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Everybody shut up, I found the new "thing" - 94%

BastardHead, May 2nd, 2017

Every year, there's a new traditionally styled heavy metal band that just takes MA inexplicably by storm. Last year Sumerlands and Eternal Champion fought for the title, the year prior it was Visigoth, and before then we had In Solitude, Portrait, Hell, Briton Rites, et cetera forever. It's always fun to see who the new "flavor of the year" is going to be, because I get caught up in the hype as well and wind up liking damn near every band that wins the Fluke New Old School Hit Sweepstakes. Well last month, the signs start showing as I notice the burgeoning hype train for Satan's Hallow. Considering they're from my home(ish)town, I figured I better get the jump on them. Y'all know my predilection for anything from Chicago or the surrounding areas (it's how I found out Smash Potater was actually awesome and not some effortless joke, for example). Plus, it's important to me to predict their eventual overtaking of High Spirits as the current Cult Heroes of Chicago if they're really that good.

Yeah holy fucking Christ on a cracker, Satan's Hallow delivers.

I was taken aback in the opening seconds. I like old school heavy metal as well as anybody, but man there's always something special when you can catch a band that so distinctly nails the sounds and idiosyncrasies of the decade without falling into the traps of easy cliches. No way, Satan's Hallow sounds straight out of the early 80s, but not because they're just tracing over an already-successful painting. This self titled debut is a work of art in its own right, merely taking the foundation of early trad metal in the vein of Judas Priest and Accept and just punching it in the face as hard as possible as opposed to just dressing up in a costume and ripping them off instead. It's such a basic thing but a surprising amount of bands somehow completely drop the ball in that regard.

Anyway, the important thing here is that these dudes bring it hard. One thing that stands out right off the bat are the vocals, which are drawing a lot of comparisons to Warlock and the assorted bands that burst through the floodgates opened by Doro Pesch based entirely on the fact that the band is female fronted. Now, a similarity is there, don't get me wrong, but Martillo here takes a slightly different approach that warrants a distinction. She doesn't belt out quite as hard or as rough as Doro may, but she makes up for it with sheer energy and enthusiasm. There's a very tight and nearly imperceptible falsetto to a lot of these screams, which adds to the completely unhinged nature of the music. It's like she's just about to fall apart completely, she's singing her heart out in such a manic and Heavy Fucking Metal way, I love everything about it. It's very theatrical, much like David Bower from Hell.

In fact, Hell is a very good comparison for the band in general. That theatricality of the band is showcased in every aspect while managing to remain grounded and unpretentious. Think Iron Maiden at their best. The bass is prominent and gallops liberally, while guitar melodies float above every song like a marionette's strings, guiding and propelling the band forwards at every opportunity. There's a damn evil atmosphere here as well, just languidly hanging over the music in a way that complements the journey as opposed to wrestling the propulsive heavy metal out of the spotlight, just everything they do somehow hits bullseye.

I don't want to keep comparing this to obvious classic bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, but I'll be damned if the influence isn't strong and the quality isn't comparable. Listen to "Still Alive". That's straight up a lost Maiden track from the Powerslave sessions. Listen to "Hot Passion". That's straight up a lost Priest track from the Defenders of the Faith sessions. Listen to "Choir of the Cursed", that's straight up a lost Mercyful Fate track from the Melissa sessions. I could do this all night, these guys own their influences with aplomb. There are no apologies to be found anywhere here, it's just straight ahead, bare-knuckle heavy metal overflowing with solos and a boatload of attitude. I can't even fault it for nearly every song sounding the same (with the exception of "Still Alive", which takes a slower and more atmospheric approach), because they all completely smoke. The furious closer, "Beyond the Bells" currently stands as my favorite track, but I feel like it could change at a moment's notice, considering I think "Reaching for the Night", "Hot Passion", "Black Angel", and damn near every other song is equally as strong.

I can't stop gushing, this is everything an old school metalhead should want. Guitar pyrotechnics, more melodies than I can even begin to fathom, a frantic and wild vocal performance, and some of the strongest songwriting I've heard since Visigoth first crushed my skull two years ago. I know it's early in the year, but this is already a serious contender for Album of the Year. I've heard good albums this year, I've heard some damn good albums in 2017, but only Satan's Hallow has so far delivered so strongly that I had to pencil it in for the top spot. Charging riffs, immutable attitude, unapologetic energy, and super tight songwriting that delivers a loose, fun, and undeniably raw experience. Get on this hype train, I'm the fucking conductor now.

Also we really need to talk about how much the bassist looks like Lloyd Christmas.


Originally written for Lair of the Bastard