When first I heard “Final Spell,” the debut release of this Salt Lake City-based USPM outfit, my first thought was that they must have some pedigree that I wasn’t aware of. No band springs into existence out of the ether with a sound so tight and fully-realised, as easily competent and professional as the genre’s most seasoned veterans. Well, they do have a pedigree of sorts, but hardly the one you’d expect. Vocalist Jake Rogers, whose bellows ringing out like harmonic thunderclaps drive the EP’s four tracks, is best known as the mind behind the short-lived but much-beloved post-black metal act Gallowbraid. Visigoth’s classic brand of hooky, infectious, barbaric-romantic heavy metal is about as far removed from the tone and sensibility of Gallowbraid as it’s possible to get while still remaining under the heading of “metal” at all, so it’s a career move that comes out of left field to say the least. Still, you can’t argue with results.
Visigoth’s songwriting draws on a wealth of influences from the US power metal scene of yesteryear, but the name that comes to mind more than any other is Virginia’s Twisted Tower Dire. “Final Spell’s” anthemic, call-to-arms quality conjured by its crashing power chords and booming vocal lines echoes that found on classics like “Crest of the Martyrs,” albeit produced with more of a low end and a crisper guitar tone more befitting a European act like Heed or Excalion. That’s far from a bad thing. Classy, well-written USPM is thin on the ground these days aside from the recent outings of Pharaoh and TTD themselves. These sorts of songs, straightforward, pounding paeans to strength and freedom, are simplistic both in the worldview they convey and the pleasures they provide, but there’s an honest joy and appreciation to be had in their exquisitely honed construction.
As to these songs specifically, the twin highlights on “Final Spell” are the explosive opener “Creature of Desire” and the steely slow grind of “Seven Golden Ships.” The former boasts fantastically punchy and propulsive rhythm guitar work shared between Jamison Palmer and Leeland Campana and a main riff which, while melodically simple, conveys an ecstatic pitch of emotional intensity. It’s just the cherry on top that it also manages to work in a perfectly timed increase in tempo for the solo section, elevating what was already a joyful track to something near-sublime. “Seven Golden Ships” pulls off a similar gambit, but with the tempo reigned in to a slow, steady throb and with the emphasis placed firmly on a massive chorus hook that practically begs for a proud, communal crowd sing-along in a live setting (“We stand and fight! / We are immortal and unbound!”).
The remaining two tracks represent slightly lesser achievements. The title track, similar to “Creature of Desire,” is an up-tempo rocker but conducted in a more relaxed and lackadaisical register. Comparatively speaking it’s rather poppy, like something you might expect to hear in the soundtrack of a racing videogame, although still remarkably well constructed for it. Much the same can be said for “Call of the Road,” which is dominated by a jaunty, bouncy rhythm that vividly recalls Twisted Tower Dire’s “Snow Leopard” (one of the weaker tracks, I feel, from the mainly superb “Make It Dark”), and into which Rogers throws arbitrary “woo!”s and “one-two-three-four!”s. The track is well-structured and catchy and memorable in its idiosyncrasies and all of the other positive qualities one looks for in this style, but it occurs as a bit frivolous compared to the solemn and exalted “Seven Golden Ships” immediately before it.
Persistent throughout is Rogers’ excellent vocal performance, a powerful, clear and ringing baritone that would be impressive enough even without knowledge of his other instrumental talents outside of Visigoth. It accentuates the riffs perfectly, further adding character and charisma to an EP ripe with them regardless. Available for any price on Bandcamp, I can only make my usual appeal for underground support – Visigoth exhibit tremendous aptitude for their chosen style and for honest, affectless genre craftsmanship in a scene cluttered with poseurs and wannabes. I hope a full-length isn’t too far off.
01) Creature of Desire
02) Final Spell
03) Seven Golden Ships
04) Call of the Road