[Cover artwork: Adam Burke]
More often than not, it’s metal’s immortal mainstays and the bands that pushed extremes into thrash and death that get the glossy treatment when people choose to commemorate what happened in heavy music throughout the 80s. For good reason, too—there’s plenty left to say about bands such as Iron Maiden, King Diamond, Kreator, Morbid Angel and the like that keep the fires burning and still pack venues. But what gets overlooked time and again is the phenomenon that occurred in the 80s at the behest of a fellow named Mike Varney from the Bay Area that lead to: A) a lot of people picking up an electric guitar for the first time, and B) a lot of people throwing an electric guitar into a raging tire fire for the first time.
Hopefully the name Christian Münzner rings a bell for you. If you’re a fan of tech death, you’ve probably heard him play guitar on some great records: Epitaph by Necrophagist, Obscura’s Omnivium and leads on Spawn Of Possession’s Incurso, among others. He’s still involved with death metal in a very progressive kind of way through Germany’s Alkaloid, alongside fellow Obscura alum Hannes Grossman, but Eternity’s End is, as a whole, Münzner & company’s reverent nod to Mike Varney’s era of glorious shred, plus the kitchen sink. So much so, the band’s name is taken from the lead track from Joey Tafolla’s extraordinary debut solo record, Out of the Sun. And just like their namesake cut and the entirety of that Tafolla record, the goal of Eternity’s End is to flatten the listener with enough dueling leads—guitars and keyboard—that one has virtually no recourse beyond grabbing the nearest human and screaming “THEY’RE TRYING TO BLOW UP MY BRAIN” as the record plays. [Note: exercise caution when listening to Unyielding at your kid’s dance recital.]
Critical point: this is far from just The Christian Münzner Show. As pointed out in one of our Most Anticipated Albums of 2019 pieces earlier this year, the pedigree behind Eternity’s End is expansive and includes Phil Tougas on 2nd guitar / 2nd songwriter (Chthe’ilist, First Fragment, Equipoise, Zealotry), Hannes Grossmann on drums (Hate Eternal, Alkaloid, Blotted Science, Triptykon, Dark Fortress, Howling Sycamore), Mike LePond on bass (Symphony X and 100 other bands), Jimmy Pitts on keyboards (Equipoise, The Fractured Dimension), and the superb vocal talent of Iuri Sanson, a fellow responsible for singing on one of the best power metal records of the last two decades: Hibria’s grossly under-appreciated Defying the Rules. We generally avoid the word “supergroup” around these parts because it’s a horseshit term that habitually equates to something that looks much better on paper than it ends up sounding through speakers, but this group is indeed super, and Unyielding delivers as true a representation of “combined critical talent” as one could hope for in heavy metal in the year of our Lord 2019.
Putting a record like this into a single box is challenging. It will ultimately end up branded as power metal by most because it adheres to that off-shoot’s penchant for otherworldly themes, triumphantness and choruses that hook. Plus, Iuri Sanson’s vocals are as epic as an eagle battle in midair. So yes, the power metal label is a fair analogy when you have songs like “Blood Brothers” that are as galloping and melodic and infectious as ten Iron Saviors caught in a Helloween hailstorm.
Other cuts lean more on power as well, like the uplifting “Triumphant Ascent” and the closest thing to ballad you’ll hear on the record, “Horizonless.” But similar to classic power metal boundary-pushers of old (Persuader’s Evolution Purgatory, for instance) Eternity’s End throws enough else into the blender that Unyielding ends up typifying a class of power you might hand to someone who generally steers clear because of (misguided) preconceptions. Aggression is a huge part of that—speed reaching into straight-up thrash reinforces the combustible opener “Into Timeless Realms” and the leveling “Necromantic Worship,” and there are almost as many holy shit moments with riffs here as there are leads, particularly at the start of the record’s sole instrumental “Dreaming of Cimmerian Shadows” and the filthy kick off to “Cyclopean Force.”
It’s the shred that takes home the prize in the end, though. The interaction between Münzner, Tougas and Pitts is superlative, so shredders approaching in hopes of hearing something that will inspire them to take their playing to the next level are in for a merciless treat. And coming in from a different angle, folks who wouldn’t know a sweep-picked arpeggio or diminished scale if it hit them on the front end of a speeding garbage truck would have to walk away equally impressed. The way all the leads mingle with what LePond and Grossman bring to the table (bassists and drummers will find plenty to chew on here as well), and the way it all does so within so many slants of heaviness—speed, thrash, power, hard rock, traditional, neoclassical—make the whole of Unyielding sound very much like a modernized version of what Shrapnel would’ve killed to sign back in the day. Hell, the band’s Force even manages to challenge the Rise of classic Yngwie on cuts such as “Beyond the Gates of Salvation,” “Cyclopean Force,” and “Under Crimson Moonlight,” and that’s coming from someone who continues to hold Marching Out in extremely high regard.
The necessity level of a record like Unyielding ultimately depends on how you feel about the prospect of cranking the bejesus out of music that’s best branded as “Aggressive Power Shred.” This record is equal parts combative, soaring and intricate, and the central storyline that involves an adaptation of our species from 900 years ago that accidentally stumbles across hugely advanced alien technology and (of course) commences to fuck everything up for the entire galaxy is delivered with superb vigor by one of the more underrated power vocalists currently in the game. So yes, this is as close to a pure 10/10 in the bombastic shred field as you can get in the present day.
There was a time when more than a few labels would’ve immediately jumped on a record like Unyielding, especially considering the added bonus that the members collectively count around fifty records via umpteen projects to their names. But all bands spanning every level of skill have to work like the devil to get their music heard in the modern age, and that includes a project like Eternity’s End that’s stacked to the rafters with talent. They’ve done their part—your task, if you choose to accept it, is to find a way to make sure they know we appreciate their efforts. Buy it, crank it, and then crank it a little higher to make sure those around you are aware of it.