Review by Greg on January 20, 2024.
For being at least the 17th metal band named Sovereign around the world, this up-and-coming Norwegian act sure knew which strings to pull when luring the unsuspecting listener (read: me) into their twisted world. The band lists illustrious compatriots Nekromantheon among their main inspirations, and lead guitarist Tommy Jacobsen even appeared live with the Kolbotn thrashers, along with already smashing necks with fellow axeman Vidar Fineidet in Nocturnal Breed's recent incarnation, so you should have a more than vague idea of what Sovereign are going to play on this debut LP Altered Realities.
However, when set against the last comparable example I heard last year (Corroder's "Both Feet In The Grave" EP), here the compositions benefit from a decidedly wider room to breathe, and dial down the blackened leanings in favour of a prominent deathrash influence, so it's safe to say that anyone invested in the contemporary Chilean scene (Dekapited, Critical Defiance, Behead, and so on) will feel at home here as well. The intriguing, old-school Dan Seagrave-esque artwork no doubt plays its part, despite the ridiculously out-of-place album title slapped on it with the most anonymous stock font they could find. But okay, we're nitpicking here, let's not distract our focus from the music... it more than deserves it.
Indeed, Altered Realities delivers on all fronts. For starters, the hyperactive and outright barbaric drumming courtesy of Execration's Cato Syversrud, which could single-handedly inject life in so many inoffensive bands around, and it's hard not to hear a certain Martin van Drunen influence in Simen Grong's fiercely shouted vocals, but the real shocker came from the guitars, and precisely the lead one. Now, before you worry, there isn't any neoclassical wankery or stuff like that, if you somehow thought it would fit in an album like this. Still, the leadwork is far from incompetent, mindless shredding, with more than a pinch of melody to boot, and the numerous solos are among the highest points in basically every track – which is particularly remarkable in the deflagrating salvos of 'Nebular Waves', 'Futile Dreams', 'Synthetic Life', and especially middle highlight and personal pick 'The Enigma Of Intelligence', which shines on each and every aspect throughout its six minutes of playing time. Riffs are simply lethal wherever the pace kicks up, but even a largely slower number like the sinister 'Counter Tech' feels like a work made by the same hateful, deranged minds.
Luckily, Sovereign are also aware that this style goes well with a raw production, yet without neglecting the mixing (Grong's bass is akin to a barrage of wallops to my stomach and I wouldn't want it any other way), and that 40 minutes is by and large the upper bound in terms of length for such an intense experience. Yeah, by all means, hard to ask for more from such a complete package.
Now, it's true that the four Sovereign dudes are the exact opposite of novices at their craft, but Altered Realities was a welcome surprise nonetheless. While the choice of having the two longest episodes bookend the release makes it rather challenging, with especially closer 'Absence Of Unity' feeling too long for its own good (even without taking the 4-min instrumental coda into account), its honest and sincere, not to mention oppressive, vibes can make up for almost any imperfections. Despite being the absolute first 2024 album I've heard so far, I wouldn't be surprised to find it again in my personal top 10 at the end of the year, although it's a long way to go to be 100% sure, as of now. But in the meantime, why aren't you still listening to it?
Rating: 8.1 out of 10452