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There’s a question of what matters more from a historical perspective; an album that looks forward about a decade, or one that looks forward to the time before it. This is essentially what separates Venom’s and Satan’s respective debut releases, the former would define the underground and extreme, while the latter stands as an example of how extreme traditional metal can get before transitioning into the lighter tier of Thrash Metal. One might argue that metal Church’s “The Dark” is a superior album in terms of fully marrying the character of thrash with the spirit of the NWOBHM sound, but of all the bands that came out of the late 70s to early 80s British scene, Satan perfectly captured the consonance and intensity that stood just before the bridge that Metallica and Slayer ended up crossing.
What essentially is heard here is the perfect marriage of a dark and creepy atmosphere with some of the most riff-happy songs ever birthed by the genre. Immediately after the paranormal sounding ambient intro “Into The Fire” ceases, one might speculate that James Hetfield and Steve Ramsey were linked telepathically, as a somewhat similarly chaotic intro to that of “Hit The Lights” can be heard on “Trial By Fire”. But as things get underway, the tone and flow of the music hints at a somewhat more orthodox (at least by NWOBHM standards) character, though the speed and agility of the riff work is actually a bit more complex than “Kill Em’ All”. Likewise, the vocal assault is peculiarly clean and mid-ranged, barring the occasional banshee wail in keeping with the school of Halford and Dickinson.
The charm of this particular take on an already pretty well established style is the emphasis on speed and the elaborateness of the whole. Even before settling into the rugged, dogmatic style that they established on “The Number Of The Beast”, Maiden never really got this fill-happy and shred obsessed. Particularly on “Blades Of Steel”, “Broken Treaties” and “Break Free” there is an abundance of scale runs and brief lead breaks that loosen the arrangement significantly, and even when settling into a thudding, chunky, mid-tempo groove, this free flowing feel persists. Perhaps the best analogous example would be Maiden’s “Killers”, but with fewer slow sections and no ballad. At the same time, the lead work has that formulaic, blues based feel that Kirk Hammett continually emulated from 83-87, but in a dueling fashion that is far less longwinded.
Although much of what is on here is characteristic of the time it was birthed in, “Court In The Act” stands tall as an early example of how far the limits of heavy metal orthodoxy could be stretched without completely altering the paradigm the way Venom ended up doing. It is based on a very simple musical structure, yet is elaborated to the point where a towering colossus like “Alone In The Dock” comes about and actually hints at the progressive direction that Queensryche and Fates Warning would delve into in the mid 80s. Although the members of this fold contributed to such noted acts as Raven, Angel Witch, Blitzkrieg, Blind Fury and Pariah, this is where the real goods are, and is the first album that should be on your purchase lists before any other albums put out by said bands.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on December 17, 2010.
NWOBHM has to be one of the greatest genres of heavy metal and Satan proves this with "Court in the Act". This is absolutely top-notch killer fucking metal with balls and heart.
Production-wise this album is guitar heavy and the vocals are also emphasized in the mix. The guitar tones rip you in half with the overdriven, reverb-drenched EQ mastery that is employed. The production is definitely a strong point, and for 1983, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more kick-ass 'sound' on any album then or since.
And speaking of mastery, the guitarists themselves are brilliant: employing blazing melodic leads alongside crunchy fast-paced classic metal rhythms riffs, this is guitar-tandem perfection. Featuring elements of heavy rock (in some of the tones), the guitar playing is diverse and flashy at times but it never devolves into mind-less wankery. Every note serves a purpose. Every riff progresses into the next seamlessly. The guitar playing hits you in the fucking face and leaves you seeing stars.
Brian Ross's vocals vary from an awesome mid-range to killer highs. The vocals remind me slightly of Psychotic Waltz's vocals on their progressive masterpiece "A Social Grace" except with a little more metal attitude.
The songs are all faster than mid-paced but not quite reaching thrash metal BPM territory. What makes this release an utter masterpiece is the quality of each and every single song; they're all memorable and they all demand repeated listens. This album is addictive and that's why I rate it so highly (along with the genius instrumentation).
Each musician is on top of his game and the drummer and bassist complement the guitars perfectly; you will not find filler here. No element of the music is disappointing in the least: the vocals are perfect, the guitarists are jaw-droppingly good, and the rhythmic backbone keeps things blazing along. All in all, a pretty much perfect album.
