AENIMUS The Final Warning
A blessing and a curse of the musical explosion of recent years is that there are now far more heavy metal albums being released every month than any one person can possibly keep up with. On the one hand, it’s fantastic because the opportunities for discovering killer new bands are virtually limitless. On the other hand, it’s a drag because truly exceptional bands are falling through the cracks, their music simply being drowned out by the endless cacophony of noise without ever reaching the right ears. Like many of you probably, I’ve got a short list of personal favorite newer bands that most people (including many of my most voracious underground metal friends) have never heard. For me, one of the most prominent bands on that list is Aenimus. The unsigned quartet from Skelleftea, Sweden have been a going concern since 2009, but they landed on my radar in a huge way in 2014 when a copy of their debut album, This Illusion, reached my hands. This Illusion bowled me over, capturing my imagination and my heart in a way that precious few albums do these days, and I found myself coming back to it on dozens of occasions in the last few years. I’m incredibly fond of This Illusion to this day.
Much to my excitement, Aenimus released their second full-length album, The Final Warning, a few weeks ago. In response to my breathless inquiries, the band went to the trouble of packing up a copy of the CD, a shirt, and even a couple of used guitar picks for me. They gave me the special pricing deal from their record release show in Sweden because they said they knew I’d have been there in person if I could. That, my friends, is the right way to treat your fans. I’ve now had a couple weeks to live with The Final Warning, and I am very happy to report that it is in every way a strong, worthy successor to This Illusion. I know, most of you never heard This Illusion, so that reassurance doesn’t help much. You want a description? Swedish heavy metal. Aenimus’s sound is built on a sturdy backbone of traditional metal, but there’s nothing retro or contrived about them. I suppose there’s a bit of Swedish power metal (Hammerfall, old Nocturnal Rites, etc.) in their sound too, but it’s not overbearing. The band also tout their thrash influences, which do bubble to the surface from time to time (such as on the frenetic “Battles Turned Bridges Burned”). Aenimus don’t really sound like anybody else. They don’t chase any musical fad or trend. They just play melodic, mostly mid-paced heavy metal from the heart, with well-written anthemic songs, huge hooks, stirring melodies, powerful guitars and the charismatic, heart-on-sleeve vocals of Anders Sevdin to bring it all home. The lyrics fit the emotional quality of the music perfectly, dealing with universal human struggles of damnation and redemption, darkness and dawn, despair and hope, falling and rising, somehow always being relatable without ever being specific. At 11 songs and 55 minutes, The Final Warning is the kind of album that elicits different favorite songs every single time I hear it. “How Proudly We Stand,” “Alone,” “The Cries of Jonathan Briggs” and the aforementioned “Battles Turned Bridges Burned” have already found particular places of favor in my heart, but the writing and performances are consistently outstanding throughout. For the uninitiated who might be curious about Aenimus, my recommendation would be to go to YouTube and pull up the lyric video for the album’s title track, “The Final Warning.” That song exemplifies what Aenimus are all about: great writing, sterling melodies, powerful vocals. In my book, that song is an instant classic, buoyed by the spine-tingling chorus, “As the sun goes down / Inside the very hearts of us / We see the truth / But none of us believe.”
There’s no big marketing machine propelling Aenimus forward. They’re not doing this for fame or glory. The Final Warning is honest, genuine music delivered from the heart. Maybe it will connect with you, maybe it won’t. But it’s authentic, handmade and real. In the liner notes, Aenimus declare with some pride that “the sounds that you hear are the actual sounds of the instruments being used. Nothing else. No triggering. No replacements.” They also thank those who buy the record, candidly observing, “We worked really hard for this to happen.” I can’t speak for anyone else, but from a completely selfish standpoint, I’m so glad they did. Well done, lads, and thank you.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~
SORCERER The Crowning of the Fire King
(Metal Blade 2017)
Honestly, Sorcerer are one of the best stories in heavy metal in the last few years. The Swedish epic doom merchants recorded two legendary demos in the late 1980s and early 1990s that surfaced in 1995 in the form of a compilation CD, the very first release on John Perez’s Brainticket label. (By the way, John Perez knows a thing or two about epic doom metal, being the founder/guitarist/mastermind of the almighty Solitude Aeturnus.) After recording these demos (which are still revered by doom worshipers worldwide), Sorcerer disappeared for nearly two decades, with bassist Johnny Hagel moving on to Tiamat and vocalist Anders Engberg becoming a bit of a journeyman, working with bands like Lion’s Share, Twilight and Therion. Then in 2010, Hagel and Engberg reformed Sorcerer with new musicians, including guitarists Kristian Niemann (ex-Therion) and shortly thereafter, Peter Hallgren. Improbably, this newly configured version of Sorcerer not only rekindled the magic of those classic demos, but somehow managed to refine and hone their craft to an even higher level. Indeed, since reforming, the Stockholm-based band has reeled off a winning streak of truly epic proportions, releasing a jaw-dropping album entitled In the Shadow of the Inverted Cross in 2015 and an equally worthy EP called Black a few months later. Now Metal Blade Records has unveiled Sorcerer’s new album, The Crowning of the Fire King.
Perhaps the best way to describe The Crowning of the Fire King is simply this: It is a dream come true for devotees of the melodic, epic, grandiose doom style pioneered by the likes of Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus. The album faithfully honors the hallmarks of the genre, from the monolithic, dirge-like riffs of Niemann and Hallgren to the solemn, hypnotic tempos to the sprawling song structures (four tracks exceed the eight-minute mark) to foreboding lyrics about unheard prayers, drifting into nothingness, darkness devouring our souls, and unbearable sorrow. Of course, for the epic doom style to be executed effectively, world-class vocals are a must. Well, Anders Engberg is a truly elite singer, boasting a spine-tingling combination of power, range, emotion and control, without sounding like a clone of anyone. I’ve long been a fan of Engberg’s work, but my goodness he has outdone himself on The Crowning of the Fire King with a positively captivating performance that cements his status as one of the finest vocalists in the world. And the songwriting on this record is uniformly excellent. At 10 songs and 70 minutes, The Crowning of the Fire King does require a certain degree of patience and persistence; however, the listener’s diligence is rewarded with a collection of elegant, magnificent songs whose strengths are revealed slowly, inexorably with each successive spin. It’s a testament to Sorcerer’s ridiculously high quality level of the songwriting that I seem to have a new favorite song each time I listen to the album. If I could only pick one track, though, I’d vote for “Unbearable Sorrow,” which positively nails the epic doom sound, feel and emotion better than anything I’ve heard in ages. I swear, this song pierces my heart every time I hear it. Simply soul-stirring stuff.
Listen, I know some have complained that The Crowning of the Fire King sticks too much to the same slow pace, without those sporadic speed bursts that other epic doom bands have used to such devastating effect. It’s true: Sorcerer lock into those dirge tempos and remain there. This is not music to put on the stereo to get fired up for a Saturday night house party. This is music made for a certain mood, a certain feeling, a certain spirit. When you are all alone and you feel the relentless darkness creeping over your soul, when the sun is obscured by blankets of impenetrable gray clouds, when your heart feels laden with sorrow and despair, and when you want music that is heavy and beautiful and glorious, but captures exactly the depth of emotion you feel, The Crowning of the Fire King is there. Sorcerer have delivered a simply stunning album that should forever guarantee their place as one of the most magnificent epic doom bands that ever lived. There are a number of very good doom bands walking in the hallowed footsteps of Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus today, but Sorcerer are at the head of the pack, not so much following others as executing their own vision of what epic doom should be. Let’s not mince words: The Crowning of the Fire King is the doom album of the year. And it is one of the best albums of any stripe to see the light of day in 2017. One last note: Be sure and check out the European import digibook version of the album, which includes two extra tracks (“Disciples of the Dark” and “Bringer of Misery”) that are every bit as worthy as the eight songs on the regular US jewel case edition. Not sure why Metal Blade chose to stiff the U.S. market on those other two tunes, but they are well worth tracking down.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~
NIGHT VIPER Exterminator
Ooh, this one’s a lot of fun. The name Night Viper might ring a bell, as the Gothenburg, Sweden-based quintet released a well-received self-titled debut album in 2015. With Exterminator, however, the band have definitely garnered a buzz in the heavy metal underground. In the last couple of weeks – after I decided to review the album, I might add – I kept reading glowing accounts of the record at various review sites and message boards. The band’s label, Listenable Records, offers the following blurb: “Stunning incisive heavy thrash metal with ‘Kill Em All’ attitude.” Not sure I agree fully with that description, but the “stunning” part is absolutely on target, so let’s go in for a closer look.
