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Sovereign “Altered Realities” Album Review by Curtis J. Dupree

SOVEREIGN band members

When death/thrash is done poorly it can be monotonous and dull. But when death/thrash is done right it can be exhilarating and engaging. Thankfully, Norway’s Sovereign’s full-length debut, Altered Realities, falls solidly into the latter category. This album features seven songs and 42 minutes of exceptionally well-crafted and performed death/thrash. Some songs lean closer to the thrash side of things with razor sharp riffing and precision drumming. Others fall closer to the death metal side of things, but it’s a death metal that’s very reminiscent of early death metal that still incorporated much of thrash metal’s ethos—think of something like Malevolent Creation’s The Ten Commandments. In other words, fans of both thrash and death will find much to like here. 

The production is warm and natural—a refreshing break from the overly sterile sounds many bands have today. The musicianship is uniformly strong, with every band member getting chances to shine. The drums are very natural and expertly maintain technicality without becoming too busy and overpowering. The riff-work is top notch, as are the solos. The vocals are solid and performed well. The only critique is that there could be stronger vocal hooks present, but that’s a minor critique, because what’s here is high quality. 

The album begins with “Altered Reality.” There is a brief, atmospheric intro that gives way to a punishing riff. This riff is pretty solidly death metal in sound and forms a great way to kick off the proceedings. The song is a great opening track that sets the tone for the rest of the record. 

Following this track we come to “Futile Dreams.” This song features some thrashier, speedier sections that are quite appealing. Nevertheless, there is a strong deathy sound present, as well. One thing that keeps this album engaging is the welcome use of dynamics in songwriting. Sovereign never lets the songs become monotonous, choosing instead to switch rhythms and riffs whenever the need arises. That being said, the band also lets the songs breathe and groove rather than letting themselves become too concerned with technicality. “Futile Dreams” is also marked by great drum, bass, and lead work. 

Nebular Waves” follows and features great thrash riffing. Once more, Sovereign’s dynamic songwriting is arguably the star of the show as it keeps the album engaging and never boring. 

One of the album’s standouts comes next in the form of “Counter Tech.” This song might be the most immediately appealing on Altered Realities. The riffs are some of the hookiest on the record, and the band’s rhythmic sense here is consistently appealing. Within the song is a doomier break that adds atmosphere before the band returns to great riffing. Some of the album’s best lead work can be found on this track. The chorus also features what is probably the album’s best vocal hook. “Counter Tech” is an excellent track. 

The Enigma of Intelligence” begins with a slower intro before launching into a compelling, rhythmically propulsive riff that perfectly straddles the death/thrash line. By the time the verse comes in the song hits the listener with furious thrash metal. The lead work is a highlight here. Once more, Sovereign allows the song to groove in the midst of all the thrashing. The structure of the song is once again quite dynamic. The drum work is a standout, featuring appropriately placed double-kick use. 

Speaking of drums, “Synthetic Life” begins with a brief but great drum intro. Furious riffing can be found here. This song features more old-school death metal feel and is groovier in the middle. The riffing toward the end is a highlight. 

The album closes with a 10+ minute epic: “Absence of Unity.” The initial riff is mid-paced and likable. The verses are catchy and marked by great riffing. Towards the end the song proceeds into an appealing, doomier death metal.

Any fan of death metal, thrash metal, or a death/thrash hybrid must be sure to check out Sovereign’s Altered Realities. The band expertly blends the two genres and demonstrates their songwriting skill with dynamic structures, great riffing, smoking lead work, compelling drumming, and well-done bass lines. Lone complaint is that the songs could overall feature stronger vocal hooks, although some hooks are present. Every other aspect of the album is in place, which means that 2024 is off to a strong start with Sovereign’s full-length debut. 

Reviewer rating: 9/10

Preorder the album here: Dark Descent Records https://www.darkdescentrecords.com/shop

SOVEREIGN cover album

Tracklist:

  1. Sovereign – Altered Reality 7:01
  2. Sovereign – Futile Dreams 4:29
  3. Sovereign – Nebular Waves 3:46
  4. Sovereign – Counter Tech 5:40
  5. Sovereign – The Enigma of Intelligence 6:05
  6. Sovereign – Synthetic Life 4:17
  7. Sovereign – Absence of Unity 10:16

Sovereign is:
Vidar Fineidet – Rhythm Guitars
Cato Syversrud – Drums
Tommy Jacobsen – Lead/Rhythm Guitars
Simen Roher Grong – Bass/Vocals

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