Sumerlands struck gold with their self-titled debut in 2016, coming in at a time when a lot of newer heavy metal bands were starting to flourish on some of the bigger record labels and offering a very polished and confident sound. There was a crispness and darker aesthetic to their sound that provided just as many introspective and melodic hooks as the high energy and powerful ones genre fans would expect, and it’s an album I’ve returned to regularly in the years since. The years that followed found the band doing some sporadic live shows given the spread-out geography of its members, and as many of their peers released follow-ups Sumerlands remained silent. 2022 has finally proven to be the right time for the group to re-emerge, and they bring some significant changes with them. Gone is singer Phil Swanson, and in is Brendan Radigan of the now sadly defunct Magic Circle, making sophomore effort Dreamkiller a familiar yet very different take on the Sumerlands sound.
Sumerlands felt distinctive back in 2016 as it felt like they were pulling just as much influence from deep cuts in heavy metal’s history books as they were from the usual suspects. They had plenty of triumphant and hard rocking moments, but there were also softer, dark flourishes that stuck with listeners. Dreamkiller retains this foundation but pushes out towards a slightly brighter tone and even more rock influences than before. You’ve still got galloping heavy metal and the weight and power of US power metal at work, but the way the melodies soar throughout the album also give off hints of Sunset Strip glam metal and European AOR. The keyboards feel more prominent this time around, particularly on tracks like “The Savior’s Lie” and this contributes to the shift in sound. It’s a more diverse offering that feels like Sumerlands is trying to encapsulate a little bit of everything rock and metal from the 70s and 80s while still putting their own spin of it, and the warm and bright tonality is sure to draw in quite a few listeners. When Dreamkiller hits its peaks on the likes of the title track, “Edge of the Knife”, and “The Savior’s Lie” they offer guitar leads that will get stuck in your head for some time, but a few of the tracks don’t stand out quite as much or fade out on too soft a note. I appreciate the concise and focused composition of the album though, as it makes for an instantly repeatable listen even if there are a few lulls.
Phil Swanson brought a unique feel to Sumerlands’ debut, but his departure may not be that surprising given that he’s had a tendency to rotate through bands over his career. Whatever brought on this change over the last few years, Brendan Radigan feels like a suitable replacement and seeing that Magic Circle’s last two full lengths were favorites of mine I was excited to see what he could bring to the table. Radigan’s soaring vocals contribute to the bigger and brighter feel of many of these tracks, and he also contributes to the more diverse feel of album number two. While there are much softer and lighter moments that feel a bit more AOR as the singing seems to hover over the instrumentation, there’s plenty of power and weight that reminds me of a lot of US power metal at certain points. Some are likely to miss Swanson’s unmistakable pitch, yet there’s no denying that Radigan suits what Sumerlands is going for here and backs it up with verses that have been stuck in my head for days. The title track in particular deserves a special mention, as the vocals start off with a powerful, booming approach and then head into the stratosphere as the chorus approaches.
Despite the lengthy weight and change in singer, it’s clear that Sumerlands hasn’t lost what made them special back in 2016. With the switch to Radigan on the mic they’ve explored some softer and brighter textures that bring in a lot more of the rock before while still staying true to that heavy metal spirit, and while not every track has that true wow factor the consistency makes Dreamkiller an album I’ve been spinning in its entirety frequently. There are a few lulls and the increased range makes me feel as though Sumerlands is just scratching the surface of what they can achieve with their current lineup, but if heavy metal that feels nostalgic yet fresh at the same time interests you this material is well worth your time. Dreamkiller is available from Relapse Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg