Album Review: Distant Past – ‘Rise of the Fallen’

I will admit, I’m not all that familiar with the Swiss metal scene. I do know that Hellhammer came from there (as did their follow up bands, Celtic Frost and Triptykon) and I’ve heard of Coroner and Emerald in the past (and I covered Rizon’s Power Plant in January), but, for the most part, all I can say about the Swiss metal scene is that it exists. It’s not an especially large scene, admittedly (Metal-Archives notes 476 currently active bands from the country compared to the UK’s 2322, and that’s just for stuff they accept!), but it is fair to say that I’m not really able to say much when it comes to the Swiss metal scene as a whole.

Distant Past, for those not in the know, are a heavy metal band from the city of Berne (one of the largest cities in Switzerland, for the benefit of those not familiar with Swiss geography) who formed in 2002 and have four previous albums to their name: 2003’s Science Reality, 2005’s Extraordinary Indication of Unnatural Perception, 2010’s Alpha Draconis and 2014’s Utopian Void. I will admit that a warning flag went up for me when I first noticed that the first three were all independent releases, because it begs the question of what the band were doing in that time to justify taking over a decade to be signed by a label, but, when I checked, it turned out that two of the band members were previously from the band Emerald (who people may know due to their former frontman Thomas Winkler being the frontman of Gloryhammer), which…didn’t actually answer the question I was thinking of, but did at least provide some sort of explanation.

Anyway, Distant Past have had a fairly interesting lineup since their founding, as the band’s guitarists (lead guitarist Christoph Schafer and rhythm and lead guitarist Alain Curty) and bassist (Adriano Troiano, who was in Emerald until 2014, although he also was not in the band from 2001 to 2006) have been consistent since the band formed, but the band’s vocalist and drummer have not been. Their current vocalist is Jvo Julmy, who was Emerald’s vocalist from 1999 until sometime before the release of their 2010 album Re-Forged (I don’t know exactly when he left Emerald) and their current drummer is Al Spicher, although previous drummer Geri Baenriswyl provides drums on ‘Heroes Die’. This album is also interesting because Thomas Winkler is also on the album and is actually present on just about every track on the record, which probably makes this really interesting to listen to if you’re an Emerald fan, I imagine!

Sadly, I have to say that I’m not sold on Rise of the Fallen. There’s a lot to like about it, but I can’t say that I’m going to be listening to this much once this review goes up, because it just doesn’t grab me enough to make me want to listen to it much.

Cover DISTANT PAST_Rise Of The Fallen

The first thing to note about this album is that it’s a concept album where the story is about the eternal struggle of temptation by Lucifer and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Now, I’m not opposed to Christianity at all despite being agnostic at best, but I can’t help feeling that this seems a bit out of place for the band, as it’s actually something I’d expect to see from someone like Stryper, yet nothing that I’ve read related to Distant Past points towards them being a Christian metal band. Maybe my research let me down on this one, I’ll admit. If so, that’s fair enough…but it still doesn’t entirely ignore the fact that, to my knowledge, Jesus and Lucifer never actually interacted with each other in the Bible. I’ve not actually read the Bible, so I could be very wrong here, but a story where the two of them speak together seems like someone took the Bible in broad strokes and took elements of it to tell the story they wanted to tell rather than retelling what the Bible actually said to me. In fairness, some great stories have been made through doing similar things to that (pretty much every superhero film in the last decade and a half has done so), but it feels like a strange choice when the subject is something as instantly known to most people as the Bible rather than something obscure like, say, Black Web, Raver, Ravage or Nightcat.

…Points to anyone who knows who all of those are without needing to look them up!

Musically…I will admit, this record needed a bit of time before I started to really warm up to it, but, once it did, I couldn’t help thinking that it actually wasn’t that bad! There’s nothing really bad about the songwriting, but I do think it suffers from not having a lot about it which really stands out as impressive on the first listen, because, on the first few listens, I was honestly really bored by the record and it was only when I put it to one side for a while and returned to it that it started to mean something to me. The band’s somewhat progressive-tinted heavy metal (with power metal touches) is honestly a bit lacking on the memorability front, but it does come together if you’re persistent with the record. I don’t think the record helps itself in that a lot of the record follows a somewhat similar tone and tempo, which makes a lot of the songs feel a bit samey and can make everything blend together if you’re not listening carefully. It says a lot that the biggest shake up on the record in that regard is the final song, ‘By the Light of the Morning Star’, and that’s because it’s the only ballad on the record! Still, once the record comes together, some of the songs are decent: I quite enjoyed ‘Die as One’ as a whole, ‘Scriptural Truth’ has a pretty fun chorus and ‘End of the World’ is not too bad.

The performances on the record are nothing special. I know I say that a lot, but nothing really is all that noteworthy on the performance front on this record: it doesn’t really leave the level one would expect from a band in Divine Past’s genre, but nobody drops the ball either. It’s pretty much what you’d expect: the guitars use some decent riffing that, while not complex, functions in the songs fine and demonstrates an acceptable amount of technical skill without entering the level one would expect from virtuoso guitarists, the bass guitar is about as present as could be expected and the drumming, while occasionally used for some interesting moments (like the fairly rapid drumming in ‘End of the World’), mostly doesn’t do much beyond create a core for the rest of the record to be passed upon (although I do think Spicher overuses his cymbals a bit: in some songs, you can barely escape them!).

The vocals, surprisingly, are a bit of a disappointment. It took me a while to be able to differentiate between Winkler and Julmy’s voices properly, which surprised me because of how instantly recognisable Winkler is when I listen to Gloryhammer, and, while neither does a bad job, I couldn’t help thinking that neither of them really did anything all that impressive either. Julmy does hit some pretty impressive high notes, admittedly (his scream in the end of ‘Masters of Duality’, alongside Winkler, is actually pretty decent) and they demonstrate fairly decent vocal ranges, but neither of them grabbed me as a listener, which left me feeling more than a bit disappointed, because I’m sure these guys can do excellent jobs as vocalists (heck, Winkler proved it with Gloryhammer!), but here…they just don’t leave a real impression upon me beyond the fact that they’re there, which is not what a good record should do!

The production is honestly fairly decent, although I do have complaints and they mainly come down to the sound of the record. Something about it feels off to me and I honestly can’t place what it is. The best way I can put it is that it feels underproduced, yet it doesn’t feel like a raw recording at all, if you get the point I’m trying to say. The mixing pushes the guitars fairly high in the mix and the bass fairly low in the mix, but the guitars have a slight bit of the edge one would expect from live guitars in metal without it being clear. The drumming doesn’t have the usual plasticy sound of an overproduced record, but you do literally hear everything the guy does as if every single thing he did was done live and not mixed from that. The vocals seem to occasionally dip into a point where they seem to be fighting to be heard properly over everything, but they mostly occupy the record in a decent level. That’s kind of what I mean: it feels like the record was done live due to aspects of the mixing, but it doesn’t feel live either. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it really bugs me for some reason.

Ultimately, Rise of the Fallen is a record which just seems like it’s more interesting due to who is involved in it than it is to actually listen to. It’s hard to call it outright bad, as it does have its moments and can be a decent listen once it grows upon you, but it’s nothing that’s worth losing your mind over and I honestly can’t say that I’ll particularly want to hear it again once this goes up. If you’re a huge fan of Emerald and just want to hear Julmy and Winkler sing together, then it might be worth a look into, but I don’t see it winning over anyone else and I certainly don’t see it being anyone’s record of the year.

Rise of the Fallen will be released on the 8th of April by Pure Steel Publishing. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.