It’s been nearly eight years since Indiana’s extreme power metal masters Zephaniah released their monster debut album, ‘Stories from the Book of Metal.’ For all its naïvete and lack of finesse, Zephaniah’s debut struck a chord with me and many others. It sounded like Manowar meets Dragonforce, with an added dose of shred and infectious enthusiasm, all without taking itself too seriously. Live, Zephaniah were even more over the top, with abundant guitar tricks (members playing each other’s guitars behind their backs and that sort of thing). The intervening years featured numerous lineup changes, a brief stylistic dalliance into more modern metal realms (with a tattooed, pierced, shaved-head singer at Warriors of Metal III in 2010), and a span of time where I didn’t hear anything about Zephaniah at all. I assumed the band were finished, but then they returned stronger than ever at Warriors of Metal VII in 2014, with core members Justin Zych (guitars, who has also played in Viking, Vindicator, Valhalla and others), Logan Detwiler (vocals) and Ian Bender (bass). ‘Reforged’ is the band’s first recorded output since the “reunion,” as it were.
To my ears, ‘Reforged’ is instantly recognizable as Zephaniah, featuring wild guitar playing (courtesy of Zych and fellow shredder Tony Rudny), distinctive high-pitched vocals (although Detwiler has surely taken great strides since ‘Stories of the Book of Metal’), hyperspeed blastbeats, lengthy instrumental workouts, spastic/ADD arrangements, sprinkles of thrash, extreme and prog metal, heroic/anthemic lyrics and soaring chorus melodies. That’s not to say that ‘Reforged’ is a carbon copy of its predecessor. It isn’t. Zephaniah sound more mature, more refined, and more professional now than they did then. The playing, performances, production and packaging are all more accomplished. That’s not to say that Zephaniah have settled down, slowed down, streamlined, become respectable, or appreciably reined in their attack. The wild-eyed addiction to speed and shred remains present in full force, as does the band’s penchant for big heroic melodies, fantasy lyrics and long-ass tunes with nutty instrumental workouts for miles. The title track, ‘Reforged,’ is a perfect example. The song’s lyrics evoke Tolkien while also serving as a metaphor for the band itself (“Brought together from the ends of the world / Broken pieces of a mighty blade / The anvil strike sings an awesome chord / We are reforged”). There an ominous spoken-word narrative, an instrumental break spanning nearly three minutes with 11 credited solos from four different musicians, blastbeats, an off-kilter breakdown, and a chorus guaranteed to have you pumping your fist and hoisting your ale. Welcome (back) to the wondrously wacky world of Zephaniah. Elsewhere, there are three (count ‘em) Mad Max-themed tracks, “Mad Max,” “Road Warrior” and “Thunderdome” (complete with “Two men enter, one man leaves” chants). “Judgment” has a little reggae interlude amidst the ascendant power metal glory. The nine-minute “Quest for the Royal Crown” shreds, speeds and blasts along for nearly four minutes before Detwiler begins singing the first verse, even as it also features addictive “woah-oahh” parts tailor-made for the live setting. And “Battle Hymn for the Victorious” could be renamed “Best Manowar Song that Joey DeMaio Never Wrote,” as it is every bit the sort of stout metal warrior anthem for which the Kings o’ Metal are renowned.
There’s something to be said for music that tests limits. You know, as in: How fast can we play? How high can we sing? How crazy can we make the arrangements? Zephaniah play that game, but they do it in the context of writing catchy songs. Sure, ‘Reforged’ can be something of an exhausting listen over its 8 songs and 52 minutes, but it’s mighty impressive to hear the super-talented players test those limits. Even better, when the music’s over, you’ll still be humming those melodies and hearing Detwiler’s voice echo through your head. And therein lies the quality that makes Zephaniah special. Give their brand of high-velocity, shredtastic, got-a-screw-loose, epic true metal power a listen.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~