I’ve written previously in this space about the exciting stable of British traditional heavy metal bands, young and vintage, that Dissonance Productions has assembled of late. Amongst the new breed, talented, hungry acts like Seven Sisters, Eliminator and Primitai are all proudly carrying the torch and stoking the flames of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal for the next generation. An integral part of this movement is Southampton’s own Toledo Steel, who self-released two fine EPs in 2013 and 2015. Perhaps those EPs flew under the radar for most, but they contain some truly killer songs: “City Lights,” “Speed Killer,” and “Alcatraz,” to name a few. If you’ve not heard them, both CDs are well worth hunting down. But what brings us here today is Toledo Steel’s long-awaited debut full-length album, entitled No Quarter, released via the aforementioned Dissonance label. The band celebrated the album’s unveiling with a triumphant, sweat-soaked after-party gig at Frost and Fire London last month, and now the quartet (unfortunately down a permanent bass player at the moment, so they’re not quite at full strength) is poised to take the world by storm.
Three-word review of No Quarter: Classic British metal. There’s just so much of the genre that Toledo Steel gets right. The material is catchy, straightforward stuff, driven by timeless riffs, memorable choruses and downright phenomenal leads. While No Quarter is certainly a conservative slab of trad metal that is uninterested in innovating or pushing boundaries (and god bless ‘em for it), Toledo Steel are sufficiently clever to vary their sonic attack within the parameters of their chosen template. Want a fist-in-the-air, singalong rocker? The doctor prescribes a dose of “Rock Nights.” How about a mean, speed attacker? Check out opener “Behold the Machine” or the simply awesome “Sight of the Sniper.” For a more accessible melodic take, give closer “When the Night Draws In” a listen, as it has just a touch of that Sunset Strip sensibility without sacrificing crunch. Perhaps the driving, pounding title track (and lead single) is where everything comes together most effectively, with a splendid riff, a steamroller rhythm section, and an exceptional vocal performance. That said, I couldn’t help but chuckle ever so slightly at lyrics like “The smell of death lingers in the air” and “Drink from the chalice,” which I’m convinced are intentional homages, sly tips of the cap delivered with a wink and a grin to those in the know.
The best part is that unlike so many of their generational counterparts, Toledo Steel have managed to avoid the trap of merely aping their influences and have managed to carve out their own sound. To be sure, there are moments that recall legendary English forebears, but Toledo Steel have succeeded in creating a record that sounds first and foremost like Toledo Steel, rather than Maiden or Priest or Angel Witch or Diamond Head or whatever. Honestly, No Quarter feels like the logical successor to the Zero Hour EP, continuing on in the same vein and further defining the band’s signature sound. Throughout the 8-song, 41-minute running time, lead guitarists Tom Potter and Josh Haysom dish out a dazzling array of fretboard pyrotechnics, just bona fide guitar hero stuff that is perfectly integrated into the songs without ever being distracting. Vocalist Rich Rutter is blessed with a strong set of pipes and a flair for the dramatic. And drummer Matt Dobson delivers the kind of locked-in propulsive groove that gives songs like the aforementioned “No Quarter” their addictive swagger and their relentless power. All component parts of the Toledo Steel machine are honed to a razor-sharp edge.
In the little red promotional sticker on the front of the CD edition of No Quarter, Dissonance offers up the following gem of a quote from Satan’s Russ Tippins: “Makes me proud to be British.” I agree wholeheartedly with Russ. No Quarter makes me proud to be British too. Okay, I’m not actually British, but this album makes me wish I were. Excellent work, lads.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~