If you’re reading this, that means you clicked on this review despite likely not having any knowledge regarding what Stone Healer are all about. Don’t stop reading now, because you, my friend, are about to stumble across a hidden gem in the world of progressive metal. Until fairly recently, I was completely oblivious about their music, but now I am a firm believer and it is my duty to make you one too. Upon my introduction to this band with their newest effort, Conquistador, I was left with soiled trousers. Buckle in, because Stone Healer are one of the freshest up-and-coming metal bands that you’ve never heard about.
Let’s get straight to the music, shall we? Not having heard any of the singles prior to listening to this album, I had no clue what was ahead of me. All I had to base my expectations off of was the ‘progressive black metal’ tag that was provided. With how the record opens up with “One Whisper”, you really have no idea what you’re in for. The acoustic rock jam that starts off this track leads right into a groovy section with cowbell, something I definitely wasn’t expecting. I can’t remember the last time I heard something like that in the realm of prog metal, but here it is and it is absolutely refreshing. Only two minutes into the album and my curiosity couldn’t be any stronger. Little did I know what was coming next…
Not even a few minutes into “One Whisper” and you’re suddenly on the far opposite side of the guitar-driven musical spectrum. Suddenly, it was as if my computer had a file corruption during an Alice in Chains song and somehow it seamlessly skipped into an Ulcerate or Ad Nauseam song. Yeah, you read that right. The weird thing about this was that it wasn’t disorienting by any means, it felt incredibly natural and fluid. You often hear the phrase ‘good on paper, bad in practice’ but this musical concoction is the exact opposite. On paper, this blend of acoustic rock/prog and the dizzying technical death metal sounds like something that’ll make your ears bleed, but actually hearing it? Don’t ask me how, but it just works.
Throughout Conquistador, you’ll hear plenty of ‘traditional rock’ blended in with that nauseating brand of technical death/black metal. As much as I enjoy and appreciate those purely twisted and sinister sounding records, I can’t listen to them that often because that style is just so exhausting. That massively oppressive sound sucks the life out of me, which is why I don’t get around to that type of music very often. Once I got a taste of that particular sound here on Conquistador, I was expecting to experience that same musical fatigue by the time I made it to the end of the record, yet that didn’t happen. Rather than being drained of the desire to listen to the album again so soon, I was ready to dive back in for another spin. The dissonant, aural onslaught is masterfully balanced with the smooth and sassy acoustic, melodic passages. The juxtaposition between two contrasting musical styles really makes this record so much easier to digest had it only been an avalanche of disorienting riffs and blast beats to begin with.
Despite listening to this album as much as I already have, I am still in utter disbelief about how well the music is in Conquistador overall. The music is constantly moving forward, taking you to unexplored territory. If I was reading this very review for the first time without having heard these songs, I’d be incredibly doubtful that any of this actually sounds good. Believe me when I say that none of these drastic shifts in musical styles are to the detriment of one another. At any given point, it’ll sound as if you’re spiraling down into an endless abyss and boom, suddenly you’re grooving to a super upbeat, acoustic guitar-driven flourish as is heard in the highlight tracks like “Surrender” and “Until My Will is Gone”. There is never a moment in which you feel worn out, nor will you feel that musical whiplash. From now on, whenever I do get the tendency to listen to that vile and sinister brand of technical death metal, I can say with confidence that I am almost always just going to listen to Stone Healer instead.
Stone Healer take that refined dissonant technical death metal sound and expand on it in a way that you wouldn’t particular expect, ultimately making that style of music much more enjoyable and easier to binge. Conquistador is something special, definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Bands as innovative and forward-thinking as Stone Healer are, are truly a dime-a-dozen, as their musical ambition and virtuosity led to a listening experience that is unlike anything you have heard before in this realm of music. I wasn’t expecting Conquistador to completely colonize my mind and ears, but what can you say, ‘nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition‘.