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Close your eyes and pretend you’re back in the 1980s (or if you’re young like me, just take a guess based on what you’ve seen on TV and in movies.) A decade when bands like Metallica and Judas Priest ruled, instead of today’s pop clones. This, I expect, is what Skelator did when writing “Death to All Nations,” their sophomore album which could easily have come straight out of the ‘80s. Shredding guitar solos and headbanging choruses abound here, and the band’s sound bears more than a passing resemblance to metal giants Iron Maiden (the singer sounds like Bruce Dickinson with a cold; not great, but it works in the context of the music.)
The riffs and vocal melodies are extremely catchy, even as they sing about epic battles, swords, glory…”For Death and Glory” references the Lord of the Rings trilogy, while in the standout track “Circle of Bloodshed,” an unexpectedly doomy intro leads into a fist-pumping anthem about Vikings killing, pillaging, and generally wreaking havoc in the name of Odin. Simply put, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this band opening for Amon Amarth, although some of the lines in “The Truth” could have been borrowed from a gospel song. (“The truth…the truth is in my soul! Though I face my death, I will not yield!”)
Overall, while the Skelator’s sound is very good and doesn’t get boring before the end of the album, the band is as raw and spirited as an ‘80s hard rock group; but they don’t seem quite mature enough to be taken seriously as an epic metal band. On the rare occasion that they set aside the glorious conquests and sing about something slightly more mundane – such as on the rocking anthem “Stand Up (For Rock and Roll),” dedicated to the late Ronnie James Dio – their youthful sound and energy is perfect for the music. This album could have been an instant hit 30 years ago; in this day and age, it’s still excellent.
(Originally published in Destructive Music Webzine: http://destructive-music.com/?p=1490)
The revitalism movement has been thriving as of late, taking the thrash and traditional metal genres back to their glorious origins. In the latter category, Sweden has delivered bands such as In Solitude, Enforcer, and Portrait, dominating the market in low-fi, ass-kicking heavy metal. Well, nobody seems to be talking about Skelator, a band taking on the style of more local 80s heroes like Fates Warning, Crimson Glory, and Helstar while mixing it with NWOBHM foundations and a tone at times more charmingly European. Their second full length album (and first not to be self-released) Death to All Nations does the past proud with soaring melodies everywhere and charging riffs that won't fail to make one wax nostalgic.
Just about everything you could want in a revitalist band can be found right here. The production values appropriately shy away from modern polish, the charismatic vocalist wails with banshee-like high notes (sometimes reminding me of the glory of the late Midnight, and irking the hell out of me with an off-sounding shrillness at others), and the guitars churn with that classic tone. The songs themselves start to branch out as the album goes on, beginning to break their A-B structures and evolve into lengthier anthems that showcase the US power metal genre's often forgotten progressive tendencies. All of them are successful in varying volumes at conveying a sense of interwoven classic simplicity and subtle complexity, never getting tiresome or too repetitive along the way.
"Birth of Steel" and "The Voice" (which provides the album's catchiest riff) are the perfect rockers to introduce the album, while "Victory (Henry V)" seems to follow with a take on Iron Maiden's penchant for historical songs. "Stand Up (For Rock and Roll)" is dedicated to Dio but plays more like Priest. Visions of Running Wild ran through my mind when I saw the name "For Death and Glory," and the song follows through with a swarming riff and Rolf'n'roll deep in its blood. Another sure highlight is the concluding title track, rushing forth with the intensity of German speed metal and offering another memorable chorus to boot. "Symphony of the Night" (Castlevania, anyone?) explores the dark themes reminiscent of Helstar's Nosferatu.
Does modern, over-orchestrated European fairy metal piss you off? Have you been disappointed with the path that metal has taken since 1989? Does progress overwhelm you? Don't worry, Skelator is here. I must admit that I'm highly partial to this breed of music, but I can honestly say that I can't see any fan of metal's less extreme tendencies turning down this well-executed time machine of a record. Death to All Nations may not be a classic, and it certainly isn't perfect as it doesn't quite reach the lofty heights of its predecessors (also, the vocal performance could use a little work); but when you choose something like this, you know what you're going to get, and what you'll get is one of the best bands stirring this archaic brew today. Listen to this and Diamonds by Enforcer and you won't regret it.