It’s so cool to see a band grow into their potential, especially when the band consists of genuinely good dudes for whom you’ve been rooting as both musicians and people for a long time. Such is the case for North Carolina’s Knightmare. The Raleigh-based quartet was formed by high-school best friends more than a decade ago. Other than the loss of drummer Peter Lemieux (also of Widow, Walpyrgus and more recently Blade Killer) to a cross-country move, the original lineup remains intact to this day. (Lemieux is ably replaced on this album by Spencer Hughes, whose dynamic powerhouse style fits Knightmare perfectly.) Over the course of three albums, Knightmare have learned and refined their craft as players, as songwriters, and as a band. They’ve figured out their sound and, importantly, have finally learned to use their influences as a point of departure rather than an end game in itself. The results of all this evolution, growth, and maturation are readily apparent on Knightmare’s brand-new album, Walk through the Fire, which reveals a band poised to make the leap from local support band to national/international status. Mark my words: On the strength of Walk through the Fire, I’d be stunned if Knightmare remain unsigned, under-the-radar, and undiscovered by the industry powers that be for much longer.
A fair description of Walk through the Fire would be traditional heavy metal with a compelling, distinctive underlying hard rock edge. Of course, that label applies to many acts in the heralded “North Carolina sound,” such as Widow or Salvacion or Walpyrgus or Make It Dark Twisted Tower Dire or what have you. But Knightmare have distilled and developed that sound in a different manner than their peers. There’s certainly still a lot of classic Iron Maiden visible in Knightmare’s songwriting and arrangements, as evidenced on the blazing title track or the instrumental section of “Supermoon,” my favorite song on an album that is loaded with killers. That Maiden influence is tempered by bucketloads of early Riot, Thin Lizzy and even ‘70s KISS to make a tasty stew that is more than the sum of its parts, and a unique take on a well-worn set of influences. A real strength of the band is the gritty, bluesy, rock’n’roll delivery of lead vocalist Anthony Micale, who has worked hard to become one hell of a singer over the years, and the multi-part backing vocals. Then there’s the guitar duo of Reid Rogers and Jared Mountz, who should receive a freaking medal for their work on Walk through the Fire. They know how to shred, but they also know how to rock. They know to scream, but they also know how to groove. They are technically proficient, yet they constantly ooze feel and vibe. Their tasteful playing always serves the song, rather than the other way around. And they’re totally locked in with each other. You can’t teach this kind of six-string (well, 12 strings, to be accurate) alchemy, folks. Either you have it or you don’t. Knightmare have it in spades, and they wisely let these tracks breathe for five or six minutes apiece so as to allow Rogers and Mountz to weave their magic. As great as the vocal hooks and choruses are, I can’t wait for the instrumental breaks because that’s where Knightmare shines the brightest.
For an example of all these ingredients coming together brilliantly, just listen to “Spirits of the Night,” which the band wisely selected as a pre-release advance track. It’s a simple rock’n’roll song, yet it’s catchy as an airborne virus on Bourbon Street. Micale sings his ass off, I mean, really sells the song, the backing vocals are the ideal complement, Hughes’ drumming is on-point, and then the Rogers/Mountz guitar tandem elevates everything to the next level before a glorious breakdown section allows all four guys to shine vocally and instrumentally to ride the song out to its conclusion. Another standout cut is “Supermoon.” Yeah, I gotta highlight that song. I first heard “Supermoon” when Knightmare played it at the Legions of Metal Fest in Chicago last year, and I was instantly mesmerized. The marching-cadence verses go from glorious harmony guitars, to bass-and-drums alone, to intricate melody, with awesome lead vocals about hyperactive hyperdrives and spectacular molecular events. A mysterious, quiet, clean guitar bit with sci-fi voiceover leads into a triumphant Maidenesque section, with Rogers and Mountz in full guitar hero mode and Micale and Hughes galloping away underneath. Sublime, I’m telling you. Even more killer, dynamic instrumental parts follow. The only disappointing thing about “Supermoon” is that it ends.
It also bears mention that for a self-financed album, Walk through the Fire comes across as a highly professional release. The production values are high, and producer Ian Millard has helped Knightmare achieve a great-sounding record that is both powerful and organic. A couple of the keyboard flourishes sound a bit heavy-handed, but otherwise the sound job is top-notch. Cover artwork, band photography, everything is ace. The future of North Carolina heavy metal is here. Walk through the Fire is a triumphant achievement, and I’m both immensely impressed and proud of what Knightmare have accomplished. I know it’s only mid-March, but this record will be on my top 10 list of 2018. No question about it.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~