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Well executed heavy metal - 90%

Akerthorpe, August 30th, 2018

Sacred Leather’s “Ultimate Force” shows that sometimes there is truth in a title. This is pure heavy metal heaven! Vibes from classic heavy metal and hair metal all the way to elements of power metal can be found throughout this album. This is my introduction to the band and I definitely like what I am hearing. Everything about this release is spot on. From the layout, to the artwork speaks volumes about the effort the band has put into this release. Very few bands have the ability to integrate everything into one total and extremely impressive experience, but Sacred Leather do it quite well. It is evident that the guitarists are confident in their abilities and you can tell from the presentation of the riffs that true heavy metal runs through their veins. The solos are intriguing as well, mesmerizing the listener with a superb demonstration of talent that long gone heroes of the six string axe would envy.

The drum work is fairly standard and traditional, yet played with a similar ferocity and passion that you would find in a thrash or death metal band. Yes, obviously those styles are different, but the same mindset is there. Definitely some of the best drumming from this genre this year. This performance is sure to make its rounds in the underground metal scene. The bass serves its purpose quite well, but could have been mixed a little higher for my taste. Still though, the finished product doesn’t suffer at all and the mixing of the bass is a personal preference. To me, I think it would make the whole presentation that much more in your face. However, if this were the case, this release would be down your throat choking the life from you!

The vocals are amazing here, and just about as traditional as you can get for this genre. The vocalist has a good range and his voice is filled with tons of melody. There’s a great sense of fluency as well. He definitely sings from the soul and exerts extreme passion with every note sang. This album is reminiscent of bands like Savatage, old Iron Maiden, old Iced Earth, Dokken, and other similar bands. Everything is well planned with precise execution. Heavy metal could definitely use more bands like Sacred Leather.

Penultimate force - 68%

gasmask_colostomy, May 14th, 2018

If a band claims to hold leather sacred, it’s odds on that they’ll be fans of the ‘80s, not least the version of the ‘80s as portrayed by Saxon and Judas Priest. Having said that, a glance at the track titles on Ultimate Force also reveals 'Power Thrust', while the bandmembers have nicknames like JJ Highway and Carloff Blitz, which surely imply some tongue-in-cheek irreverence. Oddly enough, vocalist Dee Wrathchild turns out to be none other than Dustin Boltjes, a drummer best known for his past work with Skeletonwitch, not to mention three of the line-up also featuring in black ‘n’ roll outfit Kvlthammer. However, the seven songs on Sacred Leather’s debut full-length show an adherence to the template of the aforementioned ‘80s legends, with very little deviation from the well-known formula except for a sight dalliance with Iron Maiden’s power metal tendencies around the time of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. That means that listeners will enjoy an abundance of melodies, some wistful leads, soaring high-pitched vocals, and pounding rhythms that strongly encourage foot-stomping.

And that’s about it, really. Not to say that Ultimate Force is poor, but there’s certainly the feeling of having heard this before. Imagine listening to a mixtape of Iron Maiden, Queensryche, and Omen while standing in a smoky room late at night after a great gig. If you like those bands, you’ll probably stick around to the end of the album; if not, chances are that you’d rather go straight to bed, because being at the gig tired you out. The effect is the same here. Sacred Leather show a familiarity with the tricks of the trade and handle their instruments perfectly well, though they can’t quite produce the energy and inspiration that would turn decent tunes into a great album. This is particularly obvious on such a stripped-back album as this, peddling just 41 minutes of heavy metal with little hint of excess ideas despite the presence of two longer songs.

To break Sacred Leather down into their constituent parts, the clearest influence is to be seen in the twin guitar playing, since the lead tone is sometimes pinched directly from Iron Maiden’s Powerslave days, even if it wavers closer to ‘70s Scorpions during the long ballad 'Dream Searcher'. The riffs bear a slightly different mark despite indulging in some triplet patterns, lunging like Judas Priest in hard rock mode during 'Power Thrust' and laying down memorable riff intervals on 'The Lost Destructor', which is the opening part of the double bill closing track. The bass features heavily in the build-up to that song, though is generally played warmly yet sparingly by Magnus LeGrand, chugging along nicely during 'Master Is Calling' in totally audible fashion, while the drums (handled not by Boltjes, but by a man known as Jailhouse, which must make introductions rather awkward) thump and jump around the riffs with the necessary precision, though rarely clobber the listener into submission. The vocals are surprisingly vintage given the history of the musician responsible and, while mostly hitting the right notes, are probably pitched a little too high to have the impact desired, something that their softening in the mix highlights all the more.

Due to the mix of influences shown over the course of Ultimate Force, each song displays a slightly different element of the band’s sound. 'Prowling Sinner' applies the heaviest dose of speed after a clean introduction, while the title track also ups the ante in terms of excitement; 'Power Thrust' provides a simpler, raunchier take on the formula. The epics work out rather differently from one another, proving both the weakest and strongest points of the album, seeing as 'Dream Searcher' is too long and too earnest for the emotional resonance aimed at, while 'The Lost Destructor/Priest of the Undoer' manages to display both hooks and explorative playing before the hazy guitar soloing forms a suitable end to the release. If 'Dream Searcher' were cut down to a more manageable length or the ballad elements were used as an introduction to a more progressive piece, there would be little to complain about in terms of song choice and structure.

