To say that the global pandemic has been a trying time for the music industry would be the understatement of the century. However, it has also proven a great source of inspiration; an opportunity to persevere, experiment, and reflect on the traumatic experiences that have affected us all throughout the duration of this disaster. At first, you might think the idea of a ‘pandemic album’ seems like an awfully dangerous concept for a metal record; one that would be doomed to certain failure. Psychosomatic by Immortal Guardian, however, strives to blow all negative preconceptions right out of the water.
The fourth album from the North American power metallers, Psychosomatic is a triumph in making the best of a bad situation. Immortal Guardian provide an unashamed critical reflection of current events with their poignant imagery through finely crafted lyricism, highlighting the stark reality of the global pandemic and especially its mental toll. With evocative tracks such as ‘Phobia’ that discusses (as you might guess from the title) the fear instilled by COVID-19, Immortal Guardian provides an open and honest commentary on the precarious state of mental health during the ongoing crisis. We have seen a move towards a far more progressive approach to taking care of one’s mental health emerging in recent times, where people are feeling more encouraged to talk openly rather than skirting around the subject; this album provides the much-needed positive reinforcement that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the pandemic and how it is affecting all of us, not just physically but mentally as well. In that sense, Psychosomatic has something that everyone can relate to and should be commended for that.
The subject matter as a whole naturally lends itself well to the power metal formula and is utilised by the band to its fullest potential. In true faith to the genre, Psychosomatic brings with it a mystical tone of folklore and legend, which makes it almost hard to believe these are events that are actually unfolding right here and now in the real world. Vocalist Carlos Zema proves himself to be a proficient and captivating storyteller, with a voice as enthralling as the late, great Ronnie James Dio, twisting the sombre affair that is pandemic life into a tale of epic proportions rivalling the works of such power metal giants as Dragonforce. This is further bolstered by Zema's fellow and equally brilliant bandmates, who deliver a delightfully diverse performance ranging from crushing drumbeats and fast-paced riffs to mellow, soulful ballads. The track ‘Candlelight’ in particular is a fine example of the latter and a touching tribute to those that we have lost over the course of the pandemic. All of this comes together to form a well-balanced, methodically crafted narrative that flows smoothly and does not sacrifice any of its playability at the hands of poor song arrangement.
In summary, Immortal Guardian have successfully taken what is for most people quite a sensitive topic and, rather than doubling down on dread to inspire their latest work, have instead instilled within it a sense of hope. This is not a ‘pandemic album’ to blow the COVID-19 crisis out of proportion in the name of shock value and a quick buck, rather one of a decidedly more honest and direct (dare I say brazen?) approach, highlighting obstacles that we all face due to COVID-19 in a bid not to exacerbate the issue but to help alleviate it. Psychosomatic and its affirmations of the concerns of the general populace is in fact – bizarrely enough – a blessed relief from the usual doom and gloom that we are used to in the media and could well be just what we all need right now. With this album, Immortal Guardian proudly proclaims that, yes, the pandemic does suck, and you are allowed to say it! For that, Psychosomatic is essential lockdown listening for metalheads everywhere.