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A jackal in sheep's clothing - 87%

Gutterscream, March 9th, 2007
Written based on this version: 1986, 12" vinyl, Cobra Records

“…the pain and the glory, the fight and the shame, sinners beware of the night…”

Apparently enamored with the Omen flicks from ’76-’81, Chicago’s Damien Thorne are easily more speed than thrash, more traditional than speed, and visually more prissy than portentous even while wearing all the leather they own (and are more cream puff yet in the back cover shot), but that doesn’t stop them from concocting a musical script that’s both uncommon and unorthodox, yet powerfully engineered. Simply, the band is unambiguously underestimated – at the least a sideshow band in the eyes of the scene, in the weeds near the road well traveled, and is a consummate sleeper of ‘80s metal. An undeserved grave, but Sign of the Jackal finds resurrection with each spin in newbie presence.

With a dusky, nearing night demeanor, the quintet animates its tunes with a songwriting prestige and intrigue that in other bands sometimes sounds forced or coerced. With DT, all seems natural and instinctive, even when brow-raising structures and epic hooks are located as if found abandoned on metal’s battleground of creativity, gathered up by the group, and then sewn together after torturing themselves with whatever albums in their lives have bored them to tears. In roaming the field, they seldom come in contact with the progressive or technical planes and skirt confrontations with thrash’s unshaven barbarians. While this sounds about as multi-dimensional as a game of Steal the Bacon, what the band does best, unequivocally, is brandish the traditional metal sword often enough that everyone around knows where their flag of preference flaps.

As a single entity, The Sign of the Jackal is strangely classy, possibly more so than, say, Omen’s wonderful first, yet only in the sense that Thorne’s debut is gifted with a few more layers of daring and obtrusive songwriting. In fact, forget Omen. A contrast much more fitting falls on Tyrant (US), right around the time their hardly humble Too Late to Pray lp bent its knees to the scene. Though less caliginous and more melodic than the California four-piece, the atmosphere these two bands billow are similarly shaped and consistent, sharing a cocksure style that’s unafraid to tattoo that battleship on its chest. Rhythms melodic, devious, and stand off-ish churn with elegant might and are hardly ever erroneous as they’re hatched and placed. Even voxman Justin Fate foams with heresy somewhere between diabolic Glen May and scarlet ’84-‘85 Jon Oliva, and like that pair is capable of sending notes into cloud cover, summoning ghostly King Diamond/Don’t Break the Oath-era paint-peelers as echoed in “The Ritual”, “Hell’s Reign”, and the doom-shadowed title cut.

Hair trigger tracks like “Siren’s Call” and “Fear of the Dark” live closest to the progressive realm, their gait and style charging beyond the steady medium pace of the other tracks, yet are far enough away to still be considered on its outskirts. A top draw like “Escape or Die” throws a bit of drama into the ring; unusual timing shifts while it jogs in the median, stable and standard, then pounces with a glory-hammered chorus. In the meantime, “Damien’s Procession (March of the Undead)”, the album’s ‘epic’, strides under a long canopy of tempo and timing changes, interacting with structures that rise and fall, bloat and dilute, but never lose sight of the ball that’s being traditionally thrown around.

In order for albums like these to tread water in the river of superior recordings, musicianship can never be bare bones and by and large should transcend mere competency. Guitarists Ken Starr and Michael Monroe (no, not the dip from Hanoi Rocks) are wholly capable talents that perform in such low-key pizzazz it’s not hard to lose sight of them amidst their unconventionally conventional voice. And despite being in the back cover shot, B. Hurak, not Pete Pagonis, mans the drums on this album, and does so with exceptional strength of arm.

Unfortunately, the production is flat like a bus driver’s ass.

Without a sore spot to be had, The Sign of the Jackal is one of those albums I can uncommonly sit entirely through without reaching for another. Damien Thorne. I still think it’s a pretty cool name, even if some fictional devil’s child got tagged with it first.