I do not believe in 100% scores but this is about as close as a metal album can get (regardless of genre).
As a band throughout all of their different forms, whether it's when they were Blind Fury, Pariah, or their main entity Satan - these guys released some of the most innovative and influential albums I've ever come across. Release after release the experiments and idea's that emerged were always fresh and creative, while the quality and consistency in the music was never lost. I can easily give every release these guys put out up to Pariah's second album Blaze of Obscurity a solid two thumbs up, or perhaps each a 90% rating and above (as I have with my Blind Fury review). As fantastic as they all are I firmly believe that Court in the Act is quite possibly their greatest moment, for 1983 the material here was years ahead of its time and was an undeniable stepping stone for many bands to follow.
The previous reviews all nailed a lot of aspects about this one that I can fully agree with. For its time Court in the Act was one of the most aggressive and technical releases in the realm of NWOBHM. It's more than arguable that this album could be seen as a blueprint for both speed and power metal bands that would follow in the next coming years from here. The emphasis on up front vocals and crazy guitar work is definitely there, which have both always been strong elements to speed the power genres.
Vocalist Brian Ross whom is no stranger to the scene truly makes this album stand above and beyond many others. The best part about his vocals is that there's really not a lot of people out there that have a voice quite like him. He has one of those thicker more masculine voices that gives off an incredibly believable and commanding performance while he's completely full of charisma. There's pretty much no limit to his range as you can expect some insane shrieks and wails throughout as well. Ross is a one of a kind, the vocals delivered here are extremely classy with no set of rules in sight. After this release Ross would carry out his legacy over to Blitzkrieg, ~25 years later it's as if he hasn't aged a bit!
Now there's Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins on guitars. Phew, where do I start with these guys!? I can't stress enough how technical, fast, and over the top the guitars are on this album, for 1983 and even compared to bands of today. Again, as the previous reviewers have firmly stated both guitarists have always had a style of their own, while always backing each other up this is an album where it's completely obvious there's two different guitarists, almost constantly fighting for the spotlight while managing to be perfectly balanced with one another. When you've heard Satan, Blind Fury, and Pariah, I think it's safe to say these two deserve an uncountable amount of credit for their skill and diversity among styles. They could play anything. I think to sum up their virtuosity, all you have to do is hear Break Free and it's over. Of course, the rest of the band deserves more than enough merit themselves. After all it is the songwriting here that truly counts and every song just feels perfect, you couldn't imagine them being any different.
Unlike some out there I honestly have never had a problem with the production on this one. Yeah, it's aged and has flaws, but I personally cannot find a real complaint for it at all. The mix is entirely consistent all the way through and everything else is pretty clear. For someone taking an unknown dive into 80's territory I guess it might be hard to get used to, but if you've heard a lot of older and classic stuff and don't mind the aged flaws you probably won't have much of an issue here.
Well, as my title for the review suggests I firmly believe this is a peak in classic, near flawless NWOBHM. When I think of that term, this is one of those albums that instantly comes to mind along with some of Cloven Hoof's stuff and some other acts that didn't get as much recognition as the big names. I could probably easily go on and on about this one and cover every track but it's nothing but a hit left and right, so there seriously aren't any low points here at all (bonus tracks are excellent as well). It'd be impossible to pick a favorite stand alone track. For those interested in seeing where a lot of speed and power metal bands got their notes from, this is it. Court in the Act, completely ahead of its time and innovating the future - truly a timeless relic.
Bands these days, they have all pretty much perfect production jobs. The mixing can vary, but it all sounds so bloody perfect on every level that it’s almost frustrating. “Overproduced” is the word most would use, but I’ve noticed another trend: the complete and total abidement to a rigid songwriting-formula that has changed very little over the years. That applies especially to power metal. It’s as if they’ve lost the will to experiment… to explore and to evolve. Big bands such as Gamma Ray, Hammerfall, Iron Saviour etc. have all released good albums in recent years, but I just can’t escape that feeling that for them, it’s just another day at the office. It’s not really about “everything has been done before” because bands like Manticora, Archetype, Kamelot and many more prove that there is still room for new ideas. Maybe they are afraid that by deviating from the formula that has made them famous, they’ll lose some of that fan base they’ve worked so hard to build up. Or maybe they’re just fucking lazy – who knows?
