Review: Heavy Temple ‘Garden Of Heathens’

Do you sometimes think that you’re not the intended target of press releases? I should start counting the number of times the press blurb has had me worried by promising me something I didn’t want, only for my misgivings to prove completely unfounded.

My new case in point: I loved Heavy Temple’s debut album Lupi Amoris so the following had me scratching my head: ‘Where the debut full-length Lupi Amoris charged forward like a roaring mastodon, Garden Of Heathens comes across more diverse and sophisticated without losing punch or heaviness’. NowI don’t need sophistication in my music, crushing riffs do me just fine thank you very much, and diversity just makes it sound like they’re not going to do the stuff I liked in the first place. Is it just me?

Heavy Temple 'Garden Of Heathens' Artwork
Heavy Temple ‘Garden Of Heathens’ Artwork

Now I’ve got that off my chest, let’s get some basics down. Heavy Temple are a trio hailing from Philadelphia led by High Priestess Nighthawk on bass and vocals. Although the band had been around since 2012, numerous line-up changes and, I’m guessing, life meant that their first album didn’t come out until out in 2021. It was a record that was well-worth waiting for: a gloriously riffy slab of stoner doom that really stood out through a combination of awesome riffs, awesome vocals and killer tunes. Off the back of the record, Heavy Temple toured extensively, making it across the pond to Europe but sadly not to north Hampshire – hell, not even to the UK.

I jumped at the chance to review their second album, also on Magnetic Eye Records, and I’d have been totally fine with another record in exactly the same vein as the first. As intimated in the press release however, Heavy Temple have shown some real growth and change on Garden Of Heathens, but in a good way.

Do you remember Witch? The band with J Mascis as a drummer who astonished everyone in the mid-2000s by showing that nobody had already claimed that band name? If you do, you’ll recall their self-titled debut was a classic of old-school stoner doom and that follow-up, Paralyzed, was sort of similar but was markedly more angular and abrasive, with distinct noise and garage rock elements. That’s what sprung to mind when I first listened to Garden Of Heathens.

Opener Extreme Indifference To Life is a good example. It’s centred around one of those classic, crushing, club-dragging doom riffs that made you fall in love with heavy music in the first place. It’s awesome, but it doesn’t feel quite like your run-of-the-mill doom tracks. The guitar has a raw, Velcro-y fuzz and the solos are much more atonal than you’d expect. Combined with a relentless, plodding groove, timely use of a flanger for when the riff needs to be just that bit heavier, Nighthawk’s excellent vocals AND some insane drumming, it’s quite a statement of intent.

propulsive, irresistible and about as RAWK as you can imagine…

Hiraeth is another track that had me thinking back to Witch – it has a bouncy classic ‘70s rock feel to it that’s tempered with oodles of crunchy fuzz, angular guitar, and a snarling vocal turn. Divine Indiscretion sees the band stretching out and features one of the more enjoyable breakdowns I’ve heard in a while, it’s almost a complete stop in fact. House Of Warship brings us back to more familiar stoner doom ground and it’s a corker – another slow, crushing riff, ominous vocals and more awesome drumming. If such a thing existed, it would easily tick all the boxes on an essential doom self-assessment form.

Midway through the album and we get to Snake Oil (And Other Remedies), possibly my favourite of the whole bunch. As with so many great things, the key here is the band not over-complicating matters – after the two-minute mark, the bass and drums simply lock together and it’s glorious: propulsive, irresistible and about as RAWK as you can imagine. After that we get the almost title track, In The Garden Of Heathens – an acoustic interlude that’s fine and gets some points for at least not sounding like Planet Caravan.

Jesus Wept features more of that heady mixture of grating guitar and pulverising riffs. It also reminds me strongly of one of the things I really enjoyed from the first album – the dynamic interplay between Nighthawk’s vocals and the riffs. Very cool. The record finishes on a high with Psychomanteum, four and a half minutes of breakneck, instrumental thrash mayhem that I’m guessing would be an absolute blast live.

So, there we are: proof that change, in small amounts, CAN be a good thing. Who’d have thought? In all seriousness though, Garden Of Heathens is an epic album that you really do need to listen to.

Label: Magnetic Eye Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Spotify | Instagram

Scribed by: Liam Blanc