Altered Realities

Getting all bleary-eyed and waxing poetic about a given band’s “old school sound” is one of the metal world’s most time-honored tropes. It’s not even just the old heads that can’t help but get all nostalgic for a good throwback, either – these days you’ll find no shortage of trucker hat-wearing, often-mustachioed young men with a penchant for cheap beer and cutoff t-shirts singing praises for the Tomb Molds, the Outer Heavens and Undeaths of the world, the current crop of young men and women delivering sounds and aesthetics that came to being, in many cases, well before their own time.

Of course, with this modern rise of old school metal continuing to grow more and more popular, we’re getting to the point where a lot of this scene is starting to get a little… monotonous. It’s a natural cycle that hits every “flavor of the day” style of metal at some point in it’s development, but it also provides an opportunity for bands to break through and make themselves stand out from the crowd – create something that’s just a little bit different, if not just a little bit better than their peers. To that end, Norway’s Sovereign do not seem interested in being just another throwback band in the sea of old school. Altered Realities feels, to this humble, idiotic metal reviewer, special. 

For starters, Altered Realities doesn’t just sound like a modern record produced to sound like it was recorded in the late 80s or early 90s, it just straight-up sounds of that era, full-stop. If you’d told me this was a long-forgotten, under-appreciated gem unearthed from the vaults of the Roadrunner Records archives, I wouldn’t hesitate to believe it. Second, the influences ringing through loud and clear on this record fall perfectly in line with some of my favorite acts of the time – namely, heaping doses of both early-Sepultura and Pestilence, with some of the thrashier elements of Dark Angel and groove ala Obituary to make sure they have pretty much all of your old school bases covered. Grab your Nike or Vans high tops and dive right in with opening track “Altered Reality” to be instantly transported back into your ’87 Ford Bronco listening to Testimony of the Ancients on cassette while nursing a couple “road sodas” (**I’m just curating a vibe here we at Teeth of the Divine do note condone the act of drinking while driving a vehicle. Don’t yell at us**) en route to some dingy underground Death Metal venue. The opening atmospherics and synths of  “Altered Reality” fall right in line with the eerie tones you’d expect from the era, and the two opening riffs that follow are absolute monsters. The kind of tone-setting, straight-to-your-face fretwork that will make any old school Death Metal fan feel all tingly in their nether parts. If this is just a “me” thing, I apologize for the visual.


If there’s anything to complain about the opening track, it’s 7:00 run time does meander a bit more than it probably needs to, but luckily is not indicative of this entire record, as the much more concise “Futile Dreams” follows with more focus and urgency,  getting right to the point with a blistering riff and frantic drumming that will leave anyone trying to windmill in time dizzy and out of breath. The full-throttle attack comes to a crushing halt at the end of the track, as the band dives headlong into another crossover-friendly breakdown that flows beautifully into “Nebular Waves,” which reverses course from the prior track to hit with a much more heaving, meticulous approach. It’s a true headbanger that just seethes with predatory malice, like a snow leopard confidently stalking it’s prey. When the band explodes with it’s full thrash fury about halfway through, it’s like that point in those insane nature videos where the snow leopard finishes its stalking and gives chase to a mountain goat on a sheer cliff. It’s a band fully unleashed, reaching maximum speed and aggression while still displaying deft, agile twists and turns along the way, right up until the chaotic maelstrom of soloing guitars and breakneck drumming at the 2:50 mark when the leopard finally catches its kill and the two go tumbling completely out-of-control down cliff faces and falling rocks, when you’re pretty sure neither animal is coming out of this alive (I know animal-on-animal murder isn’t on everyone’s watch list, but holy shit is it amazing to watch). ANYWAY, it’s a really exciting conclusion to what is certainly one of the band’s strongest tracks.

And the band’s display of dexterity and brutality certainly does not end there. Another of their finer tracks, “Counter Tech,” and probably my favorite track “The Enigma of Intelligence,” both put their golden-age Sepultura love on full display, nimbly see-sawing back and fourth between outright Thrash fury, and crushing Death Metal heft with an expert touch. The bridge/solo riff on the latter is perhaps my favorite on the album, the kind that simultaneously makes me want to charge head-first into a brick wall, and fall to my knees in outright worship of the mastery laid down by guitarists Vidar Fineidet and Tommy Jacobsen (both formerly of Norwegian Thrash outfit, Nocturnal Breed). And despite the relentless assault heard to this point of the record, “Synthetic Life” proves the band still have another gear in them, pressing the throttle through the floor and barreling into your eardrums with reckless abandon. But lest you think this is just a total blitzkrieg, the band breaks down into the kind of groovy, heavy stretch that’ll put your stank face on full effect, layering with yet another brilliant solo before kicking back into top gear and melting any faces that remain unblemished (and to this point, there probably ain’t many).

The finale of “Absence of Unity” may again be another example of a song that sticks around longer than it needs to (when you get to the 7:00 mark and it’s JUST THEN that you’re breaking down into doom riffs, you might be in a little bit of trouble), but it’s not without its moments of continued brilliance. Maybe just breaking it up into 2 or 3 different tracks might have been more what the doctor ordered, but this is really as big a fault as I can find here, and it hardly keeps me from heading right back to track one and blasting my way through the whole experience all over again. I freakin’ love Altered Realities, to the extend that I think I may well have found my new favorite Death Metal throwback amongst a sea of really good acts. Whether you’re still as big a fan of this kind of revival as ever, or you’re beginning to grow weary of it, I can’t recommend enough that you give Sovereign a spin. It’ll either only embolden your love affair, or maybe make you think twice about turning your back.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
February 1st, 2024


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