Listening to the debut full-length from Chicago’s Fer de Lance is akin to witnessing the epic origin story for the US interpretation of Germany’s Atlantean Kodex, but with a healthier pinch of rawness to give the full journey an even more…battle-scarred character. And yes, being battle-scarred absolutely does necessitate dents and vulnerabilities. This is a very good thing, and if you’re like me—a terrifically impressive human being—you very much appreciate when epic heavy metal bands avoid spending too much time ironing out every wrinkle in the end product. Remember that kid who came to school with a sharp crease ironed into their jeans? Hello, Headlock City.
George Orwell once said, “The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection.”
How does that statement make you feel, asked the armchair psychologist who doodles skeletal warriors on his notepad whilst you gabble on about a misspent childhood and whatnot.
Orwell was wrong, naturally, but only if the above quote is taken out of context and what immediately followed gets chopped: “The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one’s love upon other human individuals.”
Stacked together thusly, that is really quite profound and extraordinarily authentic. This George fellow should really think about writing for a living.
But yes, humans clearly do enjoy the pursuit of perfection. That’s why bros take up-to-the-minute photos of their pectoral development in bathroom mirrors, it’s why your unfortunate uncle spent 350 actual dollars on a Jawa collector’s plate to complete the full and mildly depressing set, and it’s precisely the reason bands willingly allow persnickety studio engineers full flagellation rites amidst frivolous quests for the most holy and perfect recording.
Now, I ain’t no George Orwell, but I do absolutely agree that humans should, at the very least, spend less time in the pursuit of perfection and instead turn their efforts toward an infinitely more noble quest: the pursuit of perfect imperfection. Now that’s some zen paydirt, friend—that notable distinction ‘twixt Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Drake, Into Glory Ride and Louder than Hell, or a White Castle slider and a $23 burger from Le Jambon Fantaisie. Find a way to straddle that thorny line of perfect imperfection and the end result will absolutely stick to the brain matter, because humans do, infucking fact, love and admire raw imperfections. Raw imperfections connect us all.
Vocally, guitarist and principal songwriter MP utilizes a unique operatic style, but there’s a fair bit of grit and a curious sense of…stern concentration involved—the sort of thing one might afford an actual sorcerer who’s constantly in the throes of casting heavy battle spells. It’s a great and very distinctive voice, but one shouldn’t be surprised if an errant ice storm is conjured at random intervals throughout these 50+ minutes. Again, the closest parallel is likely the sadly passed Maxim “Agyl” Andrianov of Scald, and similar to an album such as Will of the Gods is Great Power, the vocals throughout The Hyperborean play a prominent role, whether they’re driving the narrative or simply increasing a sense of majesty with fervent “WHOA-OH-OH’ing.”
Acoustic guitars are also quite large and in charge. Not terribly surprising, as the band features two individuals responsible for carving out all those sick…strums: MP and dedicated acoustic guitarist Mandy Martillo from Midnight Dice. Suffice to say, you’ll hear acoustic guitars around virtually every corner, riffing away as added support to the overall gallop, soloing nearly as often as does MP’s electric (who, by the way, is no fricken slouch when it comes to lightning leads, wow), and taking center stage throughout the whole of the moody fifth track, “Northern Skies.”
The bulk of the album underscores a slower, doomier atmosphere—the rousing “The Mariner” that opens the affair, for example, or the haunting one-two punch of “Sirens” and “Northern Skies,” plus the wonderfully majestic closing title track. That doom is packed to the rafters with gripping emotion, hefty and mellow climes shifting back and forth like rolling waves, loads of lofty melody, and sudden bursts of surprisingly grim snarls or bright, flying leads. Aggression is far from ignored, though, as the front and back half are both punctuated by true bangers—the roiling “Arctic Winds,” which throws down the record’s most sensational fiery lead, and “Ad Bestias,” a walloper that puts a tidy soundtrack to the snuggly Roman tradition of condemning hapless suckers to arena trials judged by violent lions.
In the end, the necessity level of an album like this likely depends on just how much you fancy the idea of unknowingly wandering back in time to a weathered longhouse that features a crew of battle-worn heroes recounting their valiant raiding deeds in musical form to fellow villagers on instruments they ripped off from the future. Most everything regarding The Hyperborean feels sort of ancient and mystical and legendary and unfettered that way. Sure, the production is raw. And yes, there are a few rumples left un-ironed here and there. But the way everything comes together… It’s all very visceral, forthright and unspoiled in a “Black Dragon Records circa 1986” kind of way. You know, just as epic, doomy heavy metal should always endeavor to achieve.