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ASSASSIN'S BLADE Gather Darkness

By Andrew Depedro, Ottawa Corespondent
Tuesday, September 17, 2019 @ 3:08 PM

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Gather Darkness

Pure Steel Records

While famed Throne Of Glass author Sarah J. Maas wasn’t even conceived while Ottawa speed metal titans EXCITER were three studio albums and countless world tours into their own young career, it would be a safe bet to assume that some of her inspired writings had to have come from at least a random spin or two of Heavy Metal Maniacs or Violence And Force just to beef up the action content every few chapters or so. Or even latter albums including 2004’s New Testament when the band’s then-frontman Jacques Belanger paid homage to their back catalogue with new recorded renditions of their forcefully maniacal heavy metal classics.

Or for all we know or care, she’s really not a metal fan and prefers the lush timbres of Billie Eilish instead to unwind after adding more novellas to the TOG series. All fine and good, but seeing as Maas has written a collection of five novellas actually titled Assassin’s Blade, maybe the connection isn’t just a fluke. And thus far, the only band that I know of at least who were inspired enough by TOG to name themselves after the five novella collection – other than maybe LYCANTHRO but they were more Skyrim-inspired – would be the aspiring metal group ASSASSIN'S BLADE, who just happen to feature Jacques Belanger as their frontman.

With EXCITER’s massive popularity in Sweden having grown over the course of nearly a quarter century, particularly during Belanger’s era in the lineup, they’ve inspired a generation of homegrown Scandinavian heavy metal maniacs and musicians alike. Among them would be Peter Svensson and David Stranderud, two aspiring Swedish session musicians who’d caught many an EXCITER show during the band’s frequent European tours in the mid/late 90’s and beyond, eventually becoming close friends with the band. Belanger’s tenure with Exciter ended in 2006 just as Svensson and Stranderud were developing their musical chops and writing/demoing/producing their own compositions; by 2014, the duo had enough strong material to fill up a proper album or two, but they were having little success in finding other backing musicians and label distributors to support them. They also needed a strong vocalist to give their songs a real powerful voice. Shopping their demo tape with the prospect of having nothing to lose to Jacques Belanger, who’d been doing mostly session/studio work and the odd side project since leaving EXCITER, the duo were surprised to get a favourable response back from the singer. Belanger would take about a year or so to retrain his singing style, but by mid-2015, he flew to Sweden and recorded five songs at Peter’s studio before returning to Canada to hook up with Manfred Leidecker (with whom he had recorded three EXCITER albums: The Dark Command, Blood Of Tyrants and the aforementioned New Testament) to record the vocals to five more songs, which would later become ASSASSIN'S BLADE’s debut album Agents Of Mystification in 2016.

With a year and a half of touring experience under their proverbial bullet belts including their official live debut at Denmark’s Metal Magic Festival, ASSASSIN'S BLADE have sharpened their craft somewhat for their sophomore release Gather Darkness. Recorded at Peter’s studio with a slight lineup change featuring Marcus Rosenkvist (who was a session drummer on AOM) who is now the band’s full-time drummer and guitarist Bruno Bueneck, Gather Darkness exults pure traditional metal to the core. Indeed, if the lyrical content in its songs such as “Dream Savant”, “The Thaumaturge”, “The City That Waits” and “Call Of The Watch” doesn’t capture vivid images of Celaena Sardothien crusading across Adarlan in the name of justice done Assassin’s Guild style, someone isn’t trying hard enough to be convincing. And that someone isn’t Jacques Belanger, whose vocals are in prime form throughout the album whether singing or doing spoken word – though if I were to make a suggestion, he didn’t need to end “Tempt Not (The Blade Of The Assassin)” with unnecessarily repeated chants of “assassin”. Even the title track has the perfect ending with Belanger’s well-timed flourishing vocals until Marcus’ bass drum literally kicks in on the fade out and disrupts the mood. Otherwise, when ASSASSIN'S BLADE ends on an abrupt but timely note, they do it right on “The City That Waits” with the calm-before-the-storm surprise climax, while Belanger’s vocal and storytelling talents shine the most on “Dream Savant” and “Gods”, allowing the rest of the band to find their perfect groove. David and Bruno have some decent riffs overall throughout the album while the rhythm section comprised of Marcus’ thundering drum work and Peter’s precise bass lines round out the album nicely.

With Gather Darkness, ASSASSIN'S BLADE have managed to take a more focused stab at glory with the intention of making the final cut even if it won’t be poking its way into Sarah J. Maas’ personal CD collection anytime soon. But the band have long since found their own gathered demographic for the true metal masses.

And that is a story in itself.

4.5 Out Of 5.0


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