Satan’s Court in the Act is the complete opposite of that trend. It has horrid production but still succeeds in ways modern bands can only dream of, which only proves how overrated production is. There’s nothing even remotely close to generic here. 1983 was far too early for that to happen; metal was still in its infancy and evolving at the speed of lightning. Sure, some of the bands back then weren’t too good, but they all had one thing in common: a wild and completely unrestrained passion for the music. It’s from that spark that incredible music is made, and clearly, it’s from that spark this album was made, as well as every (other) influential metal album in history. All the classics of the past… from Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Metallica, to mention a few of the greats, they all had that spark. Since then, albums which have had better song writing, musicianship, production etc. have been released, but that has not dethroned these classics from being the immortal albums that they are. As proof to its status as a classic, Satan’s Court in the Act has indeed not been dethroned – it sounds every bit good today as it did back in 1983. If anything, it sounds even better due to the high saturation of generic clone-bands on the market. Like a reminder of how great metal can be, you can still hear that very same spark in every moment, every note played, in every bloody second on this album, and that is essentially what makes this such a goddamn awesome experience.
Satan possessed more than that spark though… much more. They were all superb musicians; Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins, for instance, were to this reviewer’s ears, one of the best duos in the history of metal. These two didn’t just have an impeccable technique – they also had a unique, instantly recognizable style as well as an amazing sense of melody. Much more important than the band’s technical prowess was their ability as songwriters though. They knew just how to compose a song, adding the right amount of melody and riffs to a structure that was unusually intricate and intelligent for its time. A common denominator in their compositions was the love for speed. An excellent example being the energetic ‘Break Free’ with its famous 3:00 solo and ‘No Turning Back’ with its inventive guitar riffs. Songs such as ‘The Ritual’ and ‘Alone in the Dark’ showcased the band’s talent for more advanced songwriting. ‘The Ritual’ being a rather complex, almost neoclassical and purely instrumental affair while ‘Alone in the Dark’ focused more on atmosphere, lacking the frantic pace of other songs, but compensating with some fantastic melodies and some of the most interesting guitar work on the album (check out those cascading riffs and the soaring lead work!).
I remember reading that Court in the Act got rave reviews upon release, but I can’t imagine that it sold too well, and if it did, it must have been forgotten, or unjustly dismissed, because I seldom hear people talk about in the same sentence as “the greats”. I think the reason for that is that back then, Court in the Act must have been looked upon as a rather extreme album. It was heavier and speedier than most and had riffs which almost bordered on thrash. I think Satan was just a bit too much for people, either scaring them away through the “extreme” qualities of their music, or by virtue of their technical prowess and songwriting, which was quite frankly ahead of its time. While we’re on detracting factors: Brian Ross definitely was one. Although his singing is pretty good in terms of emotion and melody, his style and voice is nothing if not unusual.
However, when it’s as good as this, it’s easy to oversee any “flaw”, almost no matter how great it is. There just aren’t that many albums out there that put a smile on my face as easily as this one. Court in the Act is just so full of vigour, stubborn energy and honest musicianship that it’s completely irresistible in that way only older albums can be. If you’re in any way a metal enthusiast and interested in exploring the genre’s history, this classic is a mandatory listen -- as mandatory as it ever gets.
This is one of the very few albums that will receive a 100% score review from me. Back in 1983, most of the albums coming from Britain were either great or excellent, Ebony records released “Chained and desperate“, “Loose and lethal”, and “See you in hell” by such artists as Chateaux, Savage and Grim reaper respectively, and Neat did the same with great offerings from Raven, Jaguar and most notably, Satan.
After Blitzkrieg’s break up, singers were swapped between the newly formed Avenger and Satan, resulting in the arrival of Brian Ross as lead vocalist for the recording of what would become my favourite record of 80’s metal, “Court in the act”.
The association between Ross and Satan would be very short lived but gave us a flawless gem of an album that is perfect from start to finish. After an atmospheric intro that sets up the mood in eerie fashion, we are hit full frontal by what would be the trademark of “Court in the act”, fast paced, powerful, but incredibly melodic songs such as “Trial by fire”, a song about nuclear warfare, a topic often used by bands in those days as we were still with both feet firmly planted in the cold war between the Soviets and the Americans.
The twin guitar attack is reminiscent of Iron maiden of course but it is faster and somewhat heavier than that of Harry’s boys.
