Mask of the Devil
(Skol Records 2014)
You wouldn’t expect an electrifying classic metal band to emerge from the heavy metal wasteland of Kentucky, but that’s exactly what happened in the case of Savage Master. The female-fronted five-piece attracted the attention of Polish metal guru Bart Gabriel, who promptly snapped them up to his Skol Records label. The debut album, ‘Mask of the Devil,’ was released late last year to widespread acclaim in the European metal underground. Contributing to the intrigue was the band’s over-the-top occult imagery and lyricism, as well as the band’s unconventional appearance. Vocalist Stacey Savage wears leather and chains, but her male bandmates conceal their visages with black hoods and are decked out from head to toe in black like executioners. Some may dismiss that image as gimmicky, but hey, sometimes even the most talented bands need an extra “something” to make them stand out from the pack, especially when they hail from a metal backwater like Louisville. (I’m not insulting Kentucky, by the way, nor could I. Hell, I live in Alabama.)
Let’s be clear: ‘Mask of the Devil’ is a potent, raw slab of uncompromising old-school heavy metal. The first thing that jumps out at the listener is Savage’s abrasive voice, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Tim Baker of Cirith Ungol fame. The next thing you notice is the delightfully murky and musty sound job, which dovetails nicely with the raw, in-your-face performances and take-no-prisoners songwriting. Savage Master aren’t out to wow you with their finesse or musical virtuosity. The 8 songs clock in at a lean 29 minutes, with no frills, no fat, no wasted moments. Instead, Savage Master’s objective on this album is to bludgeon you over the head, convert you to their cause of darkness and evil, and send you on your way with a smile on your face. And it works. ‘Mask of the Devil’ is an enjoyable, undiluted listen that doesn’t overstay its welcome or belabor the limited musical and lyrical themes on display. It has a certain purity and (for all its sinister imagery) innocence that makes it easy to understand why Savage Master have captured the imaginations of many in the heavy metal underworld, earning the band invitations to prestigious festivals such as Chicago’s Ragnarokkr Fest and Germany’s legendary Keep It True.
The flipside, of course, is that ‘Mask of the Devil’ is an album that could be easily shredded by a listener who doesn’t buy into Savage Master’s concept (I originally wrote “schtick,” but that cheapens it too much, as I really think the band are being sincere rather than ironic). I get that, and would love to see the band expand and refine its musical attack somewhat next time around. For now, however, count me in the category of those who are charmed by ‘Mask of the Devil.’ As of this writing, I am less than 72 hours from my first live encounter with Savage Master in Chicago. My strong suspicion is that this band will elevate all of this material significantly on the stage. I can’t wait to find out!
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~