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Prior to releasing this album, Swedish power metallers Steel Attack had recorded two good-but-not-great discs of exciting, if a bit generic, crunchy Swedish power metal. Largely in the same vein as the countless other Gamma Ray/Helloween clones of the time, Steel Attack nonetheless struck me as one of the better acts of the genre. Many reviewers have noted that the previous singer, the goofily-named Steve Steel, stood out for his unique tone and power. I don't know, I never really saw it. Sure, he didn't possess the helium-filled pipes of some of the more notorious Italian singers, but he wasn't really THAT different. Besides, you don't have to be entirely different or original to succeed in this field, and Predator of the Empire is as good an example of this as any disc I can think of.
Just in case you weren't 100% sure what style these guys play, the opening title track clears things up after about, oh, ten seconds. Starting off with a nice double-bass-fueled gallop, this track sets a pretty high standard for the rest of the album. Nice, tight guitar work coupled with Johnson's excellent vocals - man can this guy sing. Crystal clear and filled with power and emotion, all without a falsetto scream in sight. Seriously, Johnson is one of the best stopgap singers I've ever heard (meaning he was brought in for one album and never heard from again in the metal world). I can think of quite a few bands who do well to ditch their current singers for someone of Johnson's caliber.
Likewise, the bassist and drummer turn in excellent performances, providing a rock-solid rhythm foundation for the ten tracks on display here. It's worth noting, by the way, that these are ten rockers we're talking about. Steel Attack wisely skipped the ballads, so things rarely slow down. Only on midpaced tunes like "Point of no Return", one of the best songs on the album, are we allowed to catch our collective breaths. I do suppose that this could also be a gripe depending on your position, the fact that the songs tend to all sound rather similar. Again, as requiem99 noted in another review, some bands thrive on this sort of style whereby a lot of stuff sounds the same. That's okay with me provided the band does its thing well. Steel Attack certainly do.
No problems with the Studio Underground production, this album coming out around the same time as other SU-produced discs by bands like Zonata, Axenstar, and Freternia. Not the slightest hint of muddiness, and everything is very easy to pick out. Altogether a nice package by Arise Records, and a very good signing by them at the time. Unfortunately, Steel Attack would soon once again blow up and reform with new members, this time killing a very promising partnership. 2004's Enslaved is okay, but really can't hold a candle to this one. If you're new to Steel Attack, I'd start with Predator, easily the best of their catalog, and a very solid power metal disc that seems doomed to dwell in relative power metal obscurity.
Steel Attack's third album is a definite improvement in sound quality over the other two, although the basic premise of the band; namely, amazing guitar work, still remains its strongest feature.
The guitars are the key here, folks. Their playing is almost as fast as early Children of Bodom, and the riffage and overall work is better than most bands out there. The drums are also solid in the beat, and the bass is definitely more of a presence, revealing the fact that he, too, is quite skilled. The vocals are a huge improvement over Fall Into Madness, as they have a lot more force and sound behind their fruity tales of lost kingdoms. In essence, Steel Attack has taken what they did best and improved on it impressively to make a solid band.
Highlights. The best song on here, and a candidate for the coveted Top Ten Power Metal Songs of All Time is the opening number, Predator of the Empire. It features a lightning-fast bass solo to open up the track (à la Warheart) which explodes into one of the coolest opening guitar riffs I have ever heard. The drumming is solid and steady, and the vocals are strong, especially in the excellent chorus line. The Darkness features a fast-as-hell opening guitar riff and vocals that are vaguely reminiscent of post-Kai Iron Savior. Heavy Metal God features another amazing opening guitar riff that os followed up with a nice supporting song, and so does The Holy Sign (in fact, they pretty much all do so on here; same thing as Fall Into Madness).
So, what we have here is a band that was already a solid Power Metal sound and has improved upon their weaker points--namely, the vocals and the bass. The result is an excellent cheesy Power Metal band worthy of your money. A solid buy for the fan and newcomer alike.