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Masters of metal, agents of steel - 92%

Memnarch, June 23rd, 2012

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?