(High Roller 2015)
This album – the sophomore outing from Swedish trad metal masters Ambush – has been out for a few months already on the esteemed High Roller Records, but it deserves far more attention on this side of the pond than it has received. What’s more, excitement for the band has reached a fever pitch (well, in my living room, at least) in anticipation of Ambush’s forthcoming U.S. live debut at the Ragnarokkr Metal Apocalypse festival in Chicago next week. In light of these facts, what better time could there be than now to shine a spotlight on ‘Desecrator’?
The Swedish quintet are not trying to do anything fancy here. Specializing in a brand of old-school metal that borrows heavily from the blueprint of classic Judas Priest, Accept, Stormwitch, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and so on, Ambush fit neatly within the niche occupied by their countrymen such as Katana, Air Raid and a less thrashy Enforcer. Much like the band’s 2014 debut album ‘Firestorm,’ the material on ‘Desecrator’ is uncomplicated and sturdy, simple and powerful, and always memorable. Ambush move comfortably between pounding anthemic fare like “Possessed by Evil” and “The Chain Reaction,” on the one hand, and faster blitzkrieg strikes like “Rose of the Dawn” (reminiscent of “Fast as a Shark” at the inception before veering off) and the aptly named “Faster.” The disc is even sequenced so that the track list basically alternates between the mid-paced cuts and the speedier bursts. Most of the nine songs clock in at around four minutes long, and have characteristic riffs, hooks and choruses, tied together by uncluttered arrangements and a clear, powerful production. The only exception really is disc closer “The Seventh Seal,” which is something of an epic as it runs seven minutes and builds to a breathless, “Hallowed Be Thy Name” sort of conclusion after a rather unassuming start.
The risk with such a straight-ahead, no-frills approach, of course, is that it’s been done countless times before. In order to stand out with a basic, old-fashioned Judas Priest type of attack, you’d better do it well or be dismissed as a recycler. Fortunately, Ambush’s execution is uniformly effective and skilled, even reaching the level of brilliant in some places. In general, the more uptempo tracks work the best, particularly on the mesmerizing “Desecrator,” with its “Baptize them in unholy waters” rallying cry in the chorus. That said, the best song on this album, and quite possibly one of the best songs I’ve heard in the last five years, is a midtempo cut, “Southstreet Brotherhood,” an incredibly addictive anthem about heavy metal rebels drinking gas and eating barbed wire down by the gallows end, topped off by a magnificent crowd-worthy chorus. Indeed, the liner notes in the CD booklet thank the Southstreet Brotherhood “for always standing in the front ranks when the ale starts to flow and Heavy Metal is pounding through the speakers.” Can I get an amen? Hell, it gives me goosebumps just thinking about what it will be like to hear this song played live. It’s that good, folks. Don’t believe me? Go over to YouTube and search for the video of “Southstreet Brotherhood.” It’s damn genius, I tell you.
Like many other young bands steeped in the ways of the olde, Ambush’s Achilles heel is developing an individual sound and style. The marketplace is clogged with like-minded acts whose influences run similar to these Swedish natural born killers (to borrow a song title from their debut album). The thing is that, on both ‘Desecrator’ and its predecessor ‘Firestorm,’ Ambush have demonstrated a knack for writing infectious, heart-stirring, fresh songs that somehow capture the naïve, innocent magic that made heavy metal so great when it first emerged from the basements, garages and factories in the early 1980s. Not everything Ambush touches turns to gold (a few songs are just average), but they’ve amassed an impressive collection of grade-A tunes already. Add to that songwriting acumen a cache of confident performances, killer cover art, and pro production, and Ambush could do some serious damage in the world of heavy metal in the coming years. Battle cries will crush the sky, so feed the fire, Southstreet Brotherhood!
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~