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Satan > Life Sentence > Reviews
Satan - Life Sentence

SkeleJudge Convicts us all to Hell without Parole - 100%

MetalCartoshka, December 26th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, Listenable Records

Don't hold me in contempt, but I don't even know where to start with this masterpiece. However, let me try to craft into words what makes this an all-time favorite of mine: The riffs on their own make this worthwhile. The vocals and the devilishly fun-loving lyrics on their own make this worthwhile. The solos fit in perfectly, like the wheels to a full-fledged cthonic death chariot. The resulting volatile mixture of the varying styles of the musicianship only enhance the results to bombastic proportions and add an eternity of replay value.

Pardon my drooling (all criminal justice puns are hereby intended from this point forward) but I have every right to do so as I can find no flaws anywhere. All tracks are exceptional in their own right, whether they be filled with solidly-crafted riffs and leads like an exploding smorgasbord of hors d'oeuvres to be consumed through headbanging, or smooth solo interludes exuding an ethereal, otherworldly feel for the listener. There's an urgency to the vocals (especially apparent in "Twenty Twenty Five") which may at certain times turn slightly caustic; and heavily apparent is the lyrical assault of the thought of a bleak future without hope. There's an utter variety of memorable riffs and leads, and poetic verses that can at times resonate a Gargamel goofball vibe. In some places there are beautiful bits which sound somewhat like bagpipe-ish folksy guitars. This is quite the savory testament to Skyclad, as to whom a few of the members of Satan also belong to. Lyrically, this album perpetuates Satan's mainstay theme of injustice and horrors of human actions. A large part of these offerings have a thrashy feel to them yet with clean operatic-style vocals.

All in all, this is perfect. The magnificently layered dual-duel guitars, the suspenseful urgency of the vocals which blend well with the guitars especially when hitting the crazy high notes, the old-school drums, and the bass can be recognized as a crucial tendon connecting all the bones of this embodiment of heavy, yet somewhat theatrical musical satisfaction. The totality of all this makes this a wholly exceptional offering. Buy this record, and support Satan to the grave. Most of what I hear in the realm of NWOBHM these days can't hold a candle to this. The monotony of copycat NWOBHM bands makes me want to sneer at their kind from within my confines, and as such, Satan's particular style has not been imitated by other bands much (as compared to a huge amount of new Iron Maiden copycats flying all over the place giving me voluntary earslaughter)... and that's a shame and a blessing at the same time. It's a shame because more bands should try to sound like Satan, or use this as more of an influence in my opinion, but a blessing because I am not sure anyone other than Satan themselves can pull it off the masterful way that they do. Listen to this or forever be held in contempt at the grasp of the SkeleJudge found on the album's cover.

Satan hasn't aged a day during their Life Sentence - 100%

2DHumanity, October 14th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, Listenable Records

This is Satan's first album with the classic "Court In the Act" lineup since 1983, and even with 30 years separating the two album's releases, Life Sentence feels like a direct successor, and arguably a superior one.

The album starts out by socking you straight in the jaw with the unabashed speed and intensity of "Time To Die," which opens with some badass harmonized arpeggios from twin lead guitarists Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins before breaking out into one of the dirtiest speed metal riffs I've ever heard. The palm mutes in "Time To Die," and the rest of the album for that matter are exquisitely sharp and bludgeoning simultaneously. It is immediately apparent that Satan opted for a more modern metal production, and it does wonders for the album, especially the guitars. "Time to Die" is already a good track, but then the main guitar solo starts up and Satan's twin axemen unleash a monster dual-solo that any band would be proud of. Honestly, I could heap much more praise on Track 1 album, but there's an entire album full of NWOBHM goodness to review. Other standout tracks include "Twenty Twenty Five", "Cenotaph", "Siege of Mentality", "Incantations", "Testimony", "Tears of Blood", "Life Sentence", "Personal Demon", and "Another Universe". Yes, that is every track on the album. It's that good.

In all seriousness though, there isn't a bad track on the album. Every single song has face-melting leads and killer riffs. The rhythm section deserve special praise, too. Drummer Sean Taylor is old-school and subtle in his drumming, with beats and fills that never seem out of place or too showy. Bassist Graeme English is great too. He holds up the low end well, but at the end of the day, Satan is definitely a guitar band, and because of that the bass never really takes center stage, but that is in no way a knock on the album, just something to point out. Finally, for a middle-aged guy, Brian Ross has some serious pipes, adding his dark, aggressive, and operatic vocals masterfully to every track. He definitely evokes memories of Dickindson, just in a lower voice. After 30 years he can still scream like he did on "Court In the Act", too, which is highly commendable.

