(No Remorse 2016)
If you’re not familiar with this band and this album, you should be. In 2009, singer Marco Concoreggi and rhythm guitarist Manolis Karazeris split off from revered Greco-Italian epic metal act Battleroar to form a new band. (Don’t worry about Battleroar, by the way, as they’re still fighting and roaring with Sacred Steel’s Gerrit P. Mutz behind the microphone now.) They chose the name Dexter Ward, in homage to a character in a 1927 short novel written by H.P. Lovecraft, ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,’ about a guy who was obsessed with a distant ancestor and sought to duplicate that ancestor’s alchemical feats, somehow managing to resurrect him from beyond. The parallels to the band are compelling: Concoreggi (now known as Mark Dexter), Karazeris and their bandmates are obsessed with ancient metal from the USA in the 1980s. (The ‘Somewhere in Time’ inspired artwork on their first album even depicts a Ventura Theater marquee reading “Tonight CIRITH UNGOL DEXTER WARD.”) These gents are utterly devoted to duplicating and resurrecting their ancestors’ alchemical feats of heavy metal magic, albeit without meeting the horrific fate that ultimately befell their Lovecraftian namesake.
The thing is that Dexter Ward truly understand the U.S. true/traditional metal genre inside and out. Hell, the two co-founders first met on American soil back at the ill-fated Classic Metal Fest in Kalamazoo in 2001 (featuring Manilla Road, Omen, Agent Steel and others), long before the true metal revival took root. Karazeris is the organizer of the revered Up the Hammers Festival in Athens, Greece, one of the finest metal festivals in the world. They have harnessed their decades of experience and unsurpassed expertise to create Dexter Ward’s second album ‘Rendezvous with Destiny,’ whose title is taken from Ronald Reagan’s famed 1964 “A Time for Choosing” speech in support of Barry Goldwater’s presidential candidacy. Listening to this 8-song, 44-minute polished gem of heavy metal excellence, one readily detects Dexter Ward’s years of diligent study at the feet of masters like Manowar (circa ‘Into Glory Ride’ through ‘Sign of the Hammer’), Jag Panzer, Manilla Road and (yes) Iron Maiden. But ‘Rendezvous with Destiny’ doesn’t come across as a mere copy. Echoes of a distant Battle(roar) are audible in the band’s sound, and they even tip their caps slightly to the Sunset Strip hard rock legacy (musically, not lyrically) on the song, “We are Dexter Ward.” All of these influences combine via some strange alchemy to create the essence of Dexter Ward.
The result is one of the finest albums I have heard in 2016, hands down. The songwriting is varied, but consistently excellent and often superlative. The title track and “These Metal Wings” are triumphant heavy metal anthems with soul-stirring riffs and magnificent melodic choruses tailor-made for raising fists and singing along at full volume in a beer hall somewhere in time. “Stone Age Warrior” is a stone-cold killer, a slow-paced pounder with lyrics about a warrior riding the back of a giant dragonfly that he stole from a dead warlock, and so on. This song perfectly captures the true spirit of what epic metal means to me, and is a true song-of-the-year candidate. And then there’s album closer “Ballad of the Green Berets,” an adaptation or reimagining of a song featured in the 1968 American war film about Vietnam and starring John Wayne. The band kept the original lyrics written by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, but created new music and arrangements. One wouldn’t expect a band from Greece and Italy to record a tribute to American soldiers in the Vietnam War, but Dexter Ward did and it’s stunning. My father served two tours in Vietnam, so this topic hits close to home for me. The song is executed very well, even weaving in the audio from the Reagan “A Time for Choosing” speech, and it gives me chills when the bugle plays ”Taps” to end both song and album.
The bottom line here is simple: Do you love traditional, pure, unapologetic heavy metal? Do you believe that heavy metal reached a creative peak in the days when Manowar and Jag Panzer and Omen and Cirith Ungol ruled the world? Do you believe that their early music still rules the world today? Then go listen to ‘Rendezvous with Destiny.’ Right now. You won’t hear a better take on this style in 2016. If the metal gods are merciful, I will someday soon find myself in front of a stage where Dexter Ward are performing.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~