Many metal enthusiasts love debating Integrity and purity and how those words relate to the truest of the true “true metal” champions. Does this band honor the roots enough, does that band adhere to the original tenets adequately, onward ad infinitum. It’s a bit silly, really. But judging nearly everything based on some sort of strictly defined dogma is one of the things that separates us from the apes, assuming apes avoid doing similarly with regard to, I don’t know, a capella howler monkey troupes.
In the end, there’s room enough for all of it: the sellouts, the old guard, the wafflers, the GoFundMe crews, the halberd-wielding black metal devils, the weepy Dawson Creek metal, the now Old Wave of British Heavy Metal, the wizards, lizards, cannibals, Luciferians, Episcopalians, nu-kids, alte-färtz, the doomed, the saved, the damned, the armor-clad, the shoe-gazing, the Hell-raising, and even the unnamed ghouls who prefer to keep their whereabouts a spooky secret. When one end of the machine pushes extra hard, the other side always ends up pushing back with equal or greater force. Thusly, the Great Beast will never die.
And there was much rejoicing.
Nestled within this swirling maelstrom of Everything But the Kitchen Sink that our genre has become today, the best music is still being created by bands that are comprised of fans who produce based purely on a love of playing and perpetuating good ol’ heavy metal, not because they want to scare, piss off, get laid, get paid, etc., etc., etc. Disregard trends, bypass whatever manages to linger as pomp & shine/“celebrity,” and tap the hallowed nectar that fueled the genre’s prime movers, regardless of your branch. That is, without question, what you get with Sweden’s epic, traditional metal gallopers, Quicksand Dream.
If you’ve never heard of them, you’re far from alone; even the most valiant underground dwellers had virtually zero chance at landing one of the thirty copies of their 2000 debut, Aelin – A Story About Destiny. That record, despite eventually getting a very worthy LP and CD reissue in 2010, was basically created for the benefit of its sole creator, Patrick Backlund (Mortalicum), and eventually included his friend Göran Jacobson on vocals. The slim thirty copies were not intended to build some sort of “ultra rare demo for $300 on ebay” schtick, they were simply earmarked for close friends and a couple promo packages to be sent to small labels, which apparently took ten years to fall into the right hands. Now, a full sixteen years after Aelin’s release, Backlund and Jacobson are finally ready for round two – Beheading Tyrants – and the new record flaunts the sort of palpable strides necessary to make it worthy of a lot more listeners.
Everything about this release feels streamlined and sharpened. The shifts might seem subtle at first blush, but the hard rocking edge that teased Aelin’s corners is basically gone, opting instead to emphasize an even darker stance that’s bolstered by more doom and a bounty of heavy galloping. The transitions are fluid, the leads feel more spirited, the melancholy is more epic, and Göran’s voice is at full strength. For the sake of comparison, imagine Quorthon entering the Viking years with a steadier obsession for King of the Dead, Crystal Logic and Night on Bröcken. Now forget that comparison, because those albums mostly do the job of marking significant points of interest on a well-traveled road map whose destination is a clearly defined Quicksand Dream oasis. But yes, it’s clear that these two spent untold hours consumed by the archives of labels such as Enigma, Metal Blade, Black Dragon, Noise and R/C.
There’s 90s-era Bathory in much of the melody, a strong Cirith Ungol bounce in the driving bass lines, and when it’s at full charge – as it clearly is in a song like “The Girl from the Island” – a strong nod is given to the pre-Alder era of Fates Warning from 1984.
“Cloud of Screams,” the infectious opener “Daughters of Eve” and “The Shadow that Bleeds” all gallop a little slower, but they do so with no less power. And anyone looking for a suitable stand-in for the gloomy doomy stance of Atlantean Kodex will revel in the dark & stormy way Beheading Tyrants closes; “White Flames on Black Water” is sweeping and warmly funereal, and the heart of “To Kill Beneath the Sun” closes the trip with one of the prettiest, doomiest guitar licks I’ve heard since “Vast Oceans Lachrymose.”
This is hardly breaking news for our genre in 2016, but you don’t need a big (or even medium) budget or visions of widespread glory to produce triumphant heavy metal – you need heart, integrity and a very natural and sincere love of the music. Fans of heavy metal perpetuating great heavy metal, pure and simple. Quicksand Dream is a perfect example of that precept, and while they might not nab the glossy covers of whatever magazines that have managed to endure the years, they’ve unanticipatedly produced another gem worthy of anyone who enjoys celebrating authentic epic heavy metal that’s genuinely rewarding.