Album Review: Morgul Blade – Heavy Metal Wraiths

Album Review: Morgul Blade - Heavy Metal Wraiths
Reviewed by Sam Jones

It made me really happy to see Morgul Blade would soon have a new album out, when I thoroughly enjoyed their first record, Fell Sorcery Abounds. Formed in 2018 out of Pennsylvania, United States, the band are a traditional heavy metal act with one unique difference: their songwriting and themes, even their band name, are received from Tolkien’s worldbuilding. It’s what drive me to their first album, aforementioned, in the first place for my adoration of Tolkien’s works has remained with me since I was sixteen. Now, three years on and continuing a contract with No Remorse Records, Morgul Blade return once more with Heavy Metal Wraiths, their second album, for an April 26th release date. Sporting artwork by James Bousema whose varied works have been utilised on release ranging from Frozen Soul, Municipal Waste and Spiritworld, Morgul Blade’s second outing already sparks interest and, soon enough, I was ready to dive straight into their sound once again.

Considering the growing abundance of Tolkien-inspired material within extreme metal, it’s refreshing to have a band play more conventional, grounded metal that’s easier for people to follow along to. Heavy Metal Wraiths continues the traditional vibe Morgul Blade set out with back on Fell Sorcery Abounds and I’m really glad for it; the band’s songwriting may be more traditional but that doesn’t mean it thereby lacks a deal of strength because of it. Morgul Blade’s aesthetic tears right through you since their guitar tone has been juiced with bass and wroth, so every turn of the riff or alteration in where a track takes us is especially felt. This is far from your tinny, hollowed out production; though their songwriting doesn’t leave the ground that often, the band ensured every impact of their vocals or riffs or drums would leave craters and for anyone adept in Tolkien’s lore, listening to this record is an especially tasty treat.

Considering the cover art, and the band name too, it’s not too great a jump in judgement to believe the vocals are in fact emanating from one of the ringwraiths themselves. It’s half the reason the band attracted me in the first place; the band’s songwriting follows familiar lines in heavy metal but the vocals are particularly blackened. It’s easy to see this as merely a stylistic choice, injecting more visceral undertones into the record, but I feel like had the band opted for a vocal delivery that wasn’t this form, or had chosen something for this record that was abundantly different, Heavy Metal Wraiths would absolutely lose a good swathe of its identity since I find it difficult to separate the vocals from the record, even in the three years since their full length debut. In addition, the vocals never reach too great a tempo either so were never having to strain for what’s being said. We may not understand every word but we can at least understand the flow and vibe the vocals are strutting forth, grounding the rest of the band even should there be the occasional blast beat thrown in. It’s a thematic choice that wonderfully complements the band and I couldn’t imagine Morgul Blade championing a vocal style other than this one.

Album Review: Morgul Blade - Heavy Metal Wraiths

If there’s one thing I love modern production values for bringing into the spotlight, it’s the bass. Using the benefits of mixing in 2024, Morgul Blade help bring every element of their band to the audience’s attention and by doing so, ensure the bass has a healthy, hearty recipience that’s soon appreciated. With a strong and firm production, the bass has no problem exacting its tones throughout the underlayer of the record which is arguably why the album hits us as solidly as it does, but also throughout its individual performance that’s always audible and is given plenty of room for its bass lines to breathe and move around in. The band don’t simply favour one guitar or other component of their performance over another; each aspect of Morgul Blade may have their numerous times to shine but we must deceive ourselves into thinking anything feels less valued than another within the songwriting. It’s a nicely balanced record that sees every piece of the band ebb and flow, throughout each succeeding track.

One other advantage the lore of Tolkien’s writings bring to this record is the quantity of influences Morgul Blade took away. Listening to this record is to understand Tolkien wasn’t a one-trick pony; his writings, much like the themes spread across the record, consisted of war, death, love, courage, monstrosities, despair etc and throughout the runtime here we too get a nice smattering of ideas and subject matter. Whether we’re listening to metal based on Ungoliant, the Eagles, the lineage of Kings, Morgul Blade bring a plethora of ideas to the table that demonstrate the band’s songwriting can also be just as varied. Should a track be more aligned to hope and courage, the songwriting is loftier and may even feature cleaner, soaring vocals; should the track be more attuned with the darker forces then we’re likely to get blast beats and harder striking riffs. But, always, the craft of storytelling permeates right through the album as every track becomes an age-old story fit for retelling to cascading generations. Tolkien crafted his worldbuilding with the aim of establishing a mythology in mind, and Morgul Blade replicate that feeling with sublime finesse. Their music brings out the aged old, heroic qualities inherent throughout The Lord Of The Rings or The Silmarillion.

In conclusion, I think this is a cracking record with plenty to be discovered within, and if you’re a Tolkien fanatic like myself, understanding what each track is, and the lore alongside them, makes it doubly entertaining. What Morgul Blade get extremely correct however is the vibe of Tolkien’s world, so while they’re absolutely playing heavy metal to the masses, their songwriting never once loses the crux of what endeared people to Tolkien in the first place. Though we may get blackened vocals and blast beats and these clenched riffs with vast impact, their soundscapes always retain a mysticism and dear respect to the source material. Tolkien’s works have been interpreted in numerous ways throughout the spectrum of metal, to this grounded style to the more extreme variations, but Morgul Blade manage to sit themselves between the two and it feels just right. Much like Tolkien’s writings, you can’t have one without the other; no death without life, no evil without good and no despair without courage. Morgul Blade’s second full length album is a blast and I thoroughly hope we continue to receive succeeding works by the band because they’re really onto something here. A fine time for sure.

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