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Seattle, Washington metallers Skelator offer up their second official full-length, ‘Agents of Power’, and while it’s not a bright, shiny example of the genre, this is still an infectious retro-fueled blast of heavy metal that offers up some nice moments from time to time.
The one immediate reaction to the album is the fact that this one is so retro and infectious that this one could’ve been released in the early '80s and only now been re-issued upon the masses, and is lead by a swirling, old school tone that drives forth memorable and instantly recognizable riffs one after another. With this old school spirit ably produced by all players from the soaring vocals and molten solos to those classic-sounding drums, it provides no shortage of good songs as a whole.
From the intro title track that contains a great mid-tempo section during its soloing section to ‘Dream Deceiver’ that manages to be the epic track with its extended intro, throbbing drum work, and perhaps the best solo work on the entire album, to the rollicking ‘Rhythm of the Chain’ that sounds as if it would’ve been found on a NWOBHM sampler, this one carries itself rather nicely and certainly maintains some nice momentum during its run time. Without doubt, though, the album’s signature track is the thrashy ‘Rubble and Ash’, which certainly packs the most punch and contains a roaring opening as the band lets loose with wild abandon, equaling the band’s best effort on the album.
The main thrust of the album, containing twelve of the sixteen tracks, is an epic-length fantasy story based on Michael Moorcook’s tale ‘Elric: The Dragon Prince (A Tale of Tragic Destiny in 8 Parts)’, which certainly feels connected to the rest of the album in terms of general style and appearance in song style, yet the flowing story provides a framework for keeping everything in a general spirit. The main problem with that, though, is it's totally in sync with the rest of the album, and being as lengthy as it is, could’ve stood to be an album proper with the four intro tracks that have nothing to do with the interpretation had been left off for a separate EP or used for a later album since they’re so similar in theme and I feel this inclusion as is doesn’t really make much sense.
This isn’t all that bad of an album despite this rather odd flaw. Guaranteed to be well-regarded by the old school guard for its reverence to the past as well as those looking for a solid fantasy-based metal album, there’s enough good points to make it worth checking out.
Skelator huh? I suppose I should not be shocked that the He-Man arch-nemesis has spawned a band name. It's just kind of funny really. I don't take Skelator particularly seriously myself, but that could just be me. The band Skelator has been around for quite some time, though this is the first I have heard of them. This is the band's third full-length album and they have several demos over the years as well.
This is a fairly typical swords-and-sorcery type metal band. Their lyrics are mostly pulled from Michael Moorcock, especially after the first four tracks. I am not really up on fantasy literature a whole lot so you will have to forgive me if I have no idea who that is. At any rate, you can probably guess that fantasy stories make up the lyrical content here. Titles like "Gates of Thorbadin", and "Elric the Dragon Prince" certainly make that plainly evident. I am not the biggest fan of bands like this, especially since I am not a big fantasy fan, but if the music is done well, I can usually look past it.
So that brings us to the music. Skelator definitely fits the mold of other bands that center their songs around fantasy themes. They play music in the vein of early American power metal and other classic metal styles, owing a lot to the music of Manilla Road, Omen, and the like. The music is typical for power/speed metal with guitar-driven riffs and anthemic choruses. The leads show a heavy Iron Maiden influence and the dual guitar attack is done quite well. The individual songs are certainly memorable and highly infectious.
The vocals took a little while to grow on me. Initially they came off as too high and abrasive, but as I continued to listen, they fit in quite well with the music. They sound like a mix of vocal styles from Rob Halford, Geoff Tate from Queensryche, and Steve Grimmett from Grim Reaper. Once past the initial shock and dislike, the vocals actually sounded quite good. Jason Conde-Houston has exactly the type of voice you would want in a band of this style.
Overall I think this is definitely a grower. Initially I was skeptical that I would really like it at all with the fantasy lyrics and vocal style, but I got into it as it wore on. This is actually not unusual for me with this type of metal. Domine took awhile for me to get into as well, and Skelator has a lot in common with them. Overall this is an impressive power/speed metal album. Another good slice of classic metal.
Skelator are a cool band comprised of a bunch of cool guys who clearly love their fantasy, (particularly their Moorcock) and here on their third full-length release Agents of Power, they unleash a barrage of epic heavy metal. Straight off the bat this is going to appeal to fans of eighties metal, and particularly fans of the “true metal” scene.
“You are listening to Skelator, the king of fear” proclaims the promo voice-over on Agents of Power. I’m not usually one to delve into promo voice-overs but I have to say that this voice-over here is awesome, and doesn’t detract from my enjoyment at all. I’m pretty sure it’s their actual singer – don’t quote me on that – which is just great. Agents of Power is an album of two parts; the first four tracks are stand alone ass kickers, whilst everything following is a massive concept piece about our favourite albino bad-ass Elric.
