(No Remorse 2016)
One does not often think of Poland as a hotbed of traditional heavy metal music. To be sure, the country has brought us the mighty Crystal Viper, as well as quality acts like Monstrum, Roadhog and Night Mistress. But the point remains that Poland is far better known for its death/black metal scene than for its contributions to the more melodic, old-fashioned side of the genre. This context makes the discovery of Axe Crazy all the more exciting. The quintet, led by talented sibling guitarists Robson and Adrian Bigos, already made a splash with their debut EP, ‘Angry Machines,’ released in 2014; however, they have unquestionably stepped up their game a notch or two on this ‘Ride on the Night’ full-length album issued by Greece’s superlative No Remorse Records late last year.
To get the obvious point out the way first, yes, the band’s name originates from the NWOBHM classic song by Jaguar (more recently covered by Night Demon). It would be inaccurate to glean from that data point the conclusion that Axe Crazy are a straight early ‘80s British metal revival act. Sure, those elements are present in this album, particularly in the slower, more relaxed tracks like “Take Control,” “Magic Power” and “Halloween.” But ‘Ride on the Night’ also owes a great deal to the early Dickinson era of Iron Maiden and the guitar-driven German melodic power metal scene. The Bigos brothers’ splendid, inspired, and massively melodic fretwork sometimes recalls the Hansen/Weikath masters. And singer Michael Skotnicki’s sterling high-pitched vocals remind me on many occasions of Stephan Dietrich, original vocalist of Germany’s Alpha Tiger, although to be sure Skotnicki has a thicker accent. That said, make no mistake: Skotnicki is a terrific singer in the power metal mold, with great character, emotion and control over his voice. He makes the already-excellent material even better with his magical voice. There’s also definitely a bit of an Enforcer edge to some of the songs, although Axe Crazy are not as frenetic or speed-freakish as Olof Wikstrand’s troop. So, putting all the ingredients of this particular cake together, I’d characterize Axe Crazy as a traditional metal / Euro power metal hybrid, heavily laden with speed, melody, and old-school feeling.
Having thus described Axe Crazy’s music in relatively dispassionate terms, here’s the part of the review where I turn into a raving fanboy: Holy hell, ‘Ride on the Night’ is a bloody fantastic album! The songwriting is ridiculously catchy, vocals and guitars are magnificent, and the tempos are kept quick and lively throughout most of the proceedings. No, Axe Crazy are not doing anything innovative or cutting-edge here, but when the songs and performances are this strong, who cares? ‘Ride on the Night’ sounds fresh, inspired and powerful, and the excellent song material gives the album fantastic replay value. It just gets better and better the more you listen. Stuff like “Guardians of the Light” (which somehow put me in mind of Sweden’s Freternia, especially as to some of the vocal melodies), the title track and the spellbinding epic “Astral Tales Part I (Lost in Space)” is both stirring and addictive, and marks some of the finest metal to be recorded by any band in 2016. It’s a shame that ‘Ride on the Night’ was saddled with a December release date, when the metal industry mostly closes up shop for the winter holidays and everybody’s either distracted by visions of sugarplums or has already completed their “top albums of the year” list. I didn’t prepare such a list (I’m against them as a matter of principle), but if I had, Axe Crazy’s ‘Ride on the Night’ would have ranked highly on it. This album is one of the more compelling I have heard in recent memory, and absolutely deserves a wider audience and much more fervent accolades than it has received to date. My only question is this: The Metal Archives site lists a 10th track, “Wheeled Warriors,” which is not found on my No Remorse copy of the CD. Wonder what the story is with that one. Its exclusion is a shame, given that its lyrical concept appears to tie in with the striking cover art, and at 39 minutes, ‘Ride on the Night’ could have used one more track (a la “Wheeled Warriors” ) to make it feel complete. Nonetheless, anyone who loves traditional metal and Euro power metal, with an affinity for quick tempos and stellar high-pitched vocals, owes it to himself or herself to give ‘Ride on the Night’ a listen, and pronto.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~