A new day dawns in England. It goes without saying that all of us honor and revere the British pioneers who forged this music in fire decades ago. Many of the old guard continue to record and perform at a high level, and we rejoice at that fact. But don’t overlook the explosion of young, hungry, talented bands coming out of the UK at the moment. They’ve studied their Maiden, their Diamond Head, their Tokyo Blade, their Raven and so on, and each one is offering a fresh, exciting take on this classic sound. I’m talking about bands like Toledo Steel, Monument, Eliminator, Primitai, and Fury, among a host of others. Seven Sisters fit neatly within this movement. The West London quartet caused a bit of a stir with a well-received demo and seven-inch single a few years ago, then released their excellent full-length debut via High Roller Records in 2016. Along the way, Seven Sisters have developed a reputation as a superb live band, though sadly I’ve not yet had the pleasure. Now they’ve joined the gold-plated stable of British bands old and young on the sharp-eyed Dissonance Productions label, just in time for the release of their second album, The Cauldron and the Cross, in April 2018.
Let it not be said that Seven Sisters are content to play it safe. For The Cauldron and the Cross, the band have tackled the sacred subject matter of the Arthurian legend. Using Marion Zimmer Bradley’s classic The Mists of Avalon, as a launching point, Seven Sisters tell the familiar tale well, evoking descriptive imagery and speaking in metaphor rather than a dry narrative tone while wisely eschewing the sound effects and spoken word bits that cause so many well-intentioned concept albums to collapse of their own weight. Insightful turns of phrase abound, many of them equally applicable to today’s world. My lyric-obsessed friends will have a field day with The Cauldron and the Cross. When Kyle McNeill sings, “The land I sought to heal was lost / Caught between the cauldron and the cross,” in the album’s concluding song, it’s enough to give the listener chills.
This adventuresome, ambitious spirit manifests itself in the music, as well. Sure, there’s a story being told here, but if you just want to rock, The Cauldron and the Cross has got your back too. Seven Sisters expertly explore all facets of the traditional metal canon, with numerous twists and turns along the way. For hammer-down, charge-of-the-light-brigade bursts of energy, the band offer tracks like the ripping opener “The Premonition” (if you can listen to this song without throwing your fists in the air and shouting “The premonition burns!!!” then you’ve got more self-restraint than I) and “A Land in Darkness.” The more anthemic side of the band is featured in the insanely catchy “Blood and Fire” and the galloping “Once and Future King.” There’s even a stirring ballad in the form of “Oathbreaker.” But Seven Sisters save the best for last with tracks 8 and 9, the titular song in two epic parts spanning 16 minutes. Here, the band spread their wings with an unerring sense of dynamics that would make ‘80s Steve Harris proud, deftly fusing the different musical moods and movements together in a way that never feels forced, never gets boring and always serves the song. It’s impressive stuff. Even better, Seven Sisters have avoided the trap of merely copying their influences. Of course there are moments that call to mind Iron Maiden especially, but Seven Sisters are channeling their forebears into their own sound, their own direction. And that’s exciting. Along the same lines, Kyle McNeill has one of those classic NWOBHM voices – expressive, emotional and quintessentially British – but manages to avoid sounding like anyone else.
The bottom line is this: I received my digipack copy of The Cauldron and the Cross in the mail about a week ago. It hasn’t left my player since then, which is a problem because I’m supposed to be listening to a bunch of other new stuff for review purposes. Whatever, they can wait. Seven Sisters have delivered one of the finest albums of 2018, period. The label slapped a red promotional sticker on the CD with quotes from various British metal luminaries, my favorite being Ian Nash from Grim Reaper, who says, “The future of British Metal – killer!” He isn’t wrong, folks. Seven Sisters could well have been writing about themselves in the song “Turning of the Tide,” which features the prophetic lyric, “We are where we belong / Our future is our own / We’re standing at the turning of the tide.” I stand with them.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~