#FOR FANS OF: Techno Death, Nile, Morbid Angel
“The Halls of Khazad-Dum” echo with war drums and swell with petulant, diminutive creatures whose bellies protrude from overindulgence and whose culture has an unquenchable thirst for beer and spilled blood. Clad in shining regalia and wielding weapons of the iron they mine beneath the Misty Mountains, the dwarves of Middle Earth are a battle-born race whose women look like men and whose men look like pocket-sized viking warriors.
From the opening of 'Plagues Upon Arda' it is already apparent that this album is thick with blasts and takes a sarcophagial Nilotic approach as measures range from growls and raging percussion to shrill vocals and long ringing solos, emanating as though transcribed from ancient calls to hack and slash. Khazaddum is a very energetic death metal band with a focused and straightforward sound, as though organized by the foreman ordering striking pickaxes and the architect designing gigantic monuments to great warriors. Exploring Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' lore through the eyes of the mountain-dwelling dwarves, this band has a goofy gimmick with a strong musical backing that seems to only intersect within the lyrics while much of the rest of the sound finds itself not embracing the theme, but basking in the African river's current. The theme and delivery come closest to joining in “Lord of Isengard” and “Legion of the White Hand” where the riffs are nearly identical but the frenzy of Saruman's minions stands apart from the larger, more imperial sound of the sorcerer's own anthem. This somewhat lacking intersection is the main flaw in 'Plagues Upon Arda' where in nine songs there are more samey moments that seem set to fill time rather than keep the listener guessing or the album replayable, especially in comparison to the personality expressed in Khazaddum's debut EP, “In Dwarven Halls”.
There are some fun moments throughout these forty minutes. The sawing opening to “The Fell Rider's Scourge” gets hammered by a litany of cymbals and snare, the galloping churn of a metal steed rides you to soloing nirvana in “Masters of the Plains”, and the operatic crescendo of “The Black hand of Gorthaur” finally hits the epic and powerful mixture of the ancient and new that the band had been unlikely to reach throughout the album. On the whole though, the music does not seem to share the same wavelength as the theme and has trouble weaving the legendary tapestries of its narrative namesake despite the reams of material from which the band may capitalize. This is the main fault in Khazaddum. These musicians are clearly adept at their craft, driven and focused on creating in a very demanding and intense style, but the creativity is lacking in places that could see this group building another step upward rather than standing in the same place as the band that it clearly styles itself after. Nile gives a larger presence to its theme throughout its storied discography, and that thematic presence is rarely reflected throughout Khazaddum's first full-length.
Khazaddum is a competent band but this dwarf-themed death metal sounds too close to its idol to really give this album a unique kick. The gimmick is unfortunately in merely the lyrics as this band plays a mirage of Nile riffs to Glen Benton's gutturals and backs it with a mountain of drumming. Altogether Khazaddum is your average extreme metal group with a few standout moments that is at a common creative confluence in its career, choosing whether to propel itself into greatness or to stagnate and call this album its peak. 'Plagues Upon Arda' is an adequate death metal offering but, like the theme, the presentation only jumps out at its audience on paper while the music remains par for the course.