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Review: Ba'alzamon - A Desolate Place
A Desolate Place

Label: Independent
Year released: 2019
Duration: 1:10:49
Tracks: 10
Genre: Black/Death

Rating: 4/5

Review online: May 24, 2020
Reviewed by: Mjölnir
Readers Rating
A Desolate Place

Rated 4/5 (80%) (2 Votes)

Taking their name from the Trolloc word for The Dark One in The Wheel of Time series of books, Ba'alzamon started life in 1998 in freaking Arkansas of all places, which might make them among the first underground Metal acts to come from that dreary state. Their bio claims they mainly played live shows and gained a significant following among fringe groups before splitting up in 2001, with individual members moving on to rub shoulders with other acts from the area like Fallen Empire and Epoch of Unlight. They reformed in 2017 to record the best of their older material along with some new songs to make their debut album two years later, so this release is effectively twenty years in the making. Of course, there's nothing particularly novel these days about Metal acts who split up without a full-length to their names reforming to release their debut decades later, so it's always a question of whether or not the wait was really worth it. Thankfully, in this case, the answer is yes.

A Desolate Place is a wintry blast of what the band calls Ozark Mountain Metal, which roughly translates to a form of Black/Death that's more akin to a mix of 2000s Symphonic Black Metal and epic-tinged Death Metal than what you'd normally expect from that label. This might sound diluted and lame on the face of it, but it actually comes together to make an expansive, heavily melodic album that takes many familiar elements from both genres and puts them together into an individual sound. The band incorporates keys that wouldn't sound too out of place on an album from a couple of decades ago, but they exist to accentuate the music rather than lead it, leaving that to the furious tremolo riffing that often breaks into moody, sometimes beautiful melodic leads. The songs themselves lean on the longer side and tend to suffer from pedantic vocal lines and sometimes baggy compositions, but they have a consistent mood and surprising complexity that often sails them past these concerns, particularly on highlights like "Knights of Soth" and the 11-minute epic "Quest for the Twelfth Sphere of Amaroth". The only song I really have to dock points for is their closing cover of Raf's dance hit "Self Control", which is certainly a massive improvement over the original, but it's also basically a straight synth-pop cover with reverberated female vocals that just happens to have crashing guitars and harsh vocals placed over it for some reason, and it's really out of place in regards to the rest of the album.

It's always nice to hear Metal bands working near my neck of the woods, especially when they are as good as this. They could do with better vocal lines and tightening their songwriting, but overall Ba'alzamon deliver an ambitious and sometimes stirring album that takes an approach that some might consider dated and makes it sound vintage and fresh instead. Here's hoping their next album builds off the promises of this one and doesn't take another 20 years to make.

Other related information on the site
Interview with guitarist Rob Anderson and vocalist Curtis Fitzpatrick on May 24, 2020 (Interviewed by Mjölnir)
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