The production is rather raw and unpolished like all Neat releases, but in this case, this is what gives “Court in the act” it’s charm, and a cleaner production would have certainly taken away a lot of the energy and magic of this record. It’s underground feel is what attracts me the most towards listening and listening again to this album as much now as I was doing more than twenty years ago.
What stands out the most from that first song is the voice of their lead singer Brian Ross, mid range yet powerful and rather soothing in the tone, that guy has the most beautiful voice in metal, never strained, the guy respects his range and stays inside it giving us the most beautiful vocal melodies with maybe the ones from old Fates warning albums.
We are then treated to two very energetic songs, “Blades of steel”, a song about Vikings conquering the lands and “No turning back”, your usual song about sticking to your guns and believing in yourself, again with great vocal melodies, and very well written lyrics. “Blades of steel” has great beat changes and “No turning back” features an insane guitar solo that is probably the best on the album even though the soloing is awesome throughout the record.
Side one closes with the song about the mistreating of the american Indians in “Broken treaties” starting slowly with an Indian dance beat followed by the guitar melody, another intense song that is the most progressive with the last song on the album “Alone in the docks”.
Side two starts off the same way that side one started, with a fast paced stormer called “Break free” where the drumming and bass work are particularly prevalent as it is in the instrumental “The ritual”, a crazy wordless adventure that takes you through different moods, speeds and where your attention is not divided between the incredible musicianship of guitarists Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins, bass man Graeme English and drummer Sean Taylor and the magical voice from Ross which we now have a break from in that song.
“Hunt you down” doesn’t leave out the energy and has a very original almost weird riff in the chorus.
After all is said and done none more than myself can recommend this perfect piece of metal art to the unsuspecting treasure hunter, unfortunately this record is hard to find and I was lucky enough to have it in vinyl but it cost me a bundle to have on cd.
Satan would later change it’s name to Blind fury because they didn’t want to be associated with the growing number of satanic bands coming mostly from the newly emerging thrash metal movement, they released an excellent album titled “Out of reach” featuring the same flawless musicianship and strong numbers but without the great Brian Ross and with a cleaner production than on “Court in the act” the magic seemed to have disappeared though “Out of reach” is still recommended.
Hail to that great year 1983 that gave us “Kill ‘em all”, “Show no mercy”, “All for one”, “Melissa”, “Sirens” and countless marvellous albums but most notably “Court in the act” by the great Satan.
Though this is for the most part in the neighborhood of other NWOBHM acts like Diamond Head, it seems to go a bit beyond that and moves to innovate what they did. Though it came out in 1983, it would have been ahead of its time -- it has some definite speed and power metal elements in it that seem to be a precursor to many of the elements such legendary albums like Walls of Jericho and Battalions of Fear had, and has timeless elements that seemed to have permeated well beyond. The production is clearly from older times and is just a touch raw, but it's otherwise well mixed, with each of the elements distinguishable both as a whole and when focused on individually.
Blind Guardian fans will easily recognize the second track, Trial By Fire, on this, as it was covered very well by them on Somewhere Far Beyond. In fact, that's admittedly how I got into this album, tracking back the original version of at track that was one Blind Guardian. To contrast the two, the original isn't as heavy or fast as the cover, but everything's there compositionally, from the indelible enigmatic twin guitar attack at the beginning to the wonderful basswork and amazing leads. The vocals are a bit different, since there's no backing voclas and the lead singer's voice has a kind of subdued, soft quality to it that makes it quite striking when he hits high notes out of nowhere.
However, this album does go well beyond Trial by Fire in all those qualities, as well. This album is full of quality headbanging riffs, amazing leads and twin guitar attacks, propulsive basswork, and intense and fascinating drum patterns, while managing to take a variety of approaches. Blades of Steel, No Turning Back, and Hunt You Down are solid heavy traditional metal tracks interspersed with some future ideas that you'll have to hear for yourself to truly appreciate. Break Free is 5:23 of straight out speed metal bliss well ahead of its time. The instrumental track, The Ritual, could have been the older brother to Blind Guardian's By the Gates of Moria or Gandalf's Return. Alone in the Dark is a wonderful, fast-paced but gloomy track as well. The additional CD bonus tracks are excellent, too.
If you're a fan of speed or power metal, particularly Blind Guardian, I highly suggest you acquire this amazing, oft-forgotten, but seemingly amazingly influential album. This is essential NWOBHM.