Night Viper are old-school heavy metal to the max, in terms of performances, energy, production, songwriting, the whole package. There’s nothing polished or pristine here, just musty, dusty vibes hearkening back to the formative days of our beloved music. Yeah, I know that’s a popular style these days, but the difference is that Night Viper have managed to carve out their own musical identity while remaining faithful to their mighty forebears. No, contrary to what Listenable Records says, Exterminator is not a thrash album, but guitarists Thomas Sutton and Johan Frick (who also plays in the excellent Lethal Steel) do lay down some wicked early Hetfield/Mustaine-inspired crunchy speed riffage on many songs (see “Summon the Dead” or the sub-2:00 “Going Down” for example), complete with that raw early ‘80s buzzsaw tone. But Night Viper are hardly a one-dimensional act, showing a flair for midtempo bluesy NWOBHM (“On the Run”) and an ability to construct a brilliant multipart, slowly building epic (“All That Remains”) that goes from gentle acoustic intro to pedal-to-the-metal ripping speed with nary a stutter or a misfire. Wow! There’s enough variation in the songwriting and tempos to maintain the listener’s attention throughout the 10-song, 42-minute running time, while remaining firmly within the defiantly, proudly old-fashioned construct. And everything Night Viper touches turns to gold, as the songs are quite strong from top to bottom. Exterminator is the kind of album that you can’t wait to end so you can hit “play” and relive the whole killer experience again.
A critical component of Night Viper’s sound is the voice of Sofie Lee Johansson, and man she really sells the material. Johansson belts out a bluesy rock/metal midrange that is dripping with attitude and energy, and carrying just enough whiskey-soaked grit to mesh with the greasy, grimy rhythm section. A good point of comparison for Johansson’s voice would be Deborah Levine from the outstanding Lady Beast. If those crushing Sutton/Frick riffs don’t convince you (and they should), then Johansson’s performance is likely to seal the deal. More generally, Exterminator should go down a storm with fans of bands like Christian Mistress, Hell Fire or Savage Master, as well as the aforementioned Lady Beast. This is well-written traditional heavy metal played with heart, intensity and ass-kicking energy. Give it a listen. Night Viper are doing it right.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~
CANDLEMASS Death Thy Lover
(Napalm Records, 2016)
The gods of doom are alive. Sure, they occasionally may be seen vacationing in Bermuda, or hibernating with the mightiest of the metal grizzlies of Alaska. But they are never silenced, and they certainly aren’t dead. Melodic, classical-based doom may never be the highest trending sub-genre of metal, but it unmistakably is one of the most resilient. It is the proverbial Energizer Bunny of metal, albeit a much slower and more melancholy one. In recent years, a few newer bands such as Sorcerer and Pallbearer have been flying the doom flag, the latter act integrating more progressive soundscapes into the mix while retaining the epic feel. If one widens their net to include stoner types of doomy bands, then the listening options appear unlimited, if also decidedly more simplistic and upbeat.
Still, when hardcore doom metal fans consider their options these days, the pickings appear slim. Classic doom bands such as Pentagram, Cirith Ungol, Solitude Aeturnus, and Candlemass all hover amidst the ether of partial activity to utter, barren inactivity. The status of the latter of these acts, the almighty “Epicus” Swedish masters themselves, seems especially shrouded in mystery. Back in 2012, Candlemass concluded a strong three-album run with Solitude Aeturnus’ Robert Lowe manning the vocal duties. With Lowe essentially fired due to live-performance issues, longtime collaborator Mats Levén (ex-Malmsteen, Therion, At Vance) took over as singer for the band’s remaining live dates. Despite rumors that the band was done as a recording entity, Candlemass surprisingly returned last year with one powerful, if tantalizingly short, ep, Death Thy Lover.