Thus, it’s tough to say whether or not Sacred Leather deliver the goods on Ultimate Force. If your idea of a great album is classic metal done well and without too much extra, there shouldn’t be any grumbles about 'Watcher' or 'Prowling Sinner', though if you were hoping for anything outside the box, you’re probably better checking out the new Ihsahn album. Nevertheless, whatever your enjoyment of the songs and decent musicianship shown here, there must be a part of you that knows Sacred Leather haven’t made it to the top of the pile quite yet. This is a solid start, but there’s still a lot of work for Sacred Leather to do to reach the standards set by their pseudonyms.


Originally written for The Metal Observer - http://www.metal-observer.com/3.o/review/sacred-leather-ultimate-force/

The blinding lust. - 70%

GrizzlyButts, March 13th, 2018

Indiana based throwback heavy metal act Sacred Leather might feature ex-members of extreme metal acts like Coffinworm and Skeletonwitch but their debut album ‘Ultimate Force’ takes the pulpit with the spirit of heavy metal’s pubescent early 80’s panache. Though it occasionally echoes the ass-slappin’ rock of 80’s Judas Priest or Manowar on the surface ‘Ultimate Force’ has the dynamic of true 80’s heavy metal locked down well beyond campy retro pop-metal resemblance. The deeper layers of Sacred Leather reveal an album structured closely to classic metal albums like Omen‘s ‘Warning of Danger’ ( complete with 4th track extended ballad ) Tyrant‘s speed metal infused ‘Too Late to Pray’ and Hexx‘s ‘No Escape’. At any rate if they aimed for an authentic representation of 80’s US heavy metal and early power metal they nailed it.

The anchor for ‘Ultimate Force’ is vocalist Dee Wrathchild (aka Dustin Boltjes) who was up until very recently the drummer for thrash band Skeletonwitch as well as founding member of long-silent thrash band Demiricous. His wailing echoes King Diamond‘s performances on early Mercyful Fate records, specifically channeling ‘Don’t Break the Oath’ but with greater restraint in terms of theatrics. The compositions sort of rest in that 1985-88 era where thrash denial was real but bands like Hellion, Manilla Road and even Manowar all began to kick up the speed metal in heavy doses. But uh, ballads were still a thing and “Dream Searcher” is an eight minute centerpiece to test your steel in terms of schlock, I found it derivative in terms of balladry but Wrathchild‘s vocals reach commendable peaks throughout as he rests right in between 80’s cheese hard rock and heavy metal power.

The real force of nature beyond the inspired vocal performances of the first half of ‘Ultimate Force’ is the lead guitar work throughout. Within seconds of the album’s first howl impressive period specific lead guitar work dominates the Sacred Leather‘s voice in the same way Andy LaRoque and Denner/Blakk’s dual guitar heroism held their own on early King Diamond records. In fact the combo of opener “Ultimate Force” and “Watcher” feel like they were pulled kicking and screaming from the hallowed tracklist of ‘Abigail’ or ‘Them’. Though the vocals are somewhat subdued after “Dream Searcher” the lead guitars are relentless in adding interest to otherwise standard heavy metal tracks. The album might be obviously a bit front loaded in terms of it’s strengths but as a full listen it all balances out without becoming a generic blur of 80’s noise.

‘Ultimate Force’ is absolutely a hype-worthy traditional heavy metal release for 2018 if not only because of it’s authentic sound and powerful first half. Not only is it an inspiring nod to 80’s metal nostalgia but also a good jumping off point for folks who might be interested in exploring the redeeming guitar work and powerful vocalists of orthodox heavy metal past and present. Anyhow, I liked it enough that I bought a shirt and that is the biggest compliment I give any band.

Attribution: https://grizzlybutts.com/2018/03/12/sacred-leather-ultimate-force-2018-review/

Bloody Swords on Wicked Wheels - 80%

Twisted_Psychology, February 26th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Cruz del Sur Music

If you’re familiar at all with Sacred Leather of Indianapolis, it’s likely due to lead vocalist Dee Wrathchild, better known in the metal world as drummer Dustin Boltjes of Skeletonwitch and Demiricous. In a way similar to multi-instrumentalist journeyman Snowy Shaw, he proves to be just as talented at classic metal howling as he is at extreme metal timekeeping. Influences ranging from Halford to Tate are abound as a wide range and charisma are consistently boasted.

