(No Remorse 2016)
When is a debut not really a debut? When you changed your band name before the album came out. This intrepid band of true metallers from Greece used to be known as Ruthless Steel, and released a killer slab of raw steel in the form of an EP entitled ‘Die in the Night’ via Iron on Iron Records back in 2013. Somewhere along the way, the quartet ditched the (admittedly generic) Ruthless Steel moniker and replaced it with the (much more creative and unique) Scarblade name. I haven’t heard exactly why the band did this. Certainly, it doesn’t seem to be the result of any internal schism, as three of the four Ruthless Steel members are still involved in Scarblade (only drummer Nikos Miras is new to the Scarblade constellation). Be that as it may, Scarblade are here now, and Ruthless Steel is no more. The king is dead, long live the king, and all that. Armed with a record deal with the always reliable No Remorse label in Greece, and sporting positively killer cover art, Scarblade now unleash their debut full-length album, ‘The Cosmic Wrath.’
I have to confess that my first listen to ‘The Cosmic Wrath’ was not a resounding success. You see, I was expecting Scarblade to carry on with the same brand of raw, rugged, defiantly old-school Warlock/Acid/Chastain sort of metal attack featured on the Ruthless Steel EP. Not so. What Scarblade present on ‘The Cosmic Wrath’ is altogether more modern and contemporary-sounding, with a polished production, distracting spacey keyboards cropping up fairly high in the mix from time to time, and a decidedly tamer vocal performance from femme fatale Aliki Kostopoulou, who now sounds smooth and charismatic, whereas I would have compared her rougher, grittier, fierce performance on the EP to the likes of White Skull’s Federica De Boni. Particularly jarring were the remakes of the two best songs from Ruthless Steel EP, “Die in the Night” and “Power of Hate.” Not only have Scarblade altered the lyrics and arrangements on those killer tracks, but they tragically sapped some of the energy from them, like on the triumphant burst of speed that closes out “Power of Hate.” The whole thing just feels awfully buffed and polished, like the band was trying to smooth out the rough edges and update their sound to take it out of the 80s and into the new millennium to appeal to the Firewind crowd or something.
But hang on just a minute. I come to praise Scarblade, not to bury them. After I got past the initial shock at the change in sound, I realized that ‘The Cosmic Wrath’ is actually a quite worthy album in its own right. The reason is simple: It’s the songs. Man, I’ll be damned if guitarist Konstantinos Papadimitriou doesn’t have a knack for writing some amazingly catchy music. Just listen to “Point of No Return” or “Evil War” or the awesome closer “United as One” to see what I mean. All of these songs are great. Combined with Aliki’s smooth, accomplished vocal performance and the slick production job, ‘The Cosmic Wrath’ is incredibly easy on the ears. This is one of those albums that works no matter what mood you’re in. It’s just well-written, well-played, classy heavy metal. I don’t know about you, but I can always make room on my CD shelf for another album that fits that bill. And I shouldn’t overstate the difference in the music. It’s not like Scarblade are playing a totally different style now. They were a trad metal band before, and they’re still essentially a trad metal band (perhaps with prog/power overtones) today. The difference really lies in the presentation and the production. I still kinda wish that Scarblade had retained the old-school, aggressive attitude. They used to want to blow your head off, but now they just kind of want to be your pal. Still, what they’ve accomplished here is very worthwhile, albeit tamer and (here’s that word again) smoother. It’ll be interesting to see where they go from here, but for now I plan to enjoy ‘The Cosmic Wrath’ thoroughly for what it is.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~