Band: Stone Healer | Album: Conquistador | Genre: Progressive metal | Year: 2021
From: Mansfield, USA
For fans of: Howling Sycamore, Baroness, Isis
Over the last few years, I’ve run across a number of bands which fuse the harsh aggression of black metal with more melodic influences and often-clean vocals. Acts like Howling Sycamore and Antisoph were my primary introduction to this style, and Stone Healer is a recent discovery who might be my favorite of the bunch, so far.
Not only do they meld the more extreme end of metal with something a bit more accessible, they often toss in post-metal, folk, and alt-rock touches. This results in a rich, varied record that also feels like one cohesive work.
“One Whisper” opens Conquistador with weird acoustic guitar chords, but big, sludgy walls of distortion soon come crashing in. There’s enough cowbell to cure any fever in the highly melodic opening verse. This rather accessible passage is soon torn away by finger-twisting black metal shredding, and the vocals become steadily more intense. This track is an excellent encapsulation of Stone Healer’s ability to move back and forth between dynamic extremes yet still have everything hold together.
The next song, “Whence Shall I” immediately gets going with black metal brutality, complemented with odd tones and scales. Hints of post-metal creep in during the track’s more melodic moments, and the drumming is especially praiseworthy.
The 11-minute “Surrender” continues with the band’s stunning synthesis of abrasive metal and melodic hard rock; the use of acoustic guitar as extra auditory texture during distorted passages was a smart move that adds to their distinctiveness. The acoustic passage four minutes in is an appreciated breather. There’s still a somber intensity to it, and the melody really grabs the listener. The evolution of this midsection back into metal is smooth and unobtrusive. It’s not until you’re in the thick of it that you really realize it. The instrumentalism is all top-notch, and there are some lovely, Vektor-y hints of thrash near the end.
Jazzy clean guitar reminiscent of Elements-era Atheist is what kicks off “Torrent of Flame”. This is the first hint of anything even close to what I’d call “laid back” on the album, but it doesn’t last long. A strange but oddly catchy riff interrupts this rest, and the song hurtles back toward black(-ish) metal. “Until My Will Is Gone” opens similarly; simple clean guitar and vocals set the scene before buzzing, metallic fury takes over.
After the brief instrumental “Twenty-Two”, Conquistador closes on “Into the Spoke of Night”, a fittingly intense conclusion to this fantastic album. Hellish riffs engulf this track, balanced fantastically against the band’s more melodic tendencies.
Conquistador excels at sharp contrasts between pummeling, scouring black metal and melodic hard rock and alt-rock influences. During their runtimes, the songs both take surprising turns and evolve in ways which feel natural.