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The David Chastain/Leather Leone “love affair” has been a fluctuating, but by all means a fascinating one. It produced four fairly strong albums in the 80’s before the metal queen decided that she would keep a low profile during the transformational 90’s, leaving the guitar wizard to fight alone (well, not exactly) and make his way through the groovy/grungy/alternative madness. Then she came back once all this hysteria was over, and the old school was back in full bloom. She was by all means missed as the album reviewed here shows only too well.
This was the first album I got from this collaboration, and I still find it the best. Call it nostalgia, call it sentimentality, but it has a special meaning for me as its heroic unblemished swagger brings me back to those youthful days every time I listen to it. It’s the best representation of the band’s edgy proto-thrash flavoured power metal as it was also the end of an era since the follow-up “For Those Who Dare” took a more melodic, mainstream direction. The guys (and a girl) had come with all the guns blazing here fully aware that whatever they created this time had to count provided that this was a tremendous year for metal. And count it does first with the infectious rousing title-track, a power/speed metal hymn second to none with both Chastain and Leather in top form the former sounding both restrained and flashy in a very characteristic, inimitable way. “Live Hard” is a speed metal shredder galloping into the distance until it encounters “Chains of Love”, a heavy stomper with a nearly doom metal aura.
“Share Yourself with Me” is back on the horses with aggressive thrashy gallops filling in the aether and Leather sounding more pissed and venomous. Creepy doomy riffs start sneaking in on “Fortune Teller”, a heavy seismic pounder with dazzling leads (Chastain leaves his hands here), a great atmospheric interlude, and an amazing lead-driven epitaph. “Child of Evermore” is a dramatic shredder its steady mid-tempo stride broken by a speedy chorus-carrying passage; and “Soldiers of the Flame” is the seeming radio hit which is still hard-hitting enough not betraying the sinister nature of the album despite its marginally friendlier rhythm-section. “Evil for Evil” commences with a superb virtuoso stroke provided by Chastain, but after that the band reach brutal thrashy dimensions Leather shouting her lungs out in a fairly convincing fashion including on the calmer section served a few times throughout. “Take Me Home” is a smattering power metal hymn, a no-brainer of pure battle-like atmosphere with the great chorus and a bewitching balladic ending with Leather proving why she’s one of the five greatest female vocalists in the annals of metal; a more than fitting finale to this seminal opus.
US power metal reached its culmination in 1988 with the works of Helstar (“Distant Thunder”), Liege Lord (“Master’s Control”), Attacker (“Second Coming”), Manowar (“Kings of Metal”), and the album reviewed here. It’s a pity that Omen, one of the fathers of the movement, had to flop so deplorably with the mild “Escape to Nowhere”, but the other practitioners were all up and running on full-throttle including those who had ventured into thrash (Manilla Road, Laaz Rockit). The genre simply had nowhere to go after that, I guess Omen were trying to summarize the situation with the title of the mentioned album; thrash and death metal had occupied every other niche leaving very little room for more battle hymns and epic exuberance if any at all. It came as no surprise that some of Chastain’s colleagues from Shrapnel (Toby Knapp, Tony Fredianelli, Marty Friedman) moved towards the thrash metal spectre in the 90’s…
Chastain had all the right skills to do the same, but the man remained faithful to his chosen field although the following “For Those Who Dare” was again more melodic with a more mainstream sound. Some blame Leather for that since she had already tested the market with a solo effort (Shockwave”) a year earlier which was more accessible, more commercialized heavy/power metal; and that she had contaminated her main band’s delivery on the next instalment just before her departure. Well, that’s debatable as Chastain was already looking into the 90’s with their new musical demands, and after some time spent thinking over these new possibilities he recruited another female throat (Kate French) for the creation of two decent modern power metal recordings which didn’t hide their fascination with the dominant groovy trends. A 7-year break followed before the band returned with “In an Outrage” which welcomed the resurrected old school canons and also saw French performing for the last time.
Nearly a decade passed from that latter opus’ release before Chastain and Leather reunited; “Old love gathers no rust”, as they say, and the last two partnerships almost brought the sound back to the band’s heydays even touching the greatness on this indomitable “voice of the cult” here on the more inspired moments. It’s great to know that the King and the Queen are together again, pairing so well and ready to lay waste to any fraction that opposes to their ancient “cult”.
