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By The Hands Of The Tyrant - 90%

EspadaNegra, March 1st, 2013

One may say that Satan's Host is one of those 80's bands that have found a resurgence in the new millennium, sometimes even finding the due recognition they didn't receive back then. Well, yes and no. In one way, the return of Satan's Host with original vocalist Harry Conklin has gained the attention of the metal world, because of the cult status of their 1986 album, Metal From Hell. However, as the band as a whole is concerned, it is not actually a complete “return” for them. Long story short, Satan's Host was the band Harry Conklin joined after Jag Panzer's first break up. After the “Midnight Wind” EP in 1987, Harry went on to found Titan Force, and Satan's Host went on a very long hiatus.

They actually came back in 2000 with a new vocalist, and a very different musical approach. From the classic metal band it was, Satan's Host transformed into a black metal band, releasing five albums and a live DVD from 2000 to 2010. So, the comeback was actually more than ten years ago. However, the band stayed in the underground black metal scene in the USA, probably distancing some of the classic metal crowd with their new sound. Honestly, I have heard very little from this lineup, but the little I have listened to sounds like some very macabre and decent black metal (I am not a big fan of black metal, but I can appreciate it).

In any case, the recent excitement about Satan's Host is that in 2011 Harry Conklin came back after Jag Panzer's recent break up. It is not uncommon nowadays for a classic, underground band to resurface in the digital age and sound just as amazing as they did before. But in this case, the story is different: they actually sound better than before. And that is what brings us to “By The Hands Of The Devil”, the first album with this lineup. One could have expected them to just go back to the classic “true” metal style that has become more prevalent in the past decade, and that could have been cool. However, they could not deny their black metal resurgence, so one would think there is an impasse. On the one hand you got a band that has been playing black metal for the past ten plus years, and on the other hand one of the most memorable and beloved vocalists of the heavy metal/power metal world. So, what do they decide to do? Of course...mix power metal with black metal, duh!

What?!

Yes, if we are fixated with putting names on things, the best description for what you hear in this album is just that: blackened power metal. You may ask: is that even possible?! Well, don't ask me and listen.

By the time I am writing this review, so much has already been said about this album, some hailing it as THE best release of 2011. I can't say for sure, I didn't really listen to many things from that year, but it doesn't seem implausible to me.

What we got here, as I said, is a sort of hybrid between power metal and black metal. You got the constant barrage of blackened drums assaulting your ears, but you also got a sensitivity for lead guitar work, some progressive elements in terms of song structure and progression, and killer, clean solos. One minute you got the black metal blast (along with a classic high pitch scream), and the next you got the mid paced lead guitar work, then it punches you in the face again with fast tempos...its great.

While it is not completely unheard of to mix heavy metal sensibilities and pure black metal destruction, there is something to be said about what is going on here. Off the top of my mind I can think of the band “I”, which is a side project of Abbath, Immortal's vocalist, which in many aspects was a hybrid sound. From a more speed/power side, I think of Seven Kingdom's first album, which had thrashy and power metal lines connecting very well with extreme vocalization, and one song on that album is a take on the possibility of marrying power/speed with black metal (the song “Winter Comes”). But, what we got in “By The Hands Of The Devil” is not the innovation of thinking about the concept...but executing it flawlessly.

The songs in this album are constantly testing your ears and pulling your attention to it. Every song has its own personality and evolution, but with this I don't mean inconsistency. On the contrary, every song feels like the logical next step of what this sound can bring to the table. That's what makes it so special: it sounds like the most successful scientific experiment you have witnessed. It can't be said enough: after this I cannot wait for what they are going to bring us next.

All of this and I haven't even talked about the vocals. I could say: well, what you'd expect from Harry Conklin Yeah...but its still an understatement. Conklin is one of the best and most dynamic true metal vocalists, and his appearance on this album forms a part of the whole. He does high pitched metal screams, and sometimes shows how well he can do the demonic, black metal growl, when needed and when it works in favor of the song. His vocals are spot on, right up there with the best he has done with Panzer, and they are of the top distinctive elements of what this album offers.

As for the lyrics, they haven't changed much from the 80s. Satan worship at its cheesiest and finest, and great to sing along, even if you happen to not be in a satanic ritual at the time, and just waiting to catch the next train. I have to mention though, that as a bonus track they did a version of The Beatles' song “Norwegian Wood”, with appropriate satanic lyrics, which I just found hilarious. Its definitely a metal version, buy just imagining the original mellow version, but with these lyrics, is the icing on an already artery-clogging cake.

As a side note, I originally thought that in a live set, they wouldn't play much of their arsenal from the black metal period. However, I was dead wrong. I learned that they released a 25 anniversary compilation album called Celebration: For The Love Of Satan, which includes two new songs and re-recorded versions of old songs, from the Metal From Hell period and the black metal period. For most people who have never listened to their black metal material, hearing them now (and with Harry on vocals) can almost feel like a follow up album to “By The Hands Of The Devil”, so definitely check it out. In many ways they are making this sound even more concrete, so that is definitely another gem and great companion to the album reviewed here.

Favorite songs: Before The Flame, Demontia, Revival, Fallen Angel

Honorable mention: Black Hilted Knife, Norwegian Wood

Originally reviewed for METALURGIA (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Metalurgia-Radio-Huelga/213957288624946?fref=ts)