Traditional / true / classic heavy metal is so much a part of my heart and soul that sometimes I worry about the health of our beloved genre. This New Wave of True Heavy Metal thing has been happening for awhile now, and there’s a justifiable concern that the marketplace is becoming so oversaturated with inferior copy bands that the entire movement could collapse under its own weight. (That’s basically what happened with the re-thrash / retro thrash explosion of a few years ago, right?) Then I hear a young, upcoming band like Speed Queen, and my fears abate. These Belgian youngsters just “get it.” On their 6-song debut EP King of the Road, Speed Queen capture the reckless energy, the wild-eyed fury, the devil-may-care attitude and the unbridled enthusiasm that makes pure heavy metal the greatest music in the world.
There aren’t many rules with Speed Queen’s music, but there are a few constants. It has to be fast. It has to be catchy as all hell. And it has to be wild, where the band sounds like a runaway freight train threatening to lurch off the rails at any moment, yet somehow keeps it together. It would be convenient, I suppose, to compare them to genre leaders Enforcer, or Stallion at their fastest, or even the more melodic elements of their countrymen Evil Invaders. But Speed Queen really have their own vibe going on with King of the Road. It starts with the guitarwork of Andreas Stieglitz and Tom Neeskens. It’s relentlessly speedy and the riffs are so catchy (check out the beginning of “Fly High” for example) that they become embedded in your brain effortlessly. The harmony lead part in “Kids of Rock ‘n Roll” is pure magic. Then there’s singer Thomas Kenis, who features a hoarse yet tuneful shout that manages to be both rugged and endearing at the same time. He’s supported by backing gang vocals on most of the tracks. And the rhythm section of Lander Savelkoul (bass) and Toon Driezen (drums) keeps the frantic tempos and serves as the engine propelling this locomotive forward at breakneck speed.
Lyrically, Speed Queen is about what you would expect, with plenty of live-fast-rock-hard themes. There are some moments of genuine over-the-top hilarity, such as the line “We scream and shout until our lungs pop out,” in “Kids of Rock ‘n Roll.” The band’s credo appears to be aptly summarized in this couplet from “Stay Drunk”: “Speed Queen is playing tonight / They’re hammered as f**k but still looking tight,” haha. The thing is the lyrics complement the music perfectly, so it all fits together somehow. At the end of the day, what’s most important is the songwriting, and Speed Queen fare quite well in that department. Opener “Midnight Murder” is an instant classic. Let’s put it this way: If I were to compile a NWoTHM mixtape to introduce somebody to what this style of music is all about, “Midnight Murder” would be on it. It’s a magnificent, exhilarating song about fear and terror in a park after the sun goes down. “Take your pick / The hammer or the knife,” sings Kenis, and you’ll believe it. Elsewhere, “King of the Road,” “Speed Queen” and “Fly High” are all highlights, just catchy cuts with great riffs, killer energy and bursting with true metal attitude.
Although they self-released this EP on silver disc, my strong suspicion is that Speed Queen won’t remain unsigned for long. They’ve got that special x-factor to stand out amidst a very crowded field. The proof’s in the pudding. After I picked up a physical copy of King of the Road from the band, a knowledgeable metalhead friend asked me about it. I sent him the link to “Midnight Murder,” and he was instantly hooked. To make matters even better, Speed Queen have already been confirmed for the 2018 installment of the prestigious Up the Hammers Festival in Athens, Greece. Why wait? Climb aboard the Speed Queen train now. Their star is on the rise, and they will be kings of the road.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~