But even looking past their vocalist, Sacred Leather’s debut album is deeply rooted in 80s traditions handed down by Judas Priest, Grim Reaper, and Savatage among others. The guitar riffs are choppy yet precise, the drums allow some power metal rhythms to come through, and the production job has more reverb than your typical revivalist outfit. The performances and presentations are incredibly over the top but thankfully you won’t find any piss takes or parody elements on here. It’s not super serious stuff, but it’s clearly done out of loving passion for the genre.

This love is further reflected in the songwriting as many a classic metal trope are recreated over Ultimate Force’s seven tracks. As expected, most songs such as “Power Thrust” and “Prowling Sinner” aim for an upbeat execution complete with tight gallops, wailing lead vocals and some testosterone-friendly backing shouts. Thankfully, there are some neat outliers such as the nine minute closer “The Lost Destructor/Priest of the Undoer” and “Dream Searcher,” the latter of which is an honest to god power ballad. It’s quite a rarity to see a ballad performed in this over the top style, especially one with such a degree of sincerity.

Overall, Sacred Leather may still need to fine tune their songwriting to reach the pantheon of traditional metal, but their charismatic performances and authentic production style will endear them to fans of the genre. Much like the recent successes of Cauldron and Satan’s Hallow, it’s nice to see a band be able to emulate a somewhat antiquated style without any of that modern cynicism getting in the way. It’s a great soundtrack to any metal party, especially if it’s accompanied by a muted retro horror flick.

Highlights:
“Power Thrust”
“Master is Calling”
“Prowling Sinner”
“The Lost Destructor/Priest of the Undoer”

Originally published at http://indymetalvault.com

(Insert Bristling And Prowling Panther Snarl Here) - 78%

CHAIRTHROWER, February 23rd, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Cruz del Sur Music

Signed with the irreproachable Cruz del Sur Music record label, Indianapolis' Sacred Leather released today its first actual full-length CD (following a handful of sneak-previews i.e. a split venture with Kvlthammer as well as an EP cassette, live album and a couple of singles, one of which is raucously titled “Love Me Like A Reptile”), Ultimate Force, topping out at forty-odd minutes and comprised of seven rather extensive tracks ranging between four and ten minutes.

First things first: except for during the token albeit meekly pawing power ballad, Skeletonwitch’s Dee Wrathchild, with his wraith-like upper-ranged vocals, is a dead-ringer for Metalian’s front man – especially on the lead-choked titular opener - while even evoking Portrait’s first crier on the succeeding “Watcher”, notably before the gang shouted chorus amidst a slap style drum beat and staccato guitar patter. One thing in particular Sacred Leather has going for it is its 1980s style lo-fi level of production, which allows Magnus LeGrand’s steady-handed bass and “Jailhouse”’s locked-in and boxy, Ambush-like drums to prominently resound. Speaking of which, the guitarists, JJ Highway and Carloff Blitz adhere to windmill-ing power chords and stocky palm-muted riffing as well as slow, sordidly drawn-out leads which bring to mind said modern-day Swedes while their guitar tones proper reek of Stained Class era Priest. (Hence, I take back the rude public statement I made the other day in regards to the band’s appeal.)

Dig the festively unfolding gatecrasher of a guitar solo ripping open the title track or the commanding with a capital “C” manner in which Wrathchild kicks off his vocal lines on the deadly, slightly-below-mid tempo pressure cooker “Power Thrust”:

"I am the chill that twists your spine
Piercing your soul now it's all mine
Dripping lust between your thighs
Fate and desire in your cries!"

Picture him currishly eyeing the crowd while stretching out his arm and pointing in a semi-circle like he was Halford himself. Wow! I’m now ready to forgive him and the band for their lackluster performance on the eight-minute soporific snoozer, “Dream Searcher” (the less said the better in its regards). Another track which compels me to crush a downed can of Coors against my forehead and loudly yell “Bring it on!" is the bass heavy and triplet-based “Master Is Calling” thanks to its introductory Judas Priest-like warp drive/cosmic synthesizer embellishment and above all, glorious lead trade-off section which homes in from all directions like a humming bee.

"Les gros chats" continue to play on the equally top-heavy albeit rampant and melodic “Prowling Sinner” as it forcefully lives up to its namesake (following a mellow acoustic build-up) whilst the closer and longest track, “The Lost Destructor/Priest of the Undoer”, constitutes an atmospheric, rattle propelled tour-de-force which makes the most of its nine and a half minutes of incremental drum fills, spark-plug harmonics, jabbing mini-leads and overall mind-bending vocal pirouettes. Suffice to say, had the band wisely bowdlerized the inept ballad sitting at the fourth spot in the rotation and solely heralded this captivating finale as its token “epic”, I’d have rated Ultimate Force higher.

Sacred Leather is certainly worth checking out, even sticking around for if you dig no-frills traditional heavy metal such as the bands mentioned above as well as further chock-rockers in the vein of Savage Master, Bullet and Stallion. In regards to a potential sophomore release, hopefully these cats tighten their belts and avoid unnecessary filler while keeping to what they do best – namely, hard-driving humdingers such as the ones making up the better part of this album.

Originally written for www.grande-rock.com