(Witches Brew 2016)
Greece has always been an exceptional market for traditional metal. Not only do the Greeks import the best of this music from Europe and the U.S. with wild-eyed, rabid enthusiasm, but they’ve also proven quite adept at forging it themselves (see Dexter Ward and Crimson Fire for just two recent excellent examples). Saboter are a new band formed in 2014, who released an EP last year. On their new, full-length debut album ‘Mankind is Damned,’ Saboter follow confidently in the footsteps of their forbears and their contemporaries alike. The band make no pretense of reinventing the wheel or adding bells and whistles to their brand of ‘80s heavy metal. The prevailing philosophy here appears to be, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” because Saboter deliver a 100% pure classic metal album in the style of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Manowar, Omen, Jag Panzer, Accept, Iced Earth and Sacred Steel, among others. I’ve seen reviews describing Saboter as thrash or speed metal, but I don’t think those tags are accurate, as this is stout-hearted old-school trad metal all the way, mostly delivered at midtempo but with a few speedier moments thrown into the mix, such as on the galloping “Ghost in the Machine.”
Of course, this particular patch of real estate is extremely congested these days. If you’re going to be a new band playing classic metal, you’d better be good at it because it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock’n’roll. Fortunately, Saboter are skilled at their trade. Vocalist Antonis Vailas has quite a range, offering Halford-esque strained screeches (such as on opening track “Purifier”) contrasted with a Matt Barlow-type mid-register that effectively delivers catchy vocal melodies on tunes like “Prevailing Dictators” or the aforementioned “Ghost in the Machine.” Vailas does a laudable job, in terms of power, range, expressiveness and clarity. The man can sing, folks. Saboter also feature two excellent guitarists, Nick Markoutsakis and Chris Tsakiropoulos, who come through with a massive guitar tone, a treasure trove of sturdy riffs, and a penchant for lacing their playing with nuggets of inspired melody. The production is punchy and powerful, with uncluttered arrangements, in-your-face guitars, plenty of crunch and no keyboards or samples or symphonic elements to blunt the attack. And the songwriting plays it safe for the most part, but is competent and capable throughout. For a standout track, my money’s on “Marching Death,” a 7-minute epic that begins with clean guitars and a dramatic vocal from Vailas before erupting into a compelling main riff with lyrics about the seventh seal being broken and the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Nothing in the eight-song, 43-minute running time of ‘Mankind is Damned’ will change your life or revolutionize your views of the classic metal genre. But for those who enjoy pure, uncompromising traditional heavy metal, Saboter scratches the itch nicely. It’s the kind of album that’s easy to listen to and easy to enjoy because it was crafted with heart and with both love for and understanding of the timeless, uncomplicated glory of old-fashioned metal. ‘Mankind is Damned’ was released by the fine Witches Brew label in a hand-numbered, limited run of 700 copies on CD (I ended up with number 006/700); unfortunately, shortly after the album’s street date, Saboter and Witches Brew had a falling out that played out in a very public manner over social media. Here’s hoping that both parties can bury the hatchet and work together for the benefit of the music. ‘Mankind is Damned’ is a well-done album that deserves to be heard. It would be a shame indeed if it were overlooked and obscured because band and label are unable to see eye to eye.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~