f Death Thy Lover turns out to be the band’s swansong, then longtime Candlemass fans can claim some solace in the quality of the four tunes presented here. Founding bassist/main songwriter Leif Edling has trimmed any fat and made these songs all killer and no filler; there’s just plenty of sweeping, epic, glorious doom. All the old-school ‘Mass trademarks are featured aplenty: dynamic riffs ranging from a crunchy, mid-tempo groove to glacial melancholy; tasty, neo-classical shredding from lead axeman Lars Johansson; and some of the most emotive vocal melodies this side of “Samarithan.” Levén shines with his clean and passionate delivery, while also avoiding the overly-wide vibrato that makes Messiah Marcolin (iconic ‘Mass vocalist) an acquired taste for some. Sonically, David Castillo’s production job sounds appropriately beefy without verging into modern, over-compressed territory.
As for the songs themselves, there’s a lot to like, if nothing quite as emotionally moving as “Mourner’s Lament or “Under the Oak.” The opening-and title-track opens with swirling guitar melodies before launching into a rather speedy and crunchy main riff that recalls something from the Tony Martin era of Sabbath. Levén’s vocal melodies are appropriately catchy but not super dismal. Mats “Mappe” Bjorkman’s clean guitar arpeggios in the interlude section set a brief doomy mood before the reprise of the epic chorus: “Death thy lover/in the hollow there’s no other/he’s your only friend/ and he’s watching over you.” This one’s a nice banger, for sure. Next up, “Sleeping Giant” conjures up the sludgy deliberate groove of Masters-era Sabbath, representing nicely the crushing, neck-wrecking aspect of Candlemass. Things crawl to a tortoise-esque, if not quite slothlike, pace for the chorus riff. The harmonized guitar melodies in the middle section embody classic ‘Mass to the max. So far, so good.
Based upon a simple, dirge of a riff and brooding, minor arpeggios, “Sinister and Sweet” delivers a solid dose of the classical ‘Mass doom we all know and love. The guitar work here is perfectly dynamic and effective on this epic track. Closing out the (not-so) extended-play proceedings, “The Goose” at last provides the aforementioned slothlike pace and crushing, palm-muted groove devotees so crave. Featuring Johansson’s hummable leads, this magnificent, monolithic, musical water fowl requires no vocals and few frills to get its sorrowful point across.
‘Tis still the time for ‘Mass, no matter the religious affiliation or day of the week.
--Review by Jonathan Kollnot
wenty Questions With…Pagandom
1. First of all, thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me. Before we really get rolling, please introduce yourself and can you please give us some information on your band and its background?
Pagandom was founded in 1987 in Gothenburg, Sweden by myself (Christian Jansson, bass/vocals) and Martin Carlsson (guitar). We released three demos and one full length album before disbanding in 1996. Then in 2013 we were asked to reunite for a gig at Gothenburg Sound Festival in January 2014, a festival celebrating the harder sound of Gothenburg. Without knowing it we had a significant impact in the early years on a bunch of teens that later would form bands like Dark Tranquillity, At The Gates and In Flames, so this was some kind of thank-you-for-the-inspiration-thing. Extremely honoring.
Failing to engage the other two original members Johan Zackrisson (guitar) and Rikard Ligander (drums) for the festival help came from drummer Sören Fardvik (ex-Slow Death System) and living guitar legend Anders Björler (ex-The Haunted, ex-At The Gates). Since both the chemistry within the band and the feedback from outside the band was beyond our expectations, we decided after the festival to continue playing and write material for an album, and in october 2016 we released “Hurt as a Shadow” through Gain/Sony. Anders left the band in mid 2016 and was replaced by Martin Meyerman (ex-Zombiekrig).
2. Please describe your band’s style. Genre, similar bands, etc. What should a potential new fan expect upon hearing your music for the first time?
We play thrash metal, but we are using what we did back in the day as a starting point and adding influences we picked up since then.
3. What other bands have you played in previously?
During the hibernation of Pagandom I played in The Eleven Pictures and From Now On, both Martin Carlsson and Sören played in Flow and Slow Death System, and Meyerman has a history playing in Dead By April, Zombiekrig, Transport League, M.A.N. and also Slow Death System.