After two more or less raw outputs, Chastain decided to appear less harsh on "The Voice of the Cult". They did not shock the audience with a radically new strategy, but I could not see that the sheer fury of previous tracks such as "One Day to Live" or "The 7th of Never" returned. No need to panic, the stylistic refinement was rather a matter of nuances. This means that the typical features of the band were still present
First of all I have to mention Leather's unique vocals. Once again, this incarnation of female power contributes a lot to the success of the album. Due to her raw approach, she appears as a natural force. Leather expresses pure dedication and her voluminous voice would even make an Avantasia album bearable. From my point of view, this is the ultimate award. However, this lady was and still is a real weapon and I don't think that there are many better female singers in the history of heavy metal. (And yes, I am familiar with the warbling of Doro and some other female specialists.)
Apart from Leather's performance, Chastain himself also gives his best. He avoids egocentric guitar escapades, but he also has found a way to be the second force that shapes the overall impression of the output. His sharp riffs, melodic interludes and slightly technical excursions leave their mark. Everything is meticulously composed, but one thing is unfortunately true as well. There are no outstanding songs. They are decent, they are mostly good but they do not have the power to drive you crazy. A certain lack of spectacular moments does not affect the quality of the album massively, but it is sad that the extraordinary touch is missing.
Be that as it may, the band has found a good balance between melody and aggression. No doubt, back in the eighties, posers fell on their knees and begged for mercy when being confronted with this album. But despite some trace elements of thrash metal, the album cannot be compared with pure releases of the sub genre that was defined by albums like "Bonded by Blood". Edgy and hearty power metal, that's the name of the game. Don't think of this kind of power metal with these ridiculous choruses, the nerve-shattering keyboards and the monotonous background choirs. "The Voice of the Cult" is produced by a band that does not lack of integrity. Even the semi-ballad at the end of the B side has more power than a lot of songs of today's power metal clowns. But as a matter of course, the best songs have a heavier approach. The dynamic "Live Hard" shines with a good flow, the melancholic yet powerful "Chains of Love" can rely on its flattening guitar work during the verses and the trenchant yet smooth "Share Yourself with Me" sets the perfect frame for Leather's passionate singing. "Soldiers of the Flame" has brilliant verses and its short instrumental part after the second chorus adds a slightly weird touch. Finally, "Evil for Evil" surprises with drilling guitars after a rather mediocre warm-up period at the beginning.
With regard to these songs, "The Voice of the Cult" was (and still is) a more than decent album, albeit the band did not make full use of its potential. The top position of "The 7th of Never" remained untouched. Nonetheless, "The Voice of the Cult" is worth its money.
“The Voice of the Cult” is Chastain’s fourth album in four years. After releasing their third assault “The 7th of Never,” you would think that the band might want to start stepping their game up and branching out to achieve a better sound, but that didn’t happen. Instead, this album suffers the same fate that the previous one did. Chastain decided to stick with the same formula that got them where they were, and to be honest, this band just doesn’t have the ability to play the same stuff over and over and be revered as legends. Sure, this release is still awesome and I enjoy re-visiting it when in the mood for some heavy/power metal, but the potential that was found on the band’s magnum opus “Ruler of the Wasteland” was gone, and their chances for topping that album were too.
If you’ve heard the group’s previous album, then you should have a fair idea of what “The Voice of the Cult” sounds like, as a majority of the music here treads on familiar territory, rarely ever attempting to travel down another path. There’s plenty of shredding and melodies to be found in the midst of the solid riffage and Leather Leone’s amazing vocals, which have not lost a beat at all. She’s still got the range and the power she had on the first three Chastain full-lengths and it’s a reason why she’s always being compared to the legendary Mike Howe of Metal Church fame. Like I said before, I don’t really have a problem with the band’s decision to not try and take their sound to another level and sticking with the formula, because tracks like “The Voice of the Cult,” “Live Hard,” and “Chains of Love” are all worth listening to, but it feels like they could have been on any of the other albums before.
Of course, not all of the music here sticks to the same old, same old. There are some cool little nuances that separate the great tracks from the good ones. “Share Yourself With Me” is one of the group’s more aggressive tracks, with its galloping riffage and the performance of one of the best front women in metal definitely gives the song some more anger. “Fortune Teller” has a darker kind of vibe to it thanks to the melodies and riffs throughout, harkening back to the band’s best record “Ruler of the Wasteland,” and “Child of Evermore” features some thrashy riffage reminiscent of Dave Mustaine. “Take Me Home” is the closest thing to epic on this album, and while not quite as mindblowing as some of the band’s previous material, it’s still a quality listen. I will give Chastain credit, because they released three very good albums in a row, which is not an easy feat. “The Voice of the Cult” ranks below the last album and this also the last album the band released that I care for, but fans of old-school heavy/power metal should still have no problem trying to sing along with Leather Leone and air-guitaring to the inhuman David Chastain.
“Share Yourself With Me”
“Take Me Home”
Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.