European’s have had an incredible influence on what us in North America listens too. The French showed us electronic duos, Scandinavia showed us extreme metal, and Portugal showed us… nothing in particular. While being a great tourist spot for travellers, their music scene isn’t exactly their high point in international affairs. They’re closely tied with the Spanish latin movement, and an alternative/indie scene isn’t even listed in thoughts that come to mind when ‘Portuguese music’ is mentioned.
Heylel plan to change that with the release of their album, Nebulae. Although this full-length release has been labelled progressive or alternative, I compare it more to heavy metal and stoner rock and draws heavy ties to the NWOBHM scene, like Iron Maiden or Diamond Head. Initially, the first aspect I notice is how much louder the vocals are than the music on the track, “The Prophet”. It’s an overall weak track, by staying generic and forceful on the distorted riffs and sappy vocals. Ana Batista, the lead vocalist, has an incredible tone to her hypnotic voice, but it’s usage is very hit and miss on this record.
The third track, “Watcher of the Light”, shows how resourceful Batista’s angelic voice can be when timely placed to give that particular song an extra oomph of sound. The distinctive guitar tone of the 90’s era black metal adds extra depth to the doom metal vibe the song has. It was a highlight on the album. “Alter Ego” also has great moments, like the downward spiral of piano keys underlying the minor notes on the guitar. Batista again uses her voice to an absolute strength, providing the song with layers of beautiful notes.
Sadly, the album as a whole is inconsistent. “The Sage” was a strong lead in to another track, “Deeper”, but the length wasn’t needed. “Deeper” has it’s dynamic shift already laid out, so an acoustic track that’s primarily instrumental only shortens the listeners attention span to want more out of the band. “Wings of Eternity” had incredible potential, and Batista’s voice is again a highlight, but there’s awkward solos throughout the track. I’m undecided whether to pay attention to her vocals, or listen to the dreamy acoustic guitar, and together the two ideas feel cluttered and awkward. “The Great Abstinence”, on the other hand, is an amazing track. The build ups, the droning guitar riffs, and the panicked drum beats lead into a wonderfully credited essence of sound by the end of the dynamic shift. I applaud Heylel for their uniqueness and risk taking when crafting tunes.
I could only wish all tracks were this great. I really sat down and listened to this album. I wanted to enjoy it at a level, and was even close to tricking myself into liking it. Unfortunately, There was too much inconsistency to truly enjoy this album. “Sometimes”, although great, feels abolsutely out of place, and sounds like an Alanis Morissette B-side. These are the type of mistakes that are out of the hands of the band when the final decisions are in play. I know Heylel had influence in what should stay on the album and what should be taken out, but sadly the overall effect of the album was lost by undecided, inconsistent themes throughout Nebulae. A few great moments, but they were lost in the inability to stay to their strengths of sludgy, doom influenced metal. “Embrace the Darkness” is an incredible contemporary doom metal song. I wanted to hear more of this. Take note Heylel, you have a lot of time to figure out who you are as a band.
Check out the lead track, “The Prophet”