4. What are some of your musical influences both in metal and maybe in other styles of music?
Apart from more obvious bands like Slayer, The Haunted, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest we find inspiration in pretty much anything we like including Meshuggah, Neurosis, Morrissey, Behemoth, Depeche Mode, Mastodon and Isis (the band, not the religious lunatics).
5. Can you please share with us your band's recording history and any interesting stories and experiences from the studio?
Well, our self financed demos “Instead Of Watching Your Funeral I Watch You Live” 1989, “Hear Your Naked Skin Say Ashes To Ashes” 1990 and “Demo 92” 1992 were truly tough and great learning experiences ranging from pretty bad production to pretty good production. The 1990 demo became a local classic and at the GSF gig we played all four songs from it. Making demos nowadays is both cheaper and easier. Our debut album “Crushtime” from1994 was recorded in Delta Studios in Wilster, Germany. Stress and poor communication made the stay and the production less pleasant than expected, even though a lot of people like the outcome.
6. How about your bands live experiences? Any amusing or memorable shows you would like to share with us?
The old club gigs from 89-90 all have a special place in my heart, as does the 1994 tour of Germany with Suiciety, but more recently I must say GSF in 2014, supporting Meshuggah in Gothenburg February 2017 and at club Sticky Fingers Gothenburg in March with a smiling Mikael Stanne in the middle of the audience. Awesome.
7. We have all heard of the big 4 of thrash. Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax. It has been talked about in the past and critiqued quite often. In your mind, what are the Big 4? You don't have to just list thrash bands, lets open it up to all metal genres, past or present, what is the big 4 in your mind?
Hard question, but for me personally it probably is Black Sabbath, Slayer, Neurosis and Mastodon.
8. What would be your dream supergroup? Again lets open it up to past or present musicians, what would be the dream band lineup?
Drums – Ben Koller (Converge, All Pigs Must Die), bass – Cliff Burton (Metallica RIP), guitar – Jeff Hannemann (Slayer RIP) and Anders Björler (ex-At The Gates/The Haunted/Pagandom) and vocals – Barney Greenway (Naoalm Death).
9. Now if you were to be a member of any band, who would you love to join up with?
10. Now it’s time to get philosophical. What IS heavy metal?
The foundation on which all hard music lies upon.
11. What has heavy metal done for you thus far both in music and in your personal life?
Besides making me feel good it has propelled my creativity, got me life long friends and expanded my social network.
. If you were not playing in a metal band, what do you think you would be doing currently?
Playing in a punk band!
13. What is your heavy metal dream? I am not talking about goals here, I am talking about going to bed and dreaming...what is the dream you are having? Or is it a nightmare?
See question 8, the resurrection of Burton and Hannemann!
14. What is your view on the current state of heavy metal?
It seems to alive and well. As always.
15. What are your thoughts concerning the digital era of metal. I am curious what you think of digital downloading, recording in the modern era and anything else that has changed since the early days of the industry.
It is what it is, both a blessing and a curse. It´s easier to record, release and promote your band but production wise it often becomes too perfect.
16. Heavy metal has gone through some changes since the early days. New movements have come and gone as has its overall popularity. With that in mind, what direction do you see heavy metal going in the future?
New blends of metal will see the light of day as well as bands going back in time to find inspiration and being loyal to specific genres.
17. Several musicians have gone on record to say that the full length album is dead. That with the digital age there is no need to produce a full length release. What are your thoughts, is the full length dead or still viable?
Definitely still viable! There might be a lot of younger persons who doesn´t give a shit about albums and that are merely into random songs - and that´s fine, but there are still many of us who will kneel before a thought through well put together album.
18. Okay time to talk and promote your band some more. What is the current news coming from your camp. Any new music, tours, festivals or anything going on?
Well, we have just started writing for another album which feels great. We started writing for Hurt as a Shadow three years ago so it´s about time we got creative. We are performing at Gefle Metal Festival in July and shows for this fall are taking shape.
