SAVAGE MASTER Creature of the Flames
(Skol Records 2017)
You’ve got to hand it to Adam Neal. In a time when throngs of old-school bands are desperately trying to carve out their own niche and struggling to establish an identity in a saturated marketplace, Savage Master are instantly recognizable. Visually, the pride of Louisville, Kentucky present a striking image onstage, four hooded male musicians in black leather and chains (one with a giant upside-down cross tattooed on his chest) and a snarling female vocalist (Stacey Savage) who is equally capable of kicking your ass and rocking your world. But aside from the shock value of the live presentation, Savage Master have also hacked their own well-defined musical path through the heavy metal underbrush. Take a heaping dose of occult early-80s metal along the lines of Cirith Ungol, add a generous portion of New Wave of British Heavy Metal goodness, sprinkle in some punk attitude and a no-frills blue-collar approach to their craft, toss in lyrics extolling the three S’s (sin, sacrifice and Satan), and you’ll have a decent idea of what’s in store. Over the course of two well-received albums and numerous tours, guitarist Adam Neal and his bandmates have remained clear-eyed, clinging fast to this pure artistic vision regardless of the churning maelstrom around them in the underground metal scene. When you hear a Savage Master song, you know instantly it’s them, from the raw production values to the savage vocals to the distinctive riffing style and grimy guitar tone.
The downside of such stubborn adherence to the path, of course, is that you run the risk of redundancy. How do you hold true to your vision while keeping your new material from sounding like a carbon copy (or worse, a pale imitation) of what you’ve done before? Judging by Savage Master’s forthcoming new mini-album (what’s the difference between a mini-album and an EP anyway?), this is not a problem for Neal and his merry crew of masked marauders. Entitled Creature of the Flames, this five-song release sounds like pure Savage Master through and through, but with a couple of interesting twists. High-velocity first single “Burning Leather” is a real “blood pumper” (to borrow Stacey’s perfect description of the track in a recent online post), but the guitars are noticeably more melodic than you’ve ever heard on a Savage Master song. Elsewhere, “Creature of the Flames” is a slow, doomy hymn. A truly haunting pounder clocking in at nearly six minutes, the title track is the longest Savage Master track to date and more nuanced than anything they’ve ever done before, with a couple of cool change-ups near the end. That galloping riff at around the 4:25 mark kills me every time. “Death or Glory” is an unexpected romp through the well-known Holocaust song, faithfully rendered but with their own stamp all over it. I’ve been listening to that song for three decades, yet they’ve made it feel like a Savage Master original. Remarkable. All of these touches make this mini-album feel fresh and vibrant, without stepping outside the circle of what the band are all about. So as not to leave the other two songs out of the equation, I’ll just say “Dark Enchantress” is vintage, mid-paced Savage Master at their best, with an earworm riff and lyrics about “sexual witchcraft,” whatever that is. And opener “Child of the Witch” is another winner, a midtempo headbanger with a terrific vocal from Stacey and a chorus that sticks immediately. I could see this one becoming a staple in the live set.
It’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from a 5-song, 19-minute EP, or mini-album, or whatever. Nonetheless, I am convinced that that Creature of the Flames will keep Savage Master on the same upward trajectory they’ve enjoyed since the beginning. The songs are great, some of the best they’ve ever written. Stacey Savage delivers her most convincing vocal performance to date. No, her voice isn’t for everybody, but she sounds totally confident and totally in control here, more so than ever before. Also, I would be remiss not to mention the contributions of new drummer John Littlejohn, a good friend of mine from Mississippi who does a terrific job here. There are so many places where I hear the little touches he’s added, his own personal flair, yet remaining within the parameters of the song, that I can’t help but smile. Creature of the Flames may not win over those who’ve dismissed the band previously, but if you’ve ever enjoyed Savage Master before, mark your calendar for the October 13, 2017 release date and add this to your shopping list posthaste. And if you’ve somehow never heard Kentucky’s finest, well, it’s hard to imagine a better introduction point than Creature of the Flames. I bet these songs will be devastating live, and can’t wait to hear for myself next month at the Frost and Fire Festival in sunny California.
~ Review by Kit Ekman~