The first four tracks are pure and unadulterated head-banging eighties style heavy metal. Jason Conde-Houston’s vocals are very fun and charismatic. His vocal style is one I tend to associate with any eighties band who championed high fantasy style lyrics, and he can switch well between powerful high notes and a more aggressive lower register, in places reminding of James Rivera. The production is natural and old school, which is exactly what is needed here on Agents of Power: the guitar tone has that perfect early eighties feel to it which really benefits the riffs. Speaking of which, the riffs are leads are great fun here, totally cut from the Maiden/Priest/Jag Panzer/Helstar cloth. The rhythm section is ace too, with a solid drum battery and thundering, rumbling bass.
The massive Elric concept piece is enough to have been packaged as an album in its own right. The band shows how much they’ve honed their skills and talents over the years and the whole piece comes off as very mature and proud. Skelator avoids a good number of conceptual pit falls and lets the music do the talking, which is commendable. It’s good to see their reliance on the basic tools of the trade, as opposed to throwing in anything that might have looked fancy in the studio. Expect fist-raising guitar leads and harmonies, head pounding rhythms, and scream-along vocal lines throughout.
Agents of Power is a superb third release from a band that I hope to see go a long way. Skelator are the real deal, and if bands such as Skullview, Slough Feg, and Dexter Ward are choice amongst your collection, then Skelator are a band you need to become acquainted with straight away. Recommended!
Originally written for http://blackwindmetal.com
If there’s two things I love in this world more than anything it’s vintage, spellbinding sword and sorcery fantasy and traditional no-frills balls to the wall heavy metal, so when I come across a band who combine the two in as sublime a fashion as Seattle’s Skelator then you’d be right in thinking I get a tad excited and go a little weak at the knees. For as much as I love my metal evil, brutal and all kinds of filthy and disgusting, I still maintain there is nothing at all can beat straight up classic heavy metal when performed and executed properly; bands such as Manilla Road, Omen, Slough Feg and Helstar and so on are exactly what I mean, no sugary keys nor obscure pretences, just fearless leather studded metal the way it was originally intended. Skelator are firmly set in this mould, drawing influences from the aforementioned acts as well as the likes of Judas Priest while adding their own unique sheen to their fantasy borne crusades so they don’t remain yet another act left for time to envelop under its unforgiving wings.
Maybe there is a certain degree of persuasion and influence clouding my own judgement due to the fact a significant portion of “Agents of Power” is devoted to Michael Moorcock’s legendary Elric tales and myself, like Jason and co. being a massive enthusiast for all things Moorcock. But then again, when you’re named after He-Man’s arch nemesis, have songs that involve Dragonlance together combined with that cover how can you possibly go wrong? The first four tracks are nothing short of fantastic, integrating the unwavering US metal ethos together with a more 70’s styled rocking Priest approach seamlessly. And when you’re spearheaded by the resolute wail of Jason which sounds uncannily like Geoff Tate flanked with some rather illustrious and flashy guitar work it’s severely difficult not to be impressed. From the Eternal Champion dedication ‘Agents of Power’ with its fist pumping, chorus driven and guitar shredding Manowar aesthetic to ‘Rhythm of the Chain’ and its carefree ‘fuck it all’ attitude which throws forth suspiciously familiar echoes of ‘Hellbent for Leather’ on steroids. A track I’m sure is a live staple in their setlist already, certainly destined to be if not already.
Where ‘Rhythm of the Chain’ ends though the albums real centrepiece begins. The previous tracks being a great showcase of the bands ability to pen virtuous and steadfast heavy metal rockers, the final twelve are actually a single piece entitled ‘Elric: The Dragon Prince (A Tale of Tragic Destiny in 12 Parts)’. And that’s what really crowned my interest, and I don’t need to tell you why. Many bands have written tracks about Elric, some better than others. Very little in my opinion has ever bettered ‘Bane of the Black Sword’ (the track here unfortunately not a cover) by Apollo-Ra of Stormbringer’s ‘Tanelorn’ and I always found Domine hugely overrated but this is something vastly different and ambitious by Skelator here and it works with a great deal of success. Highlights would be ‘Elric: The Dragon Prince’, again another swift burning anthem or ‘The Dark Tower’ another blood rushing high tempo number. The only slight problem lies in the spoken word sections constantly disrupting the flow; just when you want the current passage to continue or think it’s going to elevate to the next level, that section ends only for another completely different one to pop up. Had they been cut out and the remainder been knitted together then we’d be on to something utterly outstanding altogether. Still though it’s a first, the only other traditional Heavy Metal song of the same gargantuan proportions I can think of off the top of my head is Manowar's ‘Achilles...’, and it’s much better than that. We all know how shitty that was.
