulsions, highlights the band’s excellent craftmanship and flair for progression and aggression. Paranorm are equally adept at jam packing ridiculous amounts of energy, memorable hooks and clever ideas into more compact jams, like riffy beasts, “Cannibal” and “Lost Cause.” Meanwhile, early highlight “The Immortal Generation” dazzles with memorable, livewire riffs and fretboard wizardry, without skimping on the speed and aggression.

Influences, ranging from later Death, Heartwork-era Carcass, Kreator, and modern thrash heavyweights Vektor, frame but never overshadow or dilute Paranorm’s strong identity and character. Performances are hugely impressive across the board. The guitar work is particularly noteworthy and fucking fantastic throughout. Markus Hiltunen (also on vocals) and Fredrik Kjellgren seemingly possess an endless supply of quality, intricate riffs, punctuated by emotive, gripping leads and shredtastic soloing, putting a fat exclamation point on already well executed songs, while elevating the material to an elite level. The solos are extravagant, complex, melodic and truly gripping, despite their over-the-top nature, they work sublimely within the context of the album and individual songs. Hiltunen’s raspy, decipherable growl does the job nicely, while the rhythm section supplies a powerful backbone of groove, ever shifting tempos, and supportive creativity to compliment the outstanding axework.

Impeccably produced, featuring warm, punchy tones, balanced mix, and refreshingly dynamic master, Paranorm tick all the boxes. Empyrean is a stunning album and extravagant showcase of Paranorm’s exceptional talents as both musicians and songwriters. While the shredding guitar work and technicality impresses, it would count for little without effective songwriting chops to piece it all together. Thankfully, Paranorm are equally adept at crafting interesting, twisting and memorable tunes, resulting in an exhilarating album to be seriously reckoned with. Some thrash traditionalists may not appreciate the more indulgent shredding tendencies or progressive elements, but there are no glaring weaknesses or debilitating faults to identify.

Paranorm have been quietly going about their business over the years, before finally unleashing this formidable beast of a debut album. Empyrean may just go down as one of the finest thrash albums since Vektor’s Terminal Redux. Only time will tell, but with a scintillating mix of technical, high octane thrash workouts, eloquent shreddage, and progressive smarts, Paranorm captured lightning in a bottle on this compelling slab of thrash excellence.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Luke Saunders
May 21st, 2021


  1. Commented by: Holdeneye

    Yes! This record is so killer. Good stuff, LS.

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