Saturday, June 17, 2023

Heavenwood - Diva (1996)

Although Moonspell should be credited for breaking Portugal out onto the international metal scene, it seemed as if there were a fairly long drought after their arrival, arguably until the black metal band Gaerea showed up and garnered buckets of underground praise. But that void is deceptive, because there have been a decent number of bands popping up over the decades, and a few of them were contemporaries of the aforementioned. So right around the time Fernando Ribeiro and crew were bridging the gap between black metal and Gothic metal, there appeared Heavenwood, another group with a focus more on the latter intertwined with some doom influence via Paradise Lost and the rest of the British scene. These guys were a wholly respectable outfit, relying on nothing but their music and melancholy and little theatrics.

Diva is their first and one of their finest offerings, an album that sits somewhere between Icon, Irreligious and Darkseed's Spellcraft on the Gothimetallurgimeter, a creation entirely of my own that I promise I will never mention again (though I retain the right to break such a promise). Beautiful, mournful melodies are splayed out over simpler chord patterns, with a pronounced growl vocal that certainly sounds like a blend of Holmes and Ribeiro, but also gives off some slightly higher, emotional shouting and some dripping, gothy backups. There's a Romantic quality to how they write their tunes which reminds me a little of On Thorns I Lay from Italy, but here you've got the presence of a keyboard rather than a violin. They're also not afraid to engage with a bit of dynamic range, granted the instrumentation remains consistent, but say "Flames of Vanity" gives you a bit of a pickup with the shuffling beats before it soaks down into the tears and gloom, and then "Since the First Smile" has this slower, rolling, tribal quality to the drums which really makes for an epic escape with the synth swells.

Production-wise, this album mostly holds up, but I think there are a few minor flaws, like the lead guitar sound can feel a little too thin, it needed some more weight and effects. The growls might also have been mixed in better, but for a debut I can't expect terribly much. The drums sound very good, the bass lines occasionally pop up below the solemn crush of the chords, and I can't fault a record like this which so effectively conveys its emotions, with catchy melodies that still rattle around in my head whenever I reflect back upon this niche of Gothic/doom. Diva arrived at a time when it probably could have had a bigger impact than it did...groups like Moonspell or Lacuna Coil were blowing up and Heavenwood might have followed, but I think the band might have lacked a little of the 'star power' or narcissism so many fans drool over in their music, rather they are really just a bunch of guys who happen to be quite good at this Gothic/doom metal style, and the antithesis of the album's title.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

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