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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.