(Swords & Chains 2016)
Some of you will no doubt recall the name Midnight Chaser from their well-received debut album, ‘Rough and Tough,’ that was released by the now-defunct Heavy Artillery Records back in 2011. The Oakland, California-based band recorded a follow-up entitled ‘Lion’s Choice,’ which they released digitally via their Bandcamp page in June 2014. Night Demon Records astutely snapped up the title track of that release for inclusion on the killer ‘Heavy Metal Mixtape’ compilation released on cassette (duh) last fall; however, a physical release of ‘Lion’s Choice’ proved elusive, until now. Ever on the prowl for up’n’coming talent, Chicago’s Swords & Chains Records licensed the album for a CD pressing this spring, so now here it is, in a tangible silver-disc, 8-page-booklet format for those diehards like me who care about such things.
There is no sonic ambiguity here. Midnight Chaser traffic in unapologetically old-school heavy metal heavily influenced by the glorious New Wave of British Heavy Metal. While new bands performing this style are not exactly a rarity these days, Midnight Chaser are worthy of your attention because of the earnestness of their delivery and the proficiency of their execution. Guitarists Stephen and Zack uncork a fine collection of sturdy, raunchy riffs that sound familiar without coming across as copies of their forbears. And vocalist Josh nails that NWoBHM vibe with an unpretentious rock’n’roll voice that fits the music a la Jarvis Leatherby from Night Demon. The tracklisting may be a bit on the short side, featuring just eight songs, two of which are covers, and a running time a shade under 35 minutes. But all eight songs are quality, and the album never drags or becomes boring, so the conciseness of the material actually works here. (That said, it might have been interesting for Midnight Chaser to include as bonus tracks a couple of new songs written in the two years since ‘Lion’s Choice’ was recorded, given that the band is very much an active, going concern.) The pair of cover tunes will be of interest, as the band have opted for non-obvious but strong choices, in the form of Savage’s “Cry Wolf” and UFO’s “Mother Mary.” The Savage tune in particular tracks Midnight Chaser’s style and attitude perfectly, and is a welcome addition to the album.
Of the six originals on display, two in particular stand out. Opener “Lion’s Choice” is simply massive, propelled by a mighty riff and a seriously addictive chorus, with lyrics about a brotherly pride of lions (metalheads?) drinking, fighting and hunting together. I bet this one kills live. The other tune warranting specific mention here is closer “The Hunt,” a six-minute cut that sees Midnight Chaser stretching out in terms of arrangements, without losing sight of the importance of a killer riff. The chorus on this one has a triumphant feel to it, then gives way to a savage bridge and lead break. Very nicely done all the way around. The other songs are worthy too, albeit a couple of them (“White Denim” and “Down for Whatever,” I’m looking at you) have cringe-inducing lyrics about a pole dancer and your best friend’s sister, respectively. Then again, this is the same band that brought us “Cougar’d” on their debut album, so they definitely have a sense of humor in the lyrical department, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Genre fans should check out ‘Lion’s Choice’ without delay. Sure, it’s derivative of the NWoBHM masters, but Midnight Chaser have learned their lessons well and they’re good at what they do. Even better, Midnight Chaser will be hitting the road this year for appearances at a couple of high-profile U.S. metal festivals, including the Ragnarokkr Metal Apocalypse in Chicago and Frost & Fire in Ventura, California. I’m looking forward to hearing these songs in the flesh as these lions roar on stage.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~