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Satan > Cruel Magic > Reviews
Satan - Cruel Magic

Bright Spots In Some Places, Dark Voids In Others - 64%

Rowan_Mc, May 30th, 2021

Though I am not all too familiar with this particular NWOBHM outfit, I can only respect their contributions to the genre, especially in their early days. On this 2018 installment, however, I feel something lacking that maybe makes their 80s releases more appealing.

Firstly, Brian Ross's vocal performance is none to savory or memorable in my opinion. The first thoughts that come to mind is that Brian sounds like a diet Glenn Danzig, Danzig Lite if you will. The problem with this is that the album ends up being like listening to static age without that vocal energy and charisma that you find with Danzig. His performance as a whole was fine I suppose, there aren't really any clear mistakes that jump out at you, but it carries an issue synonymous with the rest of the album. Plainly put, it's kind of boring. His problems on this album are really exemplified by the second track, Cruel Magic, as it feels like Ross doesn't want to try to step out of the stagnant box of his vocal range.

Usually drums are one of my favorite parts of listening to a new album, as I enjoy seeing what kind of tone a band can create with the kit to contribute to the album, but these drums just suck. The snare sticks out like a sore thumb and doesn't blend well with the rest of the kit, additionally the use of the cowbell on songs like Cruel Magic was just unnecessary and annoying.

Similar to the vocals, the guitar tone sounded absolutely devoid of life and was extremely boring. There's not really much of anything to the tone, it sounds like perhaps a slightly thicker version of the guitar on Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues". It is, however, nice to hear that classic dual guitar sound that takes you back to that nice NWOBHM sound. Additionally, what the guitars lack in character, they do at times make up for with technical acuity. The ascending riff accompanied by a series of pull-offs on Legions Hellbound, for example, was a joy to listen to, as was most of the track. The soft reverb section toward the middle was amazing, and the short solo that accompanied it was reminiscent of a sound that's been gone for about 40 years. At the same time, however, the riffs can also be intensely boring, like on the opener Into the Mouth of Eternity and Cruel Magic. Both seem very uninspired and are an awful way to open the album. The main riff on the opener especially makes me think of some tired melody I could find on Death Magnetic.

The bass has a similarly uninteresting tone to it, though it works much better for the bass than on the guitars. Overall the bass serves as an important character in the supporting cast of the album, and isn't written in a boring "follow the guitar" manner. The bass actually has a really satisfying pop to it, and it isn't hard to find when you listen to the album, which is really refreshing to see that it has an important role in setting the groove, and only further relates the album to some of the original genius that came with the original 80s heavy metal scene.

The album has some fine bright spots, specifically on The Doomsday Clock, Legions Hellbound, and Death Knell for a King. The latter song is plainly awesome, and has an invigorating open that a lot of tracks on the album simply don't have. It avoids the issue common with this album, which is that it can be really hard to be initially drawn in by a great number of its songs. Something interesting to think about is that all three of these songs are all very interesting lyrically as well as musically. I wouldn't go as far as to say that there is some direct relationship with interesting lyrics and good tracks on the album, but they do certainly contribute to the tracks as a whole. The story to The Doomsday Clock is actually amazing, and is probably my favorite track on the album. We are first given this nice acoustic intro before bring thrown into the this mesmerizing tale of a man being sent back in time seemingly to attempt to ease the tensions in the world that will lead to apocalyptic destruction in his present time. Well long story short, once he returns to the present he finds that nothing has changed, and the doomsday clock now points to midnight, he is unable to save mankind.

Legions Hellbound continues this theme of warfare, and though it is ultimately unclear, I'd like to imagine that these The Doomsday Clock and Legions Hellbound are connected into the same story. Legions Hellbound tells of a massive war nearing its end, and the brave soldiers about to face their glory or their doom. Prior to the climax, the song sends a chilling message to the soldiers not to fear pain or death, because if they lose there will be noone left to grieve them. Both Doomsday and Legions have very creative stories that are a delight to listen to, though I wish that it extended to other aspects of the album.

Death Knell for a King once again returns to this violent imagery, where a people's revolution is set to bring the end, both literally and metaphorically, a corrupt king who has ruled as a tyrant over them for too long. I personally don't enjoy this song as much lyrically as I do the previous two mentioned, but Death Knell fills the listener with this heroic sense that they can do anything. It's a truly triumphant song and shows exactly what the album should or could have been as a whole.

Overall, this album is unfortunately inconsistent. Maybe it comes from a diverse range of musical sound that just didn't pan out well, I don't know, but I do know that this record is quite the roller coaster. The album really suffers do to the worst tracks being at the beginning and end of the album. It's like there's an interesting album being disguised as a shit sandwich. The title track in particular deserves another mention for how awful it is. Just about every imperfection found on this album is best apparent on that track. The vocal performance, especially towards the chorus is just annoying and uninteresting, the main riff is boring, and like I said before, the cowbell from the kit is just annoying on this track. I would probably say that the first two tracks on the album were the worst that the album has to offer, but this does not stop Ghosts of Monongah and Mortality from serving as an unfulfilling and unsatisfying close to the album. Mortality in particular is overwhelmingly boring, and has a vocal performance which reminds me of the title track quite a bit. With Mortality, there is not satisfying climax, no exciting finish, just a six minute drone that besides a semi interesting increase in pace towards the finish probably would've been better being left out of the project all together to collect dust as the days go by.

Suffice to say, this album is pretty inconsistent, but it does have its enjoyable moments. Outside of a few select tracks, I don't necessarily think there are any inherently "bad" songs, just maybe an abundance of songs that take too long to get interesting and instead stay rather boring. There are a lot of bright spots, however, that are very reminiscent of the band's glory days, and the general feeling of that 1980s Heavy Metal sound. I can't say that this album is a classic, or even "pretty good", but it isn't bad either. Overall, you can probably find at least a couple of songs here to tickle your fancy depending on what you're looking for.

Bewitching skill - 89%

gasmask_colostomy, March 10th, 2019

Neighbours of famed extreme metal troublestarters Venom, the much less satanic Satan didn’t quite make it out of Newcastle with the same impact. Born in the NWOBHM, the Englishmen were always a little heavier and more technical than the rest of the crowd until a series of name changes and eventual break-up in 1989 laid the cover on their creativity. However, the resurrection of Satan in 2012 caught a lot of people by surprise, as has the quality of the three albums put out since that reunion - three albums that include Cruel Magic.

Our surprise at the dexterity and invention of fifty- and sixty-somethings should really cease sometime soon, because - as a bunch whose youth was in the ‘80s - Satan’s five members prove that you never really lose it. Phenomenal performances are turned in all round, but listeners should pay particular note to Graeme English’s winding, bubbling bass and the luxurious mixing and sound of Sean Taylor’s drums, which pay lip service to comments Russ Tippins has made about the band trying to record with a less processed sound, even to the extent of aiming for first takes. You wouldn’t guess it from the pleasingly technical likes of ‘Legions Hellbound’ and ‘Into the Mouth of Eternity’, both of which unleash a tangle of Satan-specific riffing that makes a mockery of the common conception that speed metal can yield no new ideas. Brian Ross is the final piece of the puzzle, hitting few extreme notes yet commanding proceedings with his melodic baritone.

As a judge of quality, Cruel Magic crucially sounds identifiable as Satan right away, while the band’s ethos of tackling difficulty extends to both compositional complexity and lyrically knotty subjects. The bulk of the album is filled with swooning heavy/speed metal in the classic mould, though excursions like the slithering ‘Ophidian’ and the desert air philosophy of ‘Mortality’ see that some variety - along with the instrumental technicality - leave a great deal to be revealed by extensive listening. Prepare to be bewitched.

Originally written for Metalegion #4 -

Call it Cosmic Intervention - 90%

Twisted_Psychology, September 20th, 2018

With the release of Cruel Magic, the third full-length album since their 2011 comeback (fifth in total), Satan is officially more prolific now than in their NWOBHM heyday. While they may never release anything as influential as Court in the Act again, the speed metal enthusiasm and songwriting mastery displayed on Life Sentence and Atom by Atom put them on near equal footing in terms of quality. Cruel Magic keeps the momentum going, and stands out for its alternate take on the well-worn style.

Satan’s thrashy classic metal assaults have always had room for melody, but Cruel Magic is more noticeably melodic than the albums before it. The songs slow down more than usual as the title track rocks out a Rainbow-style romp, the occult mid-tempo slant on “Ophidian” is a dead ringer for Judas Priest’s “The Ripper,” and the closing “Mortality” makes for an exotic waltz. Even the faster songs get in on the fun as “Legions Hellbound” and “Who Among Us” find places to slow down while “Death Knell for a King” and “Ghosts of Monongah” throw in some catchy hooks.

An approach like this falls almost squarely on the vocalist’s shoulders, and it’s safe to say that Brian Ross delivers. His range is about the same as it’s always been, but the vocal lines’ dexterity keeps his baritone from sounding too restricted. He leads the pack when one would be content just to see him keep up. On the flip side, the guitars don’t quite have the usual jittery feel. Fortunately, the rhythms are packed with power and the leads show off loads of intricacy.

A phenomena like Satan’s post-reunion output should feel as routine as a train schedule, but it just never loses the novelty when the sheer quality is as high as it is on albums like Cruel Magic. The songwriting never results in the diminishing returns of their peers’ fiery comebacks and the band finds ways to keep the style fresh. True speed fanatics may want to try another one of the band’s recent outings, but any classic metal fan will find a lot to enjoy here.

“Cruel Magic”
“The Doomsday Clock”
“Death Knell for a King”
“Ghosts of Monongah”

Originally published at

Some Legends Never Die - 92%

Marcohateshipsters, September 9th, 2018

Satan – a band that proves some legends never die. They formed almost forty years ago in 1979 and were very much an important part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) that we all so love and cherish. They released several albums in the 80s under the names Satan, Pariah, and Blind Fury. Satan’s debut album, A Court in the Act, has withstood the test of time and remains one of the finest achievements of the NWOBHM. Its speed-metal tinged riffs are truly unforgettable, and with a mighty vocalist and rhythm section to boot! Satan went radio silent in the late 80s before they came out of nowhere and hit us with 2013’s Life Sentence.

Comeback albums are dangerous. Most of the time, the band has been outside the scene for decades and has lost touch with metal and what originally made their music so good. Quite frankly, most comeback albums are unlistenable and hollow. Given the length of time from Satan’s previous activity and Life Sentence, this could easily have been the case. They proved us wrong. Life Sentence is undoubtedly one of the best comeback albums of all time in metal – it was like the band never skipped a beat. Their last release, 2015’s Atom by Atom, continued the trend of killer albums. Expectations for their newest album, Cruel Magic, is as high as it could possibly be.

It’s clear from the very first track, “Into the Mouth of Eternity”, that Satan’s still got it and we’re in for yet another classic. It builds up slowly before erupting into a metal storm of riffs and melodies that we’ve come to expect from guitarists Russ Tippins and Steve Ramsay. Vocalist Brian Ross doesn’t sound like he’s aged a single day since 1983’s A Court in the Act as he delivers line after line. It quickly becomes apparent that the opening number is not a fluke as the vocal melodies and riffs on the entirety of Cruel Magic are just as catchy. The production found on this album is more classic sounding and roomy than the last two efforts. It’s mixed well and it almost sounds like it was produced in the 80s. This may be off-putting if you were expecting something more modern sounding, but for me this is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Perhaps the highlight of the album is Sean Taylor’s drumming. I’m not typically one to pay attention to the drums unless there’s some blastbeats or fancy fill going on, but in this case they’re so spectacular that I can’t help but be drawn to them. The drum tone in particular is incredibly full and organic, a marked improvement over the snare-heavy tone of Atom by Atom. This type of drum sound should be what every traditional metal band strives for! Taylor’s excellent drumming is accompanied perfectly by Graeme English’s pounding bass guitar as together they form a thunderous duo of rhythm and bass.

While Satan’s latest offering is overall an incredibly enjoyable experience, it isn’t without its flaws. The entire album runs for about fifty minutes, which is about five to ten minutes too long for an album of this style. There are a couple of tracks that don’t quite hit the same mark as the rest of the album that could have potentially been dropped. The title track has a bit too much of a rockin’ feel to it that stands out in a negative way and “Ophidian” never quite gets off the ground for me. In general, Cruel Magic lacks a bit of intensity that we got on Satan’s other albums – it has more of a relaxed angle to it. Brian doesn’t really let his vocals soar like he used to and there aren’t any exceptionally aggressive moments on the album. With all that said, these things are minor in the grand scheme of things. Cruel Magic is a thoroughly enjoyable listen and undoubtedly one of the best albums of the year.

One thing is very certain: Satan seem to be incapable of writing a bad album. The band’s sheer consistency and quality almost forty years after their initial formation is virtually unheard of. It’s almost like Brian and the gang haven’t aged at all and they’re still riding the high from the 1980s. Perhaps they’ve found a way to harness some form of temporal magic, or maybe they have a DeLorean that works as intended? Whatever the case is, I’m thankful that they’re still around to carry the torch after all these years. Cruel Magic is yet another notch in this legendary band’s belt, a testament to their innate ability to write kick ass metal.

Album Rating: 92/100

Favorite Track: My Prophetic Soul

Originally written for