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An early classic - 94%

fluffy_ferret, November 9th, 2007

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.