The hierarchy of German metal for nearly the past quarter century begins with the “Teutonic thrash” bands—Kreator, Destruction, and Sodom. However, in the past ten years, an entire scene devoted to metalcore and melodic death metal has exploded out of Germany, and several bands from that scene have enormous followings that make them just as relevant and important as the Teutonic thrashers. Heaven Shall Burn is the definitive leader of this group, because they are one of the most popular bands in the scene, and undoubtedly the most consistent. Since 2002’s Whatever It May Take, the quintet has developed into a monstrous force of influence, getting faster, more aggressive, more thought-provoking, and just plain better with each release. However, Invictus (Iconoclast III) takes the trend to a whole new level, advancing Heaven Shall Burn above all of their contemporaries and vaulting them into the highest echelon of melodic death metal bands worldwide.
Invictus, the third part of the Iconoclast trilogy that began with Iconoclast (Part 1: The Final Resistance) and continued with the live CD/DVD Bildersturm: Iconoclast II (The Visual Resistance), is a masterful composition from start to finish because of how positively relentless it is. Aside from the instrumental opening and closing tracks, almost every moment of music is harsh, fast, assaultive, and piercing. The guitars steal the show on multiple tracks, as both Alexander Dietz and Maik Weichert show off their highly technical playing and dual lead lines throughout the album. The drumming is another constant positive, as the high speed of the album allows Matthias Voigt to simply cut loose and play everything with full intensity. There is plenty of subtlety in his technique as well, but the full-force onslaught of drums adds a great deal to the overall quality of the music.
In the end, though, Invictus is all about Marcus Bischoff and the incredible lyrics he wrote and performed. Heaven Shall Burn has always been a lyrically-oriented band, with controversial social criticisms offered on every album alongside topics of anti-racism, social injustice, and war. Invictus takes these themes to new heights by tackling both modern atrocities and crimes of the past. “Combat” puts the horrifying reality of child soldiering into a deeply personal light, while “The Omen” attacks spineless political leaders worldwide that ignore the crimes committed daily in their countries. The topics of the past include Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile (“Buried in Forgotten Grounds”), the Crimean War of the 19th century (“Sevastopol”), the writings of Soviet author and dissident Lev Kopelev (“Against Bridge Burners”), and the Spartacist uprising of 1919 in Germany (“I Was I Am I Shall Be”). Undoubtedly, though, the greatest moment on the entire album is the penultimate track “Given in Death”, which features an amazing duet by Bischoff and Sabine Weniger, lead singer of fellow German band Deadlock. The song covers the deeply philosophical topic of trying to find meaning in life as death approaches, and the gorgeous contrast between Bischoff’s furious screams and Weniger’s beautiful clean singing is simply breathtaking. Heaven Shall Burn has never had a song like this before, and it’s one of the best in their entire career.
Invictus (Iconoclast III) is, without a doubt, the pinnacle of Heaven Shall Burn’s career up to this point. More importantly, though, it sets a new standard for excellence in the entire German metal scene and the worldwide melodic death metal and metalcore genres. Very few bands in either genre can match the insightful lyrics or the tremendous compositions on this album, and even fewer are capable of doing both. Invictus raises the bar for every other album put out this year, and rightfully so. Albums like this are extremely rare, and they are often the standard of comparison by which other albums are measured. Heaven Shall Burn has finally proven that, when nothing is held back, they are capable of being one of the most powerful metal bands in the world.
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// Notes from the Road
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