Steadily rising up the symphonic metal ranks since their 2015 "Songs of Love and Death" debut, BEYOND THE BLACK have looked like major contenders for a while now. If 2018's "Heart of the Hurricane" didn't quite seal the deal, "Hørizøns" almost certainly will, because this is plainly the sound of a band with their eyes on the prize (and the songs to make it happen).
The key to BEYOND THE BLACK's burgeoning popularity must surely be the cunning way they sneak around the obvious symphonic tropes, ending up sounding like a balls-out metal band with an ear for soaring melody, rather than another well-intended clone act. "Hørizøns" once again highlights the Germans' pop sensibilities, but this is a much more seamless act of hybridization than some of those sparky refrains might suggest. BEYOND THE BLACK have never sounded heavier than they do here, even though the album's production frequently wanders into that peculiar sonic no man's land, where guitars sound like keyboards, or is it vice versa? It doesn't matter, because it's a sound that punches through speakers like Mike Tyson circa 1987. There's a bite and crunch to the riffs, plenty of voluminous bottom end and, for all its gleam and polish, a tangible sense that there's a real band playing here. Singer Jennifer Haben has a brilliant rock voice, and it's her clear but soulful declarations that make the likes of the opening title track, the raging but hook-packed "Misery" and the absurdly catchy "Some Kind Of Monster" so instantly likeable.
Elsewhere, "Human" showcases a newfound, bluesy side to the BEYOND THE BLACK's sound, with Haben emoting like a trooper amid a gathering storm of orchestral bluster. It's a stunning moment and clear evidence that the Germans are flexing more creative muscles these days, growing into their seemingly inevitable status as heavyweights with great style. Even the synthwave pulse that drives the gnarly but anthemic "Golden Pariahs" seems logical and natural, rather than some cynical stab at contemporaneousness. Likewise, the digitized stomp of "Marching On" is on-trend and radio-friendly in the best possible way, with a wonderfully euphoric and overblown guitar solo thrown in before a wildly uplifting final chorus. "You're Not Alone" could be the best of the lot, with a perfectly consoling and compassionate message for these messy, dark times, and a chorus so huge that you could stick a flag in it and claim it for Satan. Or whichever implausible deity you prefer, of course.
To cap it all, "Out Of The Ashes" is one of the most joyously overwrought ballads you'll hear this millennium; another great showcase for Haben, it's a slice of dewy-eyed, alt-metal perfection.
Precisely the album they needed to make, "Hørizøns" is the culmination of BEYOND THE BLACK's dazzling story so far. It's an album full of confidence, cleverness and massive tunes. Okay, so the average NUNSLAUGHTER fan might find it a bit too glossy, but you can't please everyone.