19. What are the immediate short range goals for your group?
To get as many as possible to give Hurt as a Shadow a listen, play gigs and continue to write new music.
20. What about ultimately any long range goals?
To keep Pagandom alive and kicking as long as possible, and to keep having fun while doing it.
21. Finally if you have any last words you wish to express to your fans and the metal community in general please do so here.
A million thanks for all the love and support we have gotten so far, you know who you are! And if you haven´t heard us and you´re into music that kicks you in the teeth – please give our album a listen. Take care!
(Gates of Hell 2017)
This Swedish band is something of an enigma. Late last year, the name Gravebreaker suddenly began cropping up all over the Internet, with a full album of strong material available digitally via Bandcamp, where their page proudly proclaimed “Only Traditional Heavy Metal, Accept No Substitute!” and bandied about names like Accept, Mercyful Fate, Motorhead, and “80s Black Sabbath.” Gravebreaker did not (and to my knowledge, to this day still do not) have any social media presence, not even a perfunctory, barebones Facebook page. Nonetheless, Gates of Hell Records, a sub-label of Cruz Del Sur, released the band’s debut album, ‘Sacrifice,’ on CD a month or two ago (there are also very limited cassette and vinyl versions for those who are so inclined), so Gravebreaker’s album is officially out there and available.
Any hopes that the CD booklet might shed some light on the band’s history and status are for naught, inasmuch as the booklet provides only lyrics to one song (“Sacrifice”), a photo of the three band members, and cursory credits. Evidently, the album was self-produced and Gravebreaker’s members consist of Nightmare on vocals, Fury on guitar and bass, and Devastation on drums. Fury wrote all the music, and Nightmare wrote all the lyrics. The album was recorded, oddly, in both Sweden (specific locations undisclosed, although I understand the band hail from Gothenburg) and Tennessee (???). And we learn that “No synthesizers were harmed in the making of this album.” That’s basically it. So Gravebreaker remain shrouded in mystery. I gotta say, I find this approach refreshing in an era where it seems every brand-new band is doing Facebook posts to announce what they had for breakfast and hype each riff they write five minutes after it’s been composed. Less is more sometimes, and I like things to be a little mysterious and unexplained. Gravebreaker fit that bill.
What matters, of course, is the music, and Gravebreaker have done an outstanding job on this ‘Sacrifice’ album. Clocking in at a lean 10 songs and 38 minutes, the Swedes waste no time and keep everything concise and to the point until the six-and-a-half minute closing tune, “Messenger of Death.” They have studied their ‘80s influences well, and the record feels very much inspired by the underground true metal scene of that glorious decade. I know vocalist Nightmare has taken some flak for his limited approach, but I think he’s a perfect match for the band’s rough’n’ready sound. His raw delivery reminds me very much of early Rock’n’Rolf (remember how he kind of half-sang, half-talked his way through the lyrics on ‘Gates to Purgatory’ and ‘Branded and Exiled’?) crossed with Razor’s Stace “Sheepdog” McLaren. In the riffing and songwriting, I hear a lot of the energy and spirit of bands like Running Wild (first two albums only – no pirate melodies here), Atlain, Brainfever, Ostrogoth, Warrant, Faithful Breath, Gravestone, Killer, and so on, you know that early Mausoleum Records / Noise sound. The songs are catchy and memorable, with sturdy riffs, mostly upbeat tempos and strong choruses. Check out tracks like “Pray for Death,” “Violent City,” or “Kill and Kill Again” to see what I mean. Where Gravebreaker surprise on occasion is in their creative (but sporadic) use of atmospheric keyboards, such as the harpsichord at the end of “Sacrifice” or the “Mr. Crowley”-type intro to “At the Gates of Hell” and the spacey keyboard solos featured in “Messenger of Death.” These touches are inarguably cheesy, but they aren’t overdone, they are somewhat unique, and they certainly enhance the mood, lending kind of a haunting air to the proceedings.