Each element of Skelator's musicianship is fantastic and tighter than Bruce Dickinson’s spandex, but a special mention must go to frontman extraordinaire Jason Conde Houston with his outstanding set of pipes that channel everyone from Rob Halford to Geoff Tate. From his stratospheric wail to dropping through to a slightly lower gruff tone dripping in attitude and panache, his range is seriously impressive. As good as the riffs and solos are, it’s his vocals that really set them apart, I’m still fucking singing along to ‘Rhythm of the Chains’. Sure every tom dick and harry in the eighties had a blistering shredder, very few had a Midnight or a James Rivera. Guitar aficionados fear not though, the duelling Rob’s have some fierce chops, ripping solos and finesse abound to keep you happy. What I love about this album is it doesn’t try to be anything fancy, their wear their influences vividly on their sleeve but still manage to drag you into their own vibrant realm of fantasy inspired metal that leaves many of their more prominent peers behind with a mouthful of dust and grit; why would you ever want anything else?
Skelator would not be the first band in the power metal spectrum to pay conceptual tribute to Michael Moorcock's most famous creation, the albino fantasy antihero Elric of Melnibone. However, I feel that their brand of working man's US speed and power, with aesthetically bears similarities to predecessors like Virgin Steele, Twisted Tower Dire, Manilla Road, Manowar and other domestic gods, is particularly suited to telling the tales of the Black Sword, since it instinctively carries this sense of nostalgia which can draw the listener back to that formative period of the earlier 80s when the works of Moorcock, Lieber, Howard and other lesser known fantasy staples in the shadow of Tolkien were enjoying a new burst of popularity with the onset of tabletop RPGs and now-antiquated video games.
Not that Agents of Power is devoted specifically to Elric, but about 75% of the album covers his saga while the first few songs deal with other fantasy settings like Dragonlance ("Gates of Thorbardin"). All delivered in a thick, chunky down to earth guitar tone which, admittedly is drawn from a pretty derivative arsenal of riffing patterns that aren't going to feel new for any long-term fans of traditional/power metal. There's a bit of Omen here, in addition to your signature Judas Priest patterns circa the 70s, some primitive Manowar power, and a pretty vibrant lead sensibility which is engaging enough where it erupts in a track like "Rhythm of the Chain" or the ascending, bouncy "Gates of Thorbardin". The real star of the show here, is singer Jason Conde-Houston whose caterwauling timbre has a sinister side to it reminiscent of John Cyriis (Agent Steel) or Midnight (Crimson Glory) in their prime; though he certainly paces himself like a Dickinson in the early to mid 80s and I hear smatterings of other esteemed forebears like Eric Adams, James Rivera and David Wayne throughout.
I really did enjoy the production of the album, earthen and deep enough to really let Conde-Houston's shrill melodic spikes stand forth, or the considerable number of noodling micro-solos; but I wouldn't say that it was blow for blow memorable in terms of the songwriting. There's enough variation throughout the album's hour length that you can really settle into it and not become excessively bored. There are narrative briefs strewn about the Elric sequence, like "Pulsing Cavern" or the Maiden-esque brief "The Young Kingdoms" which serve to splinter the more brooding, serious pieces, but in truth most of the tunes are well balanced and reined in (only two surpassing the 6 minute mark). I actually dug the first four pieces as much if not more than the conceptual chunk of the disc, so Skelator were wise in front-loading them, but there are a few gems deeper in the playlist, like "The Dark Tower" wherein the music and vocals channel Helstar, or "Rubble and Ash" with its unnerving and awesome spoken intro.
There's a bit less spit and polish than you'd find on albums by the Italians Domine, who also devote their lyrics heavily to Moorcock, but that's largely because Skelator lack that European anthem undertow. They keep the guitar progressions boxy and simplistic, the sort they could mete out in the rehearsal space with the same level of clarity they express in studio. Agents of Power is, if anything, a humble record which knows its limitations and never really pushes beyond them, but having said that, I still think it surpasses their sophomore Death to All Nations in terms of songwriting. Don't go into this expecting floods of Gamma Ray glitter or Dragonforce drama, this is a far more stripped and sincere approach that gets the former Californian act to the finish line without necessarily winning the race. Nothing groundbreaking or essential here, but it's got enough heart to win over the fantasy rock enthusiast or the crypto-USPM fanatic.