I feel the need to talk about the guitars a little more, because they really are spectacular. When Russ and Steve aren't going back and forth in guitar-duels, they're usually harmonizing with each other to create luscious guitar textures. "Testimony" has a great harmonized guitar solo and great leads throughout. Thirty years down the line, Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins will probably be listed as one of the greatest "Twin Guitar Attacks" right up there with Downing and Tipton, Murray and Smith, and so on.

I'm awarding this album a perfect score of 100% since I honestly have no knocks against it. If you are a fan of speed metal or NWOBHM especially, I can't recommend this album enough. It is a masterpiece that deserves all this praise and more. Check Satan out!

Life Sentence - 92%

Buarainech, January 31st, 2014

Comeback albums from underground 80's heavy metal acts have been a boom business in recent years. Some like this year's Deep Machine EP have shown a band finally achieving their potential, some like recent albums by Hell and Angel Witch see bands upgrading their sound for the modern times to great success. Unfortunately we also get cases like this year's Warlord comeback where bands fail to translate their old sound for 2013, and some like the abomination of a Witch Cross return where one or two original members allow a load of stand-ins to shit all lover their legacy. The first Satan album in 26 years is like none of these cases. Instead this is as though the past 30 years since then classic Court In The Act simply never happened, like the Newcastle quintet locked up the doors of their recording studio and have only come back to clear away the cobwebs and dust. For most bands being able to match what they did 3 decades before would be impossible, but by some miracle Satan have managed it.

The proto-thrash rhythms of Sean Taylor behind the kit and Graeme English on the bass are just as thunderous as they were in 1983, the riffs and harmonies of Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins just as razor sharp and, aside from a bit of syllables getting rolled together in the chorus of “Personal Demons”, Brian Ross' vocals have lost none of their power. All this coalesces to create some truly ripping songs, some of which that really stand up to the quality of the début. It's a shame that this being so close to the début eliminates the later Suspended Sentence as well as the Blind Fury and Pariah albums, but this picks up so perfectly that it would be ridiculous not to base this review around that comparison.

Not only has nothing changed in Satan's mode of attack, but this record has such an organic sound that it really seems as though it has been made the old way too. There's feedback, imperfections and the odd playing mistake galore, not to mention an incredible real drum sound and Brian Ross' falsettos unaided by studio trickery. It flows like albums used to as well - 10 songs, 44 minutes and two clearly delineated halves.

“Time To Die”, “Twenty Twenty Five” and “Cenotaph” unleash an opening salvo that would make this album worthwhile even if everything that followed was filler. “Siege Mentality” is not as strong as the others on here, but “Incantations” raises the bar even more with it's faintly Mercyful Fate-like Egyptian vibe and some thunderous drumming to close out side one. “Testimony” boasts the best riff of the whole album but could do with a stronger chorus, something that the more melodic “Tears Of Blood” has in spades thanks to its very Thin Lizzy Thunder And Lightning-style simple refrain. The title track which follows is a final straight-up fast ripper before “Personal Demons” brings in a bit of a groovy boogie rock vibe to its main riff and the charmingly naïve “Another Universe” concludes the album on an epic high. Wall to wall cracking songs that makes this an undeniable modern classic. [9/10]

From WAR ON ALL FRONTS A.D. 2013 zine-

Satan- Life Sentence - 90%

stenchofishtar, October 28th, 2013

The new Satan album comes 26 years after they released their last full length ‘Suspended Sentence’ in 1987. With Brian Ross back on vocals, ‘Life Sentence’ kicks off from where their debut, the NWOBHM masterwork ‘Court In The Act’ left off.

Where Venom came across as a more Satanic version of Motorhead, and Raven came across as a hyperspeed, ballsy amphetamine fuelled take on the speedier elements of Judas Priest, Newcastle natives Satan’s take on the NWOBHM took on an upfront tempo that hinted at the beginnings of speed metal, and combined it with the melodic knack of Angel Witch and Iron Maiden, and a sense of neoclassical proficiency and technique in the guitar work. They almost came across as an English parallel to Mercyful Fate.

The production is distinctly modern, with a decent balance between the guitars and the rhythm section, which have a direct, rehearsal-like sound to them that is devoid of the constraints of overly compressed, digital sound jobs. The only potential obstacle the listener might have is the tone of the rhythm guitar, which is rather trebly and contrasts the thick, more thudding bass guitar and tight, boxy drums.

Brian Ross is on brilliant form, and his vocal lines and falsettos, a trademark of his perfectly wrap themselves around verse and chorus, hitting crescendos where necessary and only emphasizing it where needed. This comes on top of songs that are written with a precise sense of counterpoint and a strong understanding of what appeals within the listener, maintaining a strong accessibility but with a progressive edge. A major difference to ‘Court In The Act’ is that on ‘Life Sentence’ they are perhaps more linear, more direct.

