Where heavy metal lives
by Kalen Baker
For fans of: Helloween, Scanner, Blind Guardian, Omen, Traveler
Hrom! The sound of thunder… literally! Hrom comes from the Slovakian word for Thunder. Hrom is also a Calgary based power metal band that certainly lives up to their name!
Hrom began in 2008 as the solo project of Jan Loncik. After self recording and releasing the debut album Blesk, he recruited guitarists Alex Langil and Matt Ries (Traveler, Gatekrashor), bassist Shawn Vincent (Smoulder, Gatekrashor) and drummer David Horrocks (Sigil). This lineup recorded the Fighting Force EP and the epic concept album Legends of Powerheart Pt.I. There have been a couple lineup changes since then and Hrom’s rhythm section now consists of Jake Wendt on bass and Nolan Bendetti on drums (both who also play in Calgary thrash band W.M.D). After their last full length, Hrom has only done a few singles including Trapped in the Past and Struck By Dawn. Now, after five years, Hrom have recently released their long awaited follow up, Legends of Powerheart Pt.II on September 25th through Hoove Child Records. Over the course of 11 years, Hrom has slowly built up their popularity and have become a name known to die hard fans of NWOTHM (New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal). They’ve managed to do this without the help of major labels or music journalism. I spoke to Hrom guitarist Alex Langel a bit about their career as a band. “Our local following has always been there for us. We have been slowly but surely working our way further out into the world in terms of popularity”
The entirety of the band’s output was recorded and produced by Jan Loncik in his very own Richobo studios. Hrom’s music is characterized by an old school heavy metal sound. They have a lot of influence from '80s and '90s power metal legends such as Helloween, Chroming Rose and Scanner. Their recorded material has a classic production style that sounds like a forgotten Traditional Metal treasure from 30 years ago. This is similar for a lot of bands I cover on R Planet, but Hrom captures a sound that evokes a specific set of bands from the late '80s/early '90s. The rich sound and self produced quality of Hrom’s releases gives it an authentic sound. According to Alex, the D.I.Y aspect has always been very important to Jan. “It gives us a lot of freedom. We aren’t as restricted as other bands” says Alex. It’s clear that the production is well suited to the band’s vision. The performances are rhythmically air tight. The instrumentals can be aggressive, yet brilliantly melodic and beautiful. The band has really crafted their own sound in the home studio under Jan’s production direction. His studio space and technical skills have also been lent to fellow Trad Metal acts, Riot City and Traveler in the recording of their studio albums.
Hrom’s greatness goes beyond a good taste for sounds. They’re also superb songwriters, both instrumentally and lyrically. The songs are well thought out and not a second of their music gets stale. The varied song structures and catchy hooks make it easy to revisit Hrom’s songs time and time again. The music is full of exciting riffs that are just as memorable as the choruses. From face-melting speed metal like “Mach Nine” and “Terminal Velocity”, to catchy singalongs like “Rainstorm” and “Hellhound”. Hrom never misses the mark on well written songs. Most of Hrom’s lyrics focus on fantasy and sci-fi themes. To me, some power metal can feel a little cheesy but Hrom never fits into that category. Everything is very tasteful and has a strong artistic intent behind it. That, in combination with great chorus melodies makes for some great metal to sing along to. They also sometimes touch on topics that are based in reality and a little more personal. “Trapped In The Past'' has a strong feeling of nostalgia and a longing for what once was. The lyrics portray a strong sense of agony as Jan is yearning for a simpler time. This strong emotion is highlighted by an electrifying guitar dual guitar melody from Matt and Alex. They have a really nice synchronicity in the way they harmonize. The groove of the song has a bit of a stadium rock feel that makes it a catchy song to sing along to. If you haven't listened to Hrom, this song would be a great entry point!
According to Hrom’s Bandcamp page, Legends of Powerheart Pt.I continues the story of Fighting Force. The main character, Powerheart, leads a band of warriors called the Fighting Force. After years of being a war hero for his kingdom, he realizes that his government was evil all along which leads him into a depression. This gives him a burning desire to search for an escape from his world. Legends of Powerheart Pt.II picks up where the previous album left off. Powerheart is now in the distant future where a cosmic war is taking place. Throughout both Powerheart albums, Hrom guides you through epic tales of glorious battles and arcane legends. Lyrical elements of sci-fi and fantasy meld together in a bizarre world of magic and space monsters. “We wanted to step it up musically and lyrically this time around. Part I’s story was more general. For Part II, we wanted to grow the story and be a bit more detailed.Production has gotten better though and that was the main goal. That being said, a lot of the songs on Part II were written around the same time as the songs on Part I so there will be some consistency between the two for sure.” Says Alex.
