(Metal on Metal 2017)
I never knew much about the Dutch traditional metal masters Emerald. Back in 1999, I picked up a copy of the Iron Glory Records reissue of their 1985 opus, Iron on Iron (originally entitled Down Town, but I’ll refer to it here as Iron on Iron because that’s how I think of it), and was thoroughly enchanted by the true ‘80s spirit, the top-notch songwriting, and the unbelievable, unique high-pitched voice of Bert Kivits. But then the years went by without any noteworthy news or developments about Emerald bubbling into my consciousness. I assumed they were simply one of those kult bands from the golden days of heavy metal who had one shining moment of iron glory but were destined never to pierce the veils of obscurity. From reading Jowita Kaminska-Peruzzi’s magnificent Keep It True Festival History Book (Volume II), I knew that Emerald had played the volcano-ravaged KIT XIII in 2010 as a last-minute fill-in, but I’d heard nothing about the band since then, so I assumed they were history.
Needless to say, I was surprised and quite pleased at the tail end of 2017 when Metal on Metal Records announced the release of a brand-new Emerald album, Voice for the Silent, recorded in 2015 and 2016 under the watchful eye of producer Ron Goudie (who is perhaps infamous in underground metal circles as the producer of Cirith Ungol’s ill-fated Paradise Lost album). Amazingly, Voice for the Silent features three of the four members who played on Iron on Iron more than three decades earlier, with the only changes being on the drummer’s throne and the addition of second guitarist Paul Van Rijswijk. The liner notes reflect that original bassist Essie Zagers, who played and is pictured on the new album, passed away in 2016 at the age of 53, and Voice for the Silent is released in his memory. A fitting and most worthy tribute it is.
Cutting to the chase, Voice for the Silent absolutely does justice to the legacy of Iron on Iron. To answer the most pressing question right away, no, Bert Kivits no longer sings in that insane high-end wail all the time. To be sure, his voice is instantly recognizable, and he still possesses an impressive range, but Kivits has a much more controlled, toned-down, predominantly mid-range delivery now. I think he sounds even better today. His performance here is a shining example of how to age gracefully as a metal singer known for acrobatic, gravity-defying, helium-filled histrionics in his younger years. Bert Kivits rocks! Stylistically, Emerald still hover very much in that NWOBHM / ‘80s Judas Priest territory, mixing speed burners with mid-tempo rockers and even an occasional ballad. The riffs of Van Rijswijk and Allard Ekkel are timeless and unabashedly old-school. Thankfully, the quality of the material is most impressive. Faster tunes like “Sting of Death,” “Mechanical Wars,” “To the Bone” and “Defeated by Guilt” are lively and infectious, fresh and exuberant, and would stand proudly alongside anything from Iron on Iron. It’s just a really strong batch of tunes. The clear highlight, however, is “Train of Unbelief,” track 4, which is not only the best heavy metal ballad of 2017 but one of the best songs from 2017, period. A song about untimely death, the melodies, vocals and lyrics tug at the heartstrings and brilliantly convey a feeling of mourning and heartache. When the “Everything dies in the end” chorus kicks in, it’s enough to bring tears to my eyes, just an incredibly beautiful, sad, haunting piece of music. Whether you purchase the album or not, at least invest five and a half minutes to listen to “Train of Unbelief” on YouTube.
With Voice for the Silent, Emerald have made a powerful statement and re-established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the true metal underground. This is the right way to do a comeback album, folks. My only hope is that the metal gods favor me with the opportunity to see the Dutch kings of the underground on stage somewhere soon. Welcome back, lads, to the beating of the hammer on the anvil. Iron on iron, indeed.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~