(Cruz del Sur 2017)
Pittsburgh’s Lady Beast have persistently been building a buzz in the traditional metal underground in recent years. After two excellent full-length albums and an EP on the French label Inferno Records, Lady Beast graduated to the esteemed Cruz del Sur imprint for their all-important third album, Vicious Breed. To my way of thinking, Cruz del Sur is more or less a guarantee of quality with its fine stable of bands (Argus, Lunar Shadow, Twisted Tower Dire, Ravensire, etc. etc.), not to mention the label’s strong distribution footprint in both the U.S. and Europe. Improbably enough, Lady Beast appeared this fall on Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, which I gather is some kind of travel/food show on CNN. (Sorry, I don’t watch much TV, and my popular culture IQ is marginal on my best day.) In 2017, they landed – and aced, by the way – high-profile appearances at Chicago’s Legions of Metal Festival and the Cleveland Metal Holiday Food Drive. And through it all, Lady Beast have remained defiantly DIY in their attitude and philosophy, taking the world on their own terms, one stage at a time.
I’ve always been a big fan of Lady Beast’s take on old-school metal from the Priest / Maiden / Mercyful Fate / Riot tradition, but honestly it feels like everything is stepped up a notch on Vicious Breed. The twin guitars of Andy Ramage and Christopher Tritschler shine on virtually every song, perhaps nowhere more so than the instrumental track “Sky Graves,” displaying mastery in the dying art of melody and harmony. Fans of label-mates Argus and TTD will find much to enjoy on Vicious Breed from a dual-guitar perspective. Then there’s vocalist Deborah Levine, a dynamo with the power, range and edge to bring the best out of these songs. It helps, I think, that the lyrics are obviously personal and meaningful to her, covering themes of self-empowerment, independence, refusal to compromise, and even the loss of a loved one. Production values on Vicious Breed are raw and powerful, blessed with the necessary grit and grime that these songs need, but without sounding like a crappy demo from 1982 or something.
Most importantly, the songwriting is impressive from start to finish, and it’s not hyperbole when the band states in interviews that they believe every track on Vicious Breed is worthy of inclusion in the live set. They’re right. You will find no clunkers and no filler here, just eight classic metal songs that expertly vary tempo and mood, while mostly hovering in the 3 – 5 minute range. The album starts with a bang courtesy of “Seal the Hex,” with a gentle clean guitar intro giving way to a killer harmony and then a wicked riff at around the two-minute mark as Adam Ramage’s drums kick into overdrive. “Lone Hunter” is another highlight, sporting an evil riff, a pounding rhythm section, a chorus of pure gold, more dazzling Ramage/Tritschler harmonies, and lyrics retelling the werewolf story that could be a metaphor for the band itself (“Now I roam the streets alone / The leader of my pack / No simple tasks no normal life / There is no turning back”). Gotta say, though, my favorite track on Vicious Breed is “Every Giant Shall Fall,” where Lady Beast’s Iron Maiden influences (in the vein of, say, “Where Eagles Dare”) percolate to the surface. I’ll be damned if I couldn’t listen to this song all day long. It features even more exquisite guitarwork, prominent bass parts from Greg Colaizzi that really strengthen the tune, and a positively commanding vocal from Levine. The band accurately describe the lyrics as Dio-type storytelling, dealing in fantasy on its face but with real-life lessons underneath. Stay strong, don’t give up. Those who oppress us have a weakness and they shall fall, if we can just survive the night. I swear, it’s enough to give me chills. There’s a lyric video for the track on YouTube. Check it out.
I worry sometimes that the traditional-metal marketplace is so crowded these days that the most deserving bands and albums may get lost in the shuffle. I implore you, don’t let that happen to Vicious Breed. This album is easily one of the strongest from 2017, as it is firmly rooted in that classic, time-honored sound we all know and love but with enough individuality and kick-ass songs to stand out. Also, Lady Beast are one of the best live bands I’ve seen in recent years. If they’re playing a stage near you, do yourself a favor and go see them. They rule.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~