Part II is a very strong followup to its predecessor. The first track,”Part II” is an instrumental intro that slowly builds with harmonized guitars, powerful timpani drums, and lush keyboards that shimmer in the background. This leads right into “Ethereal Travel” which is such a hard hitting ripper and great way to start the album. All the trademarks of Hrom’s sound are present here. Way more upfront and in-your-face than previous efforts. They’ve not only stepped up their performances but also with Jan’s recording and mixing. This is the most professional the band has ever sounded. Nolan provides some of the most lively and energetic percussion ever heard on a Hrom release. Alex and Matt play some amazing solos and riffs that are even stronger than those heard on Pt.I. Everything is rounded out very nicely with Jake’s booming and clean bass performances. The biggest highlight of his killer bass playing is on the track “Seer’s Trial”.Traveler’s Jean-Pierre Abboud and Toryin Shadlich make guest appearances on “Tri-Force Attack” and “Spectral Horizon”, making for an awesome crossover!
Hrom has been around for a while and has slowly grown their fanbase and brand. But despite their career moving at a moderate pace, they’re a very hardworking band with a strong D.I.Y mindset. They’ve had a small yet dedicated fanbase for a long time. They’ve also gotten the chance to open for Metal legends such as Diamond Head, as well as playing some solid festivals. When asked about best out-of-Calgary shows, Alex had this to say: “Ragnarokkr in Chicago in 2015 was a highlight. Sharing the stage with Nuclear Assault, Ostragoth and High Spirits was phenomenal!”. Hrom is sure to be playing wicked shows again once the COVID crisis settles down and live music becomes a regular thing again. In lieu of an album release show/tour, Alex says they’re going to continue working on songs for the next releases. For now, check out Hrom’s latest album Legends of Powerheart Pt.II as well as their back catalogue on Bandcamp and Spotify!
by Kalen Baker
For fans of: Bewitcher, Nifelheim, Anti Cimex, Midnight, Inepsy, Deathhammer
You’re walking through a thick, dark forest, lit only by the full moon and stars in the sky. A grey fog lingers ominously in the air. Boiling sweat is dripping down your face and into your eyes. Your skin crawls as you hear a crow’s harsh caw echoing through the woods. You tremble with fear when you see three corpses stumbling before you. They’re long haired, leather-clad ghouls that go by the name of Blackrat…
...And they want your flesh!
Blackrat is an amalgamation of Black Metal, Speed Metal, Hard Rock and Crust Punk. Their Bandcamp page aptly refers to them as “Witching Metal Punk”, which I think is a very accurate way to describe the kind of vibe they give off. The trio consists of Ian Lemke on vocals and guitar, Stu Loughlin on bass and Russell Shanahan on drums. Blackrat’s sound channels a lot of the same energy as Nifelheim and Early Bathory. The fast riffs are pushed to almost sounding rushed giving everything a frantic and chaotic feeling. If you like raw old school Extreme Metal, D-Beat, Rock N Roll and gory 80s horror, you’d dig Blackrat. They’ve been featured on Scoped Exposure, a video platform that showcases a lot of underground heavy music in Western Canada. I’d highly recommend watching their live footage of Blackrat at Dickens Pub in 2019. I attended that show and it was a wicked night, even after getting flying-kicked in the face by a stagediver!
Blackrat’s sound sits mostly in Blackened Thrash territory but there’s a lot of nods to D-Beat Punk and good old Rock N Roll (or in this case, I’d call it Rotten Roll!). “Coffin Rock” is one of those Black N’ Roll tunes that makes me draw a comparison to bands like Midnight. Blackrat occasionally slows things down to provide a bit of a palette cleanser but when they play at lower tempos, the band has a lot of bite and power. For example, “Thrall To The Gallows'' is slow in comparison to the tracks preceding it. Despite this, it’s dark, menacing, and each chord and drum hit is so forceful and heavy. The lead guitar has a weird, wobbly effect that helps hammer in that spooky vibe. It almost reminds me of some of the keyboards in Acid Witch’s music. “Thrall To The Gallows'' is really a great example of how Blackrat uses atmosphere to create a unique sound. Everything from their sound to their image really captures the old school horror vibe I mentioned earlier.
Blackrat is energetic, chaotic and addictive. With their exciting mix of sounds and ideas, they’re a band I often find myself listening to when I’m in the mood for heavy music. They clearly have a strong appreciation for the morbid and underground. Blackrat is high on my list of local bands to see again when shows can happen again. Crack a beer, throw on an old 80s gore b-movie and check out their latest full length, Dread Reverence. Follow them on Facebook to keep up to date on upcoming shows and releases!