(Metal Nation 2018)
As regular visitors to True Metal Lives know, we take our mission quite seriously. We’re not here to feed the hype machine, curry favor with the big labels, or chase the latest trends; rather, our objective is to shine a light on the finest underground true metal, wherever we may find it. With so many bands and so many releases, sometimes even the most worthy albums can fall through the cracks. Case in point: Lucifer’s Factory by Stormzone. The album’s been out for a couple of months already, and has garnered a number of glowing reviews, but it deserves so much more. So let’s dive in for a closer look, shall we?
Hailing from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Stormzone have compiled a consistently impressive discography of six full-length albums spanning the last 15 years. Although they proudly fly the banner for classic heavy metal in the time-honored British tradition, Stormzone have avoided painting themselves into a corner by either aping Maiden/Priest or confining themselves to the tropes of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. There’s a remarkable amount of diversity and versatility in Stormzone’s music, even as it all remains solidly under the umbrella of traditional-minded heavy metal. Absolutely there are elements of giants like Maiden, Priest and Saxon in their sound, and more than a few nods to the timeless traditions of the NWOBHM, but Stormzone also offer speedy tracks, full-blown anthems, moodier pounding Iced Earth sorts of passages, occasional forays into Celtic melodies, and a remarkable knack for balancing shades of darkness and light to form a cohesive whole. Production values on Lucifer’s Factory are modern and powerful, showcasing the crunching rhythm section, the stellar twin guitars, and the top-notch vocals of John “Harv” Harbinson. Make no mistake: these are skilled players and talented writers, and Lucifer’s Factory oozes class and professionalism out of every pore. A comparison to some of Blaze Bayley’s more accomplished solo releases would not be entirely off-base.
At first glance, it might appear that Lucifer’s Factory is a daunting listen; after all, not many bands can execute a 14-song, 70-minute running time (counting the uncredited hidden track on the CD edition) without descending into realms of boredom, repetition and filler. Not so here. Stormzone’s songwriting and performances are such that the lengthy succession of 5-minute tracks never becomes a chore or dissolves into tedium. Part of the reason lies in the outstanding performances, but it helps immensely that the songs are consistently engaging and memorable, and manage to avoid feeling redundant because of the diversity described above. For me, peppier songs like “Albhartach” and the near-thrash onslaught of “The Heaven You Despise” immediately catch my attention, but the anthems such as “We Are Strong” and “In for the Kill” are not to be undersold either. Although the entire album is strong, my favorite cut is “Cushy Glen,” a bona fide song-of-the-year candidate with guitar melodies to die for, a ridiculously addictive chorus, and entertaining lyrics about a nasty chap with a penchant for robbing and murdering the drunks as they wander out of the tavern by the light of the moon, until one day fate catches up with him and the drunks celebrate forevermore. The band wisely made a video for “Cushy Glen,” so if this review piques your interest in the slightest, then by all means check it out to see what Stormzone are all about.
In a just world, a long-running, high-quality act like Stormzone would not be flying below the radar for so many metal devotees. Fortunately, it’s not too late. Harv Harbinson and his merry mates are still out there, firing on all cylinders. And Lucifer’s Factory might just be the finest, most complete album they’ve ever done. Given a chance, this one could appeal not only to the true metal crowd, but also to the power metallers (at least, those who worship bands like Iced Earth and Primal Fear) and really anyone who appreciates classy, well-crafted traditional metal.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~