No doubt there will be (and has been) some wringing of hands over the (deliberately?) lo-fi production job on ‘Sacrifice.’ Fury’s guitars don’t have a whole lot of power (or fury, for that matter) and Devastation’s drums don’t exactly devastate. The album’s got that mushy, fuzzy, low-budget ‘80s underground metal production all the way. That may be off-putting to some, but I think it complements the package well for what Gravebreaker were trying to (and, to a large degree, did) achieve on ‘Sacrifice.’ This album makes me smile and bang my head every single time I listen to it. It’s not complicated, it’s not terribly original, but it pays homage to an era of heavy metal that I cut my teeth on, and it does it well and with loving attention to detail. If you’re like me, then odds are good you’ll find ‘Sacrifice’ to be a fun romp with surprising replay value. Check it out.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~
SCARBLADE The Cosmic Wrath
(No Remorse 2016)
When is a debut not really a debut? When you changed your band name before the album came out. This intrepid band of true metallers from Greece used to be known as Ruthless Steel, and released a killer slab of raw steel in the form of an EP entitled ‘Die in the Night’ via Iron on Iron Records back in 2013. Somewhere along the way, the quartet ditched the (admittedly generic) Ruthless Steel moniker and replaced it with the (much more creative and unique) Scarblade name. I haven’t heard exactly why the band did this. Certainly, it doesn’t seem to be the result of any internal schism, as three of the four Ruthless Steel members are still involved in Scarblade (only drummer Nikos Miras is new to the Scarblade constellation). Be that as it may, Scarblade are here now, and Ruthless Steel is no more. The king is dead, long live the king, and all that. Armed with a record deal with the always reliable No Remorse label in Greece, and sporting positively killer cover art, Scarblade now unleash their debut full-length album, ‘The Cosmic Wrath.’
I have to confess that my first listen to ‘The Cosmic Wrath’ was not a resounding success. You see, I was expecting Scarblade to carry on with the same brand of raw, rugged, defiantly old-school Warlock/Acid/Chastain sort of metal attack featured on the Ruthless Steel EP. Not so. What Scarblade present on ‘The Cosmic Wrath’ is altogether more modern and contemporary-sounding, with a polished production, distracting spacey keyboards cropping up fairly high in the mix from time to time, and a decidedly tamer vocal performance from femme fatale Aliki Kostopoulou, who now sounds smooth and charismatic, whereas I would have compared her rougher, grittier, fierce performance on the EP to the likes of White Skull’s Federica De Boni. Particularly jarring were the remakes of the two best songs from Ruthless Steel EP, “Die in the Night” and “Power of Hate.” Not only have Scarblade altered the lyrics and arrangements on those killer tracks, but they tragically sapped some of the energy from them, like on the triumphant burst of speed that closes out “Power of Hate.” The whole thing just feels awfully buffed and polished, like the band was trying to smooth out the rough edges and update their sound to take it out of the 80s and into the new millennium to appeal to the Firewind crowd or something.
But hang on just a minute. I come to praise Scarblade, not to bury them. After I got past the initial shock at the change in sound, I realized that ‘The Cosmic Wrath’ is actually a quite worthy album in its own right. The reason is simple: It’s the songs. Man, I’ll be damned if guitarist Konstantinos Papadimitriou doesn’t have a knack for writing some amazingly catchy music. Just listen to “Point of No Return” or “Evil War” or the awesome closer “United as One” to see what I mean. All of these songs are great. Combined with Aliki’s smooth, accomplished vocal performance and the slick production job, ‘The Cosmic Wrath’ is incredibly easy on the ears. This is one of those albums that works no matter what mood you’re in. It’s just well-written, well-played, classy heavy metal. I don’t know about you, but I can always make room on my CD shelf for another album that fits that bill. And I shouldn’t overstate the difference in the music. It’s not like Scarblade are playing a totally different style now. They were a trad metal band before, and they’re still essentially a trad metal band (perhaps with prog/power overtones) today. The difference really lies in the presentation and the production. I still kinda wish that Scarblade had retained the old-school, aggressive attitude. They used to want to blow your head off, but now they just kind of want to be your pal. Still, what they’ve accomplished here is very worthwhile, albeit tamer and (here’s that word again) smoother. It’ll be interesting to see where they go from here, but for now I plan to enjoy ‘The Cosmic Wrath’ thoroughly for what it is.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~
True Metal Lives
The Voice Of The Underground