Satan – Life Sentence

March 11, 2013 –

satan-life_sentenceBack in the 1980s, the wisdom was that Satan had something to do with the founding of speed metal, along with Blitzkrieg and a few others who got into the choppier, more muted strum side of NWOBHM.

Having two members go on to avant-progressive speed metal act Skyclad did not hurt the legend. Thirty years later, Satan return with Life Sentence, an album that is musical enough for power metallers but uses the same efficient mix of speed and classic riffing that made Judas Priests’s Painkiller such an enduring favorite.

In addition, this band has internal quality control, which is something that seemed to go out the window with the rise of MP3s. This album fits together as an album, not as a concept album but as enough and varied interpretations of a style to make a consistent but not repetitive package.

Riffs on Life Sentence are of known general types but are not recognizably derived from anything else, and while they are generally used in pop-style song structures, tend to illustrate the theme of each song in sound. In addition, Satan use riffs as archetypes and vary them for fills or changes in song direction. This distinguishes them from many of the more template-based heavy metal bands.

The strong underpinning of riffs supports a subtly jazz-influenced percussion that mimics the guitar while trying to stay as much in the background as possible until it is time for a strategically interesting fill, at which point it explodes. Over this the melodic vocals of Brian Ross, who also sang in Blitzkrieg, surge in both full operatic style and a more surly half-chant.

Lead guitar fireworks are minimized but like everything else on this album, appear when it helps push the song along. However, songwriting on its own is strong, with each song having a clear theme that is played out in the tension between verse and chorus riffs. Nothing sounds hasty or ill-thought; it all fits together and moves as one.

For metalheads who like musicality but might want something more aggressive than your average power metal band, Satan offer a powerful competitor that does not fall into excesses, but keeps its own spirit alive. Life Sentence does not sound like it came out in the 1980s, but also, evokes much of the strength and beauty of the music of that era. This should be a major contender for the thinking metalhead vote in 2013.

Judas Priest – Stained Class

November 5, 2010 –
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Stylistically and in terms of execution, this is perhaps the most important album that Judas Priest made. Some will argue that the Sad Wings Of Destiny album from 1976 was the record that encapsulated this, though the reviewer picks Stained Class on the basis that it shapes and crafts the periphery of what was yet to come from a still young musical form. The origins of extreme metal are hinted at in pieces such as ‘Exciter’, which elaborates further on the quintet’s advancement towards more aggressive techniques and motifs, heavy on palm muted rhythmic guitar riffs and rapid fire double bass pedals, overlaid with Rob Halford’s banshee-like falsetto and lead guitars which although in terms of patterns and scales are not yet free of the restraints of rock music from previous decades, clearly set a benchmark for the revival of neoclassical technique in the metal genre. This is additionally showcased in both the follow up piece ‘White Heat, Red Hot’  the title track and ‘Saints In Hell’, more adherent to mid-paced tempos though in terms of form, the same development is obvious.

‘Invader’, ‘Savage’, and ‘Better By You, Better Than Me’ are all anthemic, semi-melodic numbers that are more standardized than anything else on this album, and is easily of the quality of the best material that permeated the disappointing predecessor Sin After Sin. As is with much work within earlier NWOBHM, this creates a solid base that allows for the most joyous segments of this album to thrive so well. ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death’ which is by many seen to be a seminal piece for this band, is an excellent piece of balladry, to which a clear lineage of the more subtle, ‘slow burning’ work of Iron Maiden (“Children Of The Damned”), Manowar (“Valhalla”, “Bridge Of Death”), Bathory (“One Rode To Asa Bay”, “Twilight Of The Gods”), Metallica (“Sanitarium”, “Fade To Black”) can trace a root. With the exception of perhaps their triumphant Painkiller opus, this remains their most consistent and advanced work, and shows an act at their most vital and relentless. Metal was forged here.

 -Pearson-

Satan – Court in the Act

July 6, 2010 –
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Hailing from Newcastle, the same turf as fellow Geordies Venom, Satan’s debut album offers a more finely executed and grandiose vision of the NWOBHM, and on Court In The Act they deliver a masterwork that arguably represents the peak of the style. Each composition is defined by intricate rhythm and lead guitar work, and a pacy ryththm section that has all the momentum of an up-tempo take on Stained Class by Judas Priest. A very well tamed vocal retains a mostly mid-range croon throughout songs, unleashing semi-operatic falsettos wherever necessary to give greater punctuality to the conclusions of riff cycles. On repeat listens Court In The Act can bring about various comparisons, with the proto-speed metal gallop of Judas Priest, the melodic noodling of Iron Maiden and an anthemic niche shared by Angel Witch. Witchfinder General also comes to mind, albeit lacking the Black Sabbath influence that informed said act.

Melody and song structure here is flawless, and unlike many albums of the NWOBHM there is no real incohesion or disruption halting the flow of compositional prowess. Quite an archaic use of notation that makes great use of pentatonics, yet moderates the restraints of blues and R&B music, has something more in common with European music of centuries past. If one were to imagine listening and removing the aesthetics of the modern band-set up, and replacing the electrical distortions of the guitars with perhaps harpsichord or sole acoustic guitar in it’s place a bridge can more or less be established as an imaginative transition to a modern form of music. One of the absolute best releases of traditional metal, this is highly overlooked and highly recommended.

-Pearson-