Heavy Load / Seminal Swedes Ride The Storm With First Record For 40 Years

There’s a chapter early in Blood, Fire, Death – The Swedish Metal Story, Ika Johannesson, and Jon Jefferson Klineberg’s excellent book, entitled Too Much Fucking Guck [2018]. It’s here that you find the history of Stockholm’s Heavy Load. Following the opening part about the seminal band Nifelheim and ahead of the section about Bathory, the story is worth every minute spent with it.

Heavy Load – Riders Of The Ancient Storm (No Remorse)

Release Date: 6 October 2023

Words: Paul Hutchings

The opening quote to the chapter is from Ragne Wahlquist. “No one really needs six Marshall Cabinets and four amps. But I wanted it that way. It was my thing.” The chapter ends with the words, “They are currently writing new material.” But who are Heavy Load?

Credited with being the first Swedish Heavy Metal band and, possibly more importantly, the first Viking Metal band, Heavy Load’s history dates back almost 50 years to the mid-’70s.

Formed by brothers Ragne (vocals, guitars, and keyboards) and Styrbjörn Wahlquist (vocals and drums), they released their first album in 1978 and created the legendary Thunderload Studio where Candlemass recorded Epicus Doomicus Metallicus and Nightfall.

For that alone, we owe the brothers a debt of gratitude. [The studio was destroyed in flooding in 2001 when the main water artery for the entire area sprung a leak.]

Heavy Load - Riders Of The Ancient Storm. The wait has been worth it.
Heavy Load – Riders Of The Ancient Storm. The wait has been worth it.

It was over 30 years before the band reformed. Having finished in 1987, the reunion in 2017 was something epic. Former Steelwing guitarist Niclas Sunnerberg grew up as a huge fan. “The song that opened my eyes for Heavy Load was Run with The Devil [from fourth album Stronger Than Evil, 1983],” he said. “I came to love Heavy Load. When I found out that Heavy Load was going to play at Sweden Rock Festival [2018], I bought my ticket the very moment they were released.

“Sometime later, I was stunned by the fact that the Wahlquist brothers asked me to join the band. I ended up on the stage in front of this enormous audience myself. Yes, life can really have the most unexpected things in store for you.”

Having reissued two of those early albums, 1983’s Stronger Than Evil in 2018 and 1982’s Death Or Glory in 2019, and with plans to complete the reissues with 1981’s Metal Conquest and debut Full Speed At High Level, attention can turn to the band’s first album in 40 years, Riders Of The Ancient Storm.

Heavy Load - Riders Of The Ancient Storm. Release Date: 6 October 2023
Heavy Load – Riders Of The Ancient Storm. Release Date: 6 October 2023

Riders Of The Ancient Storm is a magnificent slab of old-school traditional Metal which contains several unexpected twists and turns. Think Cirith Ungol, Manilla Road, Visigoth, Eternal Champion. High tempo, clean vocals that soar with the fantastic tales that the band paints, and superb musicianship, all crafted with a retro vibe that works on every level.

Opener Ride The Night has a hook that will have you singing the chorus for days, whilst the lead guitar work of Ragne is as fluid and uplifting as it was back in those early days when the band led the way.

The sound is distinctive, although I doubt that many would be able to point to Heavy Load as the band behind it on first listen. However, a couple of plays allow the album to soak in, and for those without age on their side, provides the opportunity to absorb the heritage that surges through Ragne, Styrbjörn, bassist Torbjörn Ragnesjö and Sunnerberg.

It’s not all wall-to-wall Heavy Metal. The slightly ponderous We Rock The World is a mix of Rival Sons and Europe, with a bit of gutsy guitar adding that bite to push it away from the bland and elevate it to more worthy status.

Singalong to Walhalla Warriors, a track that returns to the band’s longtime Viking themes. It’s an anthemic, fabulously dramatic and over-the-top song, led by Ragnesjö’s pulsing bass and at no point pushing the limit. It evolves at its own pace, with Ragne’s virtuoso guitar work given space to breathe.

There’s a diversity throughout the album that may surprise a few. The harmonies on Angel Dark and the brooding eight-minute Slave No More, the latter enhanced by some layered synths, both bring halcyon days to mind but also throw in a contemporary twist. It’s a fine song that echoes the classics of bands that regularly still take to the stage at festivals like Keep It True.

Epic in every way, this is music that many will hate, yet for those who enjoy the retro feel, this will get the hairs standing on the back of the neck.

More Viking stories arrive in the shape of the pumped-up Raven Is Calling. The sweeping movements and programming flick it to a semi-Eurovision stomp, the synths throwing it into a contorted curved ball that will bring smiles and scowls in equal measure. It’s got all the pomp that a band as revered as Heavy Load should bring.

Sail Away changes the mood completely, emotional stories of yore, delivered with a theatrical fervour that conjures images of longboats leaving for foreign lands.

And then we arrive at the finale. Butterfly Whispering is an extended acoustic solo from Ragne, which is sure to fire the emotions. At over seven minutes long, it is simply a fabulous way to end an album that many no doubt ever expected would ever arrive.

Now that it has, the wait has been worth it.

Sleeve Notes

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