Make no mistake: Savage Master are one of the most exciting bands to shake up the world of traditional heavy metal in recent memory. Visually, the Louisville, Kentucky-based quintet present an imposing appearance, with four black-hooded, bare-chested, chain-laden instrumentalists accompanying a diminutive female singer in dominatrix gear. Lyrically, the band delve deeply into themes of the occult, evil and darkness, but with just enough of a mischievous twinkle in their eyes to add a pinch of campy levity to the endeavor. Savage Master’s first album, 2014’s ‘Mask of the Devil,’ was very good, but didn’t entirely convince me in the performance and songwriting aspects. That said, tracks like “The Ripper in Black” and “Death Rides the Highway” were pure hammers of steel. Then I saw Savage Master live, not once or twice but five times in 2015, and all lingering doubts were erased. I was blown away every time, and that’s when I knew Savage Master were poised to make the leap to the upper echelon.
Fast forward to May 2016, and Savage Master’s sophomore album, ‘With Whips and Chains,’ has been unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. This disc is a monster. Whatever lofty expectations were placed on the band they have well and truly shattered, improving by leaps and bounds over their already-solid debut. What’s different this time around? Savage Master seem to have gained focus and confidence in the intervening period, with a clear-eyed sense of purpose and both the swagger and know-how necessary to realize their musical vision. Guitarist/primary writer Adam Neal was always a riff merchant, but damned if he hasn’t amassed a stockpile of some of the coolest, darkest, and catchiest riffs in ages this time around. Every single song is propelled by a truly grade-A riff. Nothing stock or uninspired or paint-by-numbers here, folks. It’s as if the man’s hands were guided by Satan himself during the writing process; after all, even Satan wears leather, our souls to live forever. Err, I digress.
But Neal has also injected more hooks in the tunes on ‘With Whips and Chains,’ via newfound melodic touches that manage to complement the sinister malevolent vibe well while simultaneously making certain that you’ll never forget these songs, in some cases from the very first listen. The result is that tracks like “Ready to Sin” and “With Whips and Chains” and “Vengeance is Steel” and, holy crap, “Satan’s Crown” are all intensely memorable and flat-out killer, without sounding like cheap sellouts or watered-down versions of the ‘Mask of the Devil’ material. Honestly, I shouldn’t have started naming tracks because there’s not a single weak link, not a single track unworthy of plaudits. The other factor putting ‘With Whips and Chains’ over the top is the performance of Stacey Savage. Her gritty sandpaper-like delivery on ‘Mask of the Devil’ drew many favorable comparisons to Cirith Ungol’s Tim Baker, but Stacey is unquestionably on a different level here. She’s added a newfound versatility to her vocals, snarling and shouting and rasping but also throwing in a cleaner, more melodic approach when the song calls for it. The result is that the vocals on ‘With Whips and Chains’ have a lot more character, personality and texture overall than the fairly one-dimensional attack on the debut.
I guess the best way to think of it overall is that Savage Master have evolved and stepped up their game in all departments. Everything on ‘With Whips and Chains’ sounds like undiluted, pure Savage Master in all of its dark, sinister, grimy, old-school traditional metal glory, but it’s just better this time around. Better written, better played, better performed, hell, even better produced in terms of sounding like an underground album recorded in 1984 or something. It requires no leap of imagination to see ‘With Whips and Chains’ attracting legions of new fans to Savage Master’s coven. They’re road warriors too, having just returned from Europe (including an appearance at the prestigious Keep It True Festival, where by all accounts they flattened the hall) and about to embark on a U.S. tour opening for Holy Grail. Savage Master are going places, so why not grab a copy of ‘With Whips and Chains’ now to see what all the fuss is about? You won’t hear a better traditional U.S. metal album in 2016, I guarantee it. Savage Master are burning hot and they’re ready to sin, so here we go …
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~