Release Date: September 25th, 2017
Genre: Progressive Metal
Ola Svensson – Vocals
Johan Svensson – Guitars
1. Bottled Insanity
2. Eyes of Heaven
3. Evil Inc.
4. Ghost of the Sea
5. Garden of Heathens
6. Clandestine Hunger
7. The Pretender
When thinking of metal bands from Sweden, I generally tend to think of either power metal or melodic death metal, as those two genres seem to be very popular in that country. However, I have heard a few great Swedish progressive metal bands as well, and the latest to attempt to add themselves to that list is Eastern High, a two-man group featuring brothers Ola and Johan Svensson. Both men are veterans of the metal scene, having played together with the melodeath/thrash band Wasted Shells for nine years, before that group disbanded and so the brothers decided to start their own band, called Eastern High in 2016. Earlier this year, they released their debut Garden of Heathens, which is a very promising debut, that should please fans looking for a more modern take on prog.
Before listening to this album for the first time, I had no idea what to expect, having no experience with any previous work from the two members, and knowing very little about the project beforehand, except that it was categorized as prog. Well, as far as the genre goes, Garden of Heathens is a fairly straight-forward album, with no song going past the 6 and a half minute mark, and the arrangements aren’t terribly complex. At the same time, this definitely isn’t the kind of melodic prog bands like Pyramaze are playing either. Instead, this is a very modern sounding kind of prog, with an emphasis on very thick, heavy guitars, atmosphere, and vocal melodies. The tone of the music is very dark and moody throughout, with the guitars often being used for atmosphere, especially during the slower, more vocal driven sections. There’s also occasional speedier sections, as well as parts where the guitars are very heavy and give more of an alternative metal feeling at times, with the vocals only enhancing this feeling. As far as the genre goes, there’s a pretty nice variety of the 8 tracks, with a good balance between more intense tracks, more mid-paced but fairly heavy tracks and a couple of nice ballads.
Perhaps the strongest element of Garden of Heathens is the vocals. Ola Svensson has a very deep voice, which works well when paired with the often dark and atmospheric feel of the guitar work, and he does a great job of alternating between calm and smooth vocals, some very soft vocals on occasion, and getting a bit more intense at times. There’s also a few moments where his vocals take a slightly dark and sinister tone, and every once in a while he throws in some death growls, though those are only used in quick bursts, and aren’t very prominent on the album. They are very effective whenever they appear, though.
The album gets off to a nice start with “Bottled Insanity”, a heavy, mid-paced track which sets the tone nicely and gives listeners a good idea of what to expect from the album. It starts off with some heavy guitar work right away, before slowing down during the verses, and the opening verse does a nice job if introducing the more atmospheric guitar work and darker vocals found throughout the album, while the chorus is nice, if not particularly catchy. There’s a brief section in the middle where the music gets even heavier and some harsh vocals are used, leading into a nice solo. It’s a pretty heavy and moody track overall, with some great guitar work and vocals, and it serves as a strong indicator of what the album, on the whole, is like. Next is “Eyes of Heaven”, which starts off with some heavy riffs before again toning down a bit during the verses, where he got some very deep vocals from Ola. The chorus is the highlight of this track, as the music speeds up and the vocals get a bit more intense, making it one of the more memorable moments of the album. Next is “Evil Inc.”, a speedier track where the duo’s melodeath background comes through, as it’s a very dark yet hard-hitting track which moves at a fast pace, with great riffs, and while the vocals are still mostly clean sung, Ola sings with more intensity than normal throughout, and there are some death growls used in quick bursts. It’s definitely one of the more fun and catchy tracks on the album.
Following perhaps the heaviest song on the album, we get the second softest in “Ghost of the Sea”, which mostly feels like a fairly typical ballad throughout, where the soft guitars are used to set the mood, and add atmosphere to the track, while the vocals are the main focus and are very good as always. It’s a solid song throughout, with a nice chorus and some great vocals, but the highlight is definitely in the second half when the guitars really kick in and the track gets heavier, making for an explosive finish. Next is the title track, which opens with an extended softer section where the moody guitars set the tone for the music get heavier, and this track has a very alternative metal feel to it, with everything from the extra chunky guitars and the vocals. Speaking of which, there are times throughout the album where Ola’s vocals remind me a bit of Corey Taylor and this track is the most obvious example of that, as during the opening verse he sings with a soft but very sinister voice that especially brings to mind the Slipknot track “Vermilion”. It’s a very dark and heavy track throughout, with a nice contrast between heavy verses and a more melodic, subdued chorus. I find the album to be consistently very good, but this track is probably my favorite, due to the different extremes and contrasting tones throughout.
Moving towards the end, we get one of the more progressive tracks in “Clandestine Hunger”. This track has many tempo changes throughout, starting out soft and moody and staying there for a bit, but then later on it starts to get heavier and we get some harsh vocals, and then after that the track speeds up for a while, and the solo section that follows is another one of my favorite moments on the album. After that, the song settles down again until the end. After that is “The Pretender”, another fairly heavy track, which has some great chunky riffs and a nice melodic chorus. It’s another track that has more of alt-metal feel to it and is pretty enjoyable overall. Lastly, we have “Afterglow”, the softest track on the album, and also the longest. It starts off as a mostly acoustic ballad, where the guitars are equal parts relaxing and moody, while Ola’s vocals are deep and smooth as ever. It stays fairly calm throughout, with some epic vocal melodies and nice guitar work, but towards the end, it gets heavier and there’s a really emotional guitar solo right near the end. It’s a great track overall, and a nice way to end the album.
Overall, Garden of Heathens is a very strong debut from Eastern High, which offers some fairly straight-forward and heavy prog, with a focus on chunky riffs, moody tones, and soft, deep vocals. There’s nothing here that blows me away, though the contrasts between soft and heavy passages are nicely done and the occasional sections with death growls are very cool as well. It’s the kind of album that stays consistently engaging throughout, with occasional explosive moments. Recommended for fans of more straight-forward, heavier prog and alternative metal.
Written by: Travis Green