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I would have expected to bash the innards out of this album, but this manages to get a passing grade even from me. And has a rare distinction, which I will get to at the end of the review.
To be sure, this band's reputation goes before them. I've always kind of ignored them in the grand scheme of things. Considering they seemed to have established themselves in non-metal circles, and were known for being "true" metal. I figured listening to them would just lead to endless frustration, and the untamable urge to snap necks for tarnishing the name of metal. But in the end, I'm pleasantly surprised to find out that this isn't some hardcore band being marketed as metal. It's really metal, and it's actually pretty good, even though I can’t take it entirely seriously at times.
If more of the bands well known as being metal in non-metal circles (you know the bands) were actually like this band, the world would be a better place. You can't hide behind the guise of metal just because you use distorted guitars and double bass - especially when you reek of flamboyant horseshit.
There are two readily apparent things such bands do that are not metal, that this band does. The vocals - granted, it's falsetto, and he's trying to sound like Rob Halford. But it works. It's exponentially better than some retarded floor-puncher barking in his hardcore raps.
The second thing is that these so-called metal bands have drummers that play groovy, weak beats like their arms are made of rubber. I have a soft spot for gallop beats, and when I first listened to this and heard the gallop beat in Night Marauder, I knew there was promise. I mean, seriously, what the fuck is more metal than a nice fist-pumping melodic riff with a gallop beat?
There are a good deal of solid riffs throughout, and the songs are well constructed. The overall sound of the band is like a mix between Pain Killer era Priest (especially in the vocals) and The Crown. Occasionally going for an even more traditional sound, like in Trial of Champions and Assassins of the Light. Clearly they are trying for a NWOBHM sound at times a la Iron Maiden and even Satan (though I honestly doubt this band listens to Satan). There's some Viking metal riffs in Forest King.
So needless to say, the band's influences are easy to cite. It's not news to anyone that this isn't groundbreaking. But it's a cool mix of genres which forge it into something I could really define as new school meets old school speed metal. I certainly have no complaint there.
They're clear on the vocal front with death howls, and Rob Halford knock off vocals. The drumming gets my stamp of approval, and there's no hardcore, nu-metal, or other flamboyant, un-metal riffs. In fact, there are plenty of riffs that hearken to the bygone days of metal, and I can guarantee someone who doesn't listen to old school metal would not be able to pull that off. These ears could not be tricked by some hardcore kids trying to play old school metal. The jazz organ in Trial of Champions might have been really, really pushing it. Plus the lyrics are just meaningless, being the one area where I'd say the band fails in their attempts. Regardless, this is an honest, moderately good metal album.
So, let's break it down.
Pros/highlights: Probably the only worthwhile band aside from old Metallica that gets recognition, boat-loads of genres crossing, the vocals when they work, fitting solos, tight well-rounded drumming. The songs Demons Blade, Forest King, Infinite Legions and Night Marauder.
Cons/lowpoints: Meaningless, goofy lyrics, the vocals when they don't work, the song The Great Hall of Feasting. There sounds to be some effects on the vocals. You can understand why people would think this might be a parody band.
It's honestly quite difficult to know just how to feel about this band. But the music should speak louder than how the band dresses or their fan base. I see no point in hating this band, they are not cheapening metal, and they are good musicians who play good metal, and only metal. Sure, it’s not the best, but it’s good, and with any luck could steer some fortunate fools from the mainstream muck into the dark underworld of real metal. At one time, practically all of us had to be lead from the mainstream herds into this shadowy underground anyway, normally only by one band. This band is a great vehicle for that. That is a distinction very few bands have. And like many of those bands, it might hold some merit with those of us who are already down here.