It’s all the more impressive that Satan could have just pulled off a modest effort that would be received with mild appraisal. Rather, their professionalism and sense of dedication pays off, and they create an album that is lively, energetic, proficient and above all, memorable in all the best ways. Proof that age does not equate to faltering. Amidst a highly consistent album, highlights include the opener ‘Time To Die’, ‘Tears Of Blood’ and the title track.

Ave Satani - 85%

Radagast, September 29th, 2013
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, Listenable Records

A much-loved band getting back together after many years away can often be whatever the antonym of a blessing in disguise is, either ending up as low-key affairs that gradually dwindle away again or, worse, only one or 2 returning members half-arseing it with a new line-up that only has tenuous links to their established style (hi, Diamond Head!). From the angry swarm of killer bees guitar harmony that opens “Time to die” though, it becomes clear that the reformed Satan not only mean business, but have not forgotten how to write in the style that made them an underground legend in the first place.

The long, chequered story of Satan and their various releases as Blind Fury and Pariah before seemingly disappearing for good in the late 90s mean the core of the band has done a lot more together than their 2 releases under the original name would suggest, but nevertheless ‘Life sentence’ feels very much like a deliberate and calculated sequel to their cult favourite debut ‘Court in the act’, and the fact that it is such a success in this regard, nearly 30 years to the month later, is pretty remarkable.

Certainly the garage band sound they have gone for goes some way towards this – bravely recorded in a small-time analogue studio (though sensibly shipped abroad for the crucial mix and master) has ensured a warm, loose production that captures the proto-speed/thrash of the debut perfectly. But more than this, making a deliberate attempt to revisit a particular style after 3 decades of development as musicians can’t just be like flipping a switch – something a lot of bands trying to recapture their halcyon days don’t seem to understand - and has involved a very conscious effort on their part to unlearn what they have learned, and remember the habits and practices they adhered to as far younger men.

One of the key differences between Satan and other less successful NWOBHM reunions is that all the musicians involved have kept their chops up to one degree or another over the years rather than picking up an instrument for the first time in a decade, and that makes winding back the clock so successfully even more of an achievement.

While the biggest hitters are undoubtedly the storming speed metal songs, it’s nice to see that the fiendish intricacy and indeed the slowed-down atmospheric sections of ‘Court in the act’ (and indeed their other releases) haven’t been forgotten about in a rush to find a superficial match for past glories.

2nd in the tracklist is apocalyptic “Twenty twenty five” which immediately harkens back to darker NWOBHM and classic Swedish metal like Gotham City and shows straight away that ‘Life sentence’ won’t be a one-trick pony. Similarly, the following “Cenotaph” isn’t content to fit to a standard template, as while it largely continues the mid-paced and emotional approach, it contains some murderously fast breaks while, elsewhere, songs like “Personal demons” bring those classic, insidiously dark Satan melodies back to the forefront.

But worry not, dear speed freak, as the fast songs crackle with unbounded energy, and the professionally sloppy recording style coupled with the trademark helter-skelter harmonies provide the thrill that it all might fall apart at any second, meaning that the CD rushes past in such a blur that the slower and doomier moments feel only like brief respites from the onslaught.

While the instrumentalists – none of whom have played anything this consistently fast for a very long time – are all entitled to click their fingers and smugly say “still got it”, special mention must go to the ageless vocals of Brian Ross (appearing on only his 2nd Satan CD in any of their guises), whose falsettos soar with the same alarming exactitude as they did in 1983. His sonorous, operatic range is also in typically fine shape, adding extra depth and emotion to the closing lament “Another universe”.

Guitarists Tippins and Ramsey really steal the show a lot of the time though, having not lost an inch over the years with their craftily interweaving solos and harmonies and plenty of arresting riffs that propel the songs along with such efficiency that ‘Life sentence’ seems to pass by in half its 45 minute running time. All in all it’s about as good a comeback as you’re likely to hear from a NWOBHM band, not quite scaling the heights of Hell’s eternally delayed 2011 debut but still a formidable addition to Satan’s scattered discography and hitting virtually every note a fan could hope for along the way.

(Originally written for

One hell of a return - 90%

Pratl1971, July 2nd, 2013

Some legends never die…they just find a new audience and bring the NWOBHM right back to the forefront where it deserves to be heard by a new audience of fans. Satan strikes out again with their latest album, Life Sentence, and it’s a hellish crossfire within.

For a 26-year layover, save for two live albums and two compilations in the interim, Satan hasn’t missed a single step, and when you hear the first notes of “Time to Die” that’s innately evident. Once that verse riff kicks up the dust and that clear vocal comes soaring over, it’s like 1984 all over again. Without the material sounding dated, Satan manages to take traditional heavy metal to a logical plateau. The album has a magical quality that transports us old folks right back to that wonderful period, yet it can impress and entertain the youngest metalhead fit for history lessons from the old guard.

The wonderful richness to Brian Ross’ vocals lends to such a natural purity not found in many forced efforts or studio trickery these days. The genuine power he emits with seemingly no effort is the very stability that made Satan one of the better bands from that historical era. When listening to this album the second time around I feel a real sense of nostalgia, sure, but I also hear a lot of true heavy metal riffing and structure that will resonate through every generation of fan if given the time.

“Cenotaph” is one of the strongest tracks on the record with its extremely strong verse riff and really speedy delivery. It’s really a pleasure to hear bands of the early era, no matter the genre, sticking to their proverbial guns and not giving in to a demographic that might otherwise change their entire sound for the sake of monetary or generational (im)balance. The borderline speed metal that sets Satan above many peers of the NWOBHM milieu is still scattered copiously around the album, but it’s the slower, potent chunks that really stick in my head. I’m thinking anyone that likes this traditional style made popular by Judas Priest or Iron Maiden will enjoy those moments as well. If you can listen to “Another Universe” and not hear some Maiden in there, you’re in the wrong genre. This is one amazing track with its perfect vocal melody and some of the best guitar work I’ve heard from a traditional outfit in a while. It’s generally hard to keep this style fresh and interesting, but Satan has no worries here.

Without relying solely on the old schematics, Satan issues a thick production with these tracks that was otherwise unheard of back in the days of Suspended Sentence or Court in the Act. It works so well throughout and adds a very modern feel to their style. The track that really calls out some early Mercyful Fate tones is “Incantation” with its vocal melody and ascending bridge riff that is a familiar element in some of the early Danish legends’ arsenal. Yes, I managed to compare Satan to Mercyful Fate.

Another strong element to the record is the lyrical content, which doesn’t bother with a myriad of fantastical images that fly fast and furiously past your eyes like a highway ride in the car while gazing out the window. The images themselves are the selling points, especially in the title “Life Sentence”, which is Satan’s essence in a musical nutshell. All over this release there are some really introspective moments to ponder without boring you to death as I may have done with this review.

Without burying the point in a lot of rhetorical banter, Life Sentence is a return to form for Satan, a band known for issuing strong, somewhat blueprinted albums on their own terms and by their own rules to an appreciative fan base. This can certainly be an album you’ll pull off the rack again and again when you want those heavy riffs to swim around your head, drowning out the world and its horrors and labors.

(Originally written for

Immaculately good...a high water mark. - 96%

Empyreal, June 29th, 2013

This is about as good as a traditional metal album, with no frills or innovation, can get in the year 2013. Well, I suppose there is one innovation: bands never try to sound this old school anymore. That’s right; Satan, one of the original NWOBHM masters, has gone straight back to the old style of recording and production: no triggers, no super-processed guitars, a minimum of effects and studio tricks. Just pure balls to the wall riffing and soaring choruses, like it should be. People, Life Sentence is the title of the first Satan album since the 80s, and it is killer.

This whole thing just works, without any kind of gimmick beyond the best songwriting possible. It is amazing to me how energized these guys sound, even though they’ve been doing this for over 30 years now. Guitarists Steve Ramsay and Russ Tippins wing out an endless supply of cool, galloping, thrashing riffs and wonderfully rocking harmonies, and they sound like they are about 20 or 30 instead of probably in their 50s. The rhythm section with Graeme English on bass and Sean Taylor on drums sparks with new life. Singer Brian Ross is not the greatest out there, but he sells this performance with a killer melodic hook-writing sensibility, and has enough charisma to rival bands half their age.

But really the cincher of all this is how they manage to keep up the momentum even when all the songs basically sound alike – they’re all fast to some degree and none of them ever experiments much with the formula the band is known for, which of course is old-school classic NWOBHM. Satan keeps the interest level up with a huge dynamic, with an intricate sense of melody that just makes the songs exciting as hell. While the tracks don’t deviate from each other or from the overall formula, Satan just kills at making these songs brim with power and might. Every track is good – they are all veritable Bibles on how to write a traditional metal song. “Twenty Twenty Five” is classic Satan revamped for the modern day, “Cenotaph” thrashes up a storm, “Incantations” is a Maidenesque burst of occult power and “Siege Mentality” rocks out like nothing has since 1989. The title track is a contender for best song here as it is a high-speed adrenaline-burner with the best chorus on the album. “Personal Demons” has some great guitar licks, and closer “Another Dimension” starts off kind of slow, but then kicks up a storm of mightily headbanging riffs.

Innovation has no