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This is by far the best thing I’ve ever just bought at random at a record shop. Steel Prophet is an American band thugging out some seriously cool old school USPM, with shades of Crimson Glory, Helstar, Fates Warning and of course Iron Maiden popping up here and there throughout the runtime of their third album Dark Hallucinations. What really surprised me about this was how unified the band sounded – it’s a very tight, hooky album that sounds like it was made by professionals, and the whole thing has its own identity and style to it. Despite never really breaking out of the confines of its style or implementing any truly original musical elements, Steel Prophet deliver a Grade A album of classic traditional metal.
These guys just “get it” about metal – the guitar riffing, the vocal lines; they just have it going on in terms of knowing what is so great about classic metal. Blistering, complex opener “Montag” with its frenetic vocal lines and a few parts where the drums take over, is an atypical way to start the album, but it will wake you up and keep your attention. Further tracks like the propulsive, complex power metal of “New Life” and the shimmering speed metal of “Strange Encounter” have a Crimson Glory sleekness to them balanced out with some Maiden guitar harmonies to make for a potpourri of influences. Later on the album gets more aggressive with the old school power/thrash chugging mayhem of the hostile “Look What You’ve Done” and “Scarred for Life,” which thrashes out with some serious gusto. All of these songs are unique, entertaining and different, each one becoming your favorite for a few spins as the album sinks in.
Rick Mythiasin’s vocals are crystal-clear and high pitched, but he can also go into a sort of James Rivera-style thrash vocal as well as some Dickinson in the midrange singing. One of the coolest moments on the album vocally is in “The Secret,” where Mythiasin layers over himself on one of the last choruses with an awesome Midnight-esque wail – seriously just badass. The guitars from Jon Pons and Steve Kachinsky are nimble and dexterous, winging out classic-style riffs that soar, gallop and chug with equal propensity for melody – they can pretty much do anything on this album and all the songs have good riffs. The instrumental breaks in some of the longer tracks like “Betrayed” and “We Are Not Alone,” which sometimes get very mellow and contrast with the high-speed ball-busting of the rest of the album, are really well done. Drummer Pat Magrath is a standout of the album, and I usually don’t even pay attention to drums – but his complex and entertaining rhythms make the songs sound more urgent and energized than they would otherwise.
Lyrically half the album is a metal adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I haven’t read the book in years, but the way this album tells it, I kind of want to pick it up again. The sci-fi dystopian tale of a future where books are illegal because they provoke fantastical, unrealistic thoughts translates well to metal. After all, isn’t that kind of analogious to heavy metal as a whole – these feelings of being outcast, of being on the fringe of mainstream entertainment, of being persecuted and left behind while those with less talent move forward? Of course, the Bradbury story is more exaggerated – but the feeling and intent behind using this tale in particular should also be noted.
Elsewhere they spin tales of drug abuse and disenfranchised youth and aliens – pretty typical of USPM but not badly done at all, and the guys do have a way with words that makes the lyrics interesting to read.
The album ends with a cover of Fates Warning’s “The Apparition,” which is pretty much exactly like the original one, so it’s not really all that exciting. Of course it’s a classic song though, and Mythiasin does a perfect impression of John Arch – and I also like that the song, done as well as it is here, points out the band’s obvious loyalty to old, arcane heavy metal. They know their shit and have a serious dedication to the best things about heavy metal. And it’s awesome.
I’m just enamored with this. For high octane, complex and engaging heavy metal Dark Hallucinations is total fucking classic stuff – it’s up there with the best post-80s heavy metal released and I can’t get enough of it. I’ve been checking out some of the other Steel Prophet albums, and – as if I was attuned to the fates – they’ve actually recently come out with a new album with Mythiasin back on vocals, just in time for me to get into it. This is still my favorite so far, though. Highly recommended to fans of old school metal.
Can somebody explain me how can a band that have been for the best part of their career hiding in the shadow of Iron Maiden, releasing lacklustre after lacklustre album for the past 5 years at least, have made THIS?
The moment this kicks in, you are served to a down your spine brutal thrash riff that bands like Testament and Nevermore would kill to have, then you are immediately transported to something that resembles Iron Maiden, only it sounds million times better.
"It is a pleasure to burn", and you are hooked, amazed by the endless talent that Mythiasin is and always will be. Then you say: "It can't be though, I have heard these very guitarists, I have heard this drummer before, I have heard this fucking band before, they can't DO this".
Oh yes they can. Before you had time to think how cool the start was, the Iron Maiden part is over, and you are sent back to the good old heavy 80s: It sounds like The Legacy from Testament is all over here again. More than three melody changes? In a Steel Prophet song? Wait... you have not even seen the rest yet! Because more of this will keep on and then BANG! A solo begins... And trust me, you never thought that those guys could play so well, in fact you never thought that a guitar solo could ever sound SO fucking good. You just stand there sitting and listening, nailed to the same spot that found you with the amazing beggining.
And you won't make any move apart from the occasional unstoppable urge to headband to what is an amazing release that will remain untopped not only from Steel Prophet themselves, but any other metal band out there. Simply put, there are few albums out there that can capture such an aggressiveness, such an emotion, such a true heavy metal feeling, and top it with such an execution, such talent and such inspiration.
Some bands make their mark in history just with a single album, an album that is a benchmark for all others. For Steel Prophet, Dark Hallucinations is this very album; a masterpiece, above and beyond stuff like any thrash, heavy power or progressive metal band would ever dream for. And sometimes it makes me wonder: Since those guys at Steel Prophet COULD do this, why have they wasted all their lives in the shadow of the repetitive, uninspired, boring Iron Maiden? Couldn't they have found something better to do all those years? Perhaps teach those idiots in other bands how METAL is really written, like they did with Dark Hallucinations?
I love this goddamn album, but it's never talked about among Steel Prophet fans often. It's always Messiah this, or Book of the Dead that. This is my favorite of theirs, and in fact the only album they've done that I can listen to regularly. It's better than most of their standard power metal fare, as it's part speed metal, part power metal, part thrash, even kind of progressive in places. Best of all, they don't forget that they're HEAVY metal. The album opens right up with a heavy opener, "Montag", which opens up kind of standard trad metalish with some monstrous drumming until it breaks into dual melodies on guitars, and when the song gets going, Rick & crew send the adrenaline rushing through your veins. "It's a pleasuuure...to BURN!" Greatest opening line I've heard in who knows how long! In case you're wondering what "Montag" means, this is a concept album, as the lyrics are based on Ray Bradbury's book Fahrenheit 451 (a very good book, I might add). It's all very well written here, never really toeing the line of cheesiness, and the lyrics are done vaguely enough so that you can appreciate them without having read the book. Some tracks like New Life are beautiful, mellow parts that get heavier occasionally, while other songs like Strange Encounter are all-out speedfests. Plenty of versatility here, with very strong musicianship to back it up and great attention to songwriting. Of course, Rick Mythiasin's Dickinson-esque vocals are terrific, and he's not yet in the Bruce-worshipping mode that some fans criticise him for on later releases. All in all, a terrific and dark release of somewhat technical power/thrash that must be checked out.