Epic Heavy / Power Metal from Germany

Existence doesn’t sound much like anyone else; they sounded even less like anyone else in 1990. It seems that they may have been influenced by early Italian heavy/power metal like Adramelch or Dark Quarterer, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Certainly Manilla Road is something that doesn’t sound too far off, especially their more atmospheric songs like “Into the Courts of Chaos,” “Helicon,” or “Dragon Star.” Really, though, this might all be coincidence, especially considering Existence’s first demo came out in 1989, not very long after Adramelch’s Irae Melanox, and before the most similar Manilla Road album, 1990’s The Courts of Chaos. Another thing is that even calling it Adramelch + Manilla Road doesn’t really get to the heart of the music. Stylistically it’s pretty much entirely different from anything else I’ve heard in metal. The band name should probably be some indication of this; it has a very mellow atmosphere and a very odd tempo, often speeding up for a little while just to slow down again a few seconds later. It’s clearly power metal, but it very rarely reaches anything I’d consider “aggressive,” or even really triumphant or bombastic, for the most part.

Reign in Violence, if I had to describe it in a single sentence, sounds like something that exists (pun completely intended) outside of time and space, in some alternate dimension where things move much more slowly and one’s perspective is accordingly very different. Musically, it seems like the song structures are being largely created by the bizarre pace and the strange alternations among guitars, vocals, and drums. It’s not like Europower where, as soon as the vocals come in, the guitar just goes to repeated sixteenth notes or drops out entirely. In fact, the guitars and vocals are often going on at the same time. It’s more like the instruments are staggered; the guitars will come in first, often on their own tempo, then the vocals come in at a weird juxtaposition, often at a different tempo, and the drums might very well be staggered to another juxtaposition and have a third unique tempo. Honestly I’ve never heard anything else quite like it in that regard. I mean, sure, progressive and/or technical metal messes with time signatures a lot, and perhaps here and there they might even have a brief moment where that sort of “staggered” quality occurs, but for the most part the instruments are going to be in sync with one another. Having them not be in sync is rather jarring, and makes the music much more difficult to digest. Coupled with the fact that, in the vein of Manilla Road, catchy hooks are mostly eschewed for bigger, longer, more complex ideas, and it becomes clear that Existence is one of the least accessible bands in metal.

However, also like Manilla Road, if you listen to it for long enough and pay close attention, larger ideas which are more epic in scope begin to emerge, and suddenly the album is not incomprehensible but enjoyable and perhaps even enchanting. Other than album closer “Wheel of Time,” which in the context of the album is a fairly ordinary and straightforward ballad, every song here is strange and complex. “Chosen Courses” is perhaps one of the more accessible tracks, and also happens to be a favorite of mine. The subject matter is also more typical of metal; instead of existential strangeness, introspection, or wistful longing, the lyrics on “Chosen Courses” are more occult, making explicit reference to “the devil.” Of course, the tone of the music still isn’t especially evil or dark, making the choice of subject matter here a bit strange, but somehow it absolutely fucking works. To this day, the chorus is still probably my favorite passage on the album:

Merciful and proud, you’re the welcome one
Now hear the devil’s shout, “Be my adopted son!” 

Vocalist Mike Klose fits the atmosphere very well, his vocals being almost completely without power, but rather nasal warbles, evoking James Shellberg of Longings Past. While I tried to come up with a more well-known example, I really can’t think of anyone else who sounds very similar to him; if you must, perhaps a lower, more frail version of Dark Quarterer’s Gianni Nepi. While the overall songwriting quality and strength of atmosphere vary to some degree, there’s really not a bad song here. “The Ritual” is a bit repetitive and gets boring at times, and the vocal lines on “The Loner” are fairly uninspired (as opposed to the riffs/leads, which are some of the best on the album), but every song is at least somewhat enjoyable, and most of them (i.e., the ones that I didn’t just point out) are quite strong, pulling you into the strange Existence world and not letting go.. In summary, I would say that Reign in Violence is probably Existence’s strongest album, although both of their other albums are still good. The strange use of tempo to create atmosphere is both intriguing and mystifying, and it continues to hit a certain spot in a way no other band I’ve encountered can do. If you’re a fan of epic heavy/power metal, this is something you definitely need to hear.

Album rating: 90%

Best tracks: “Chosen Courses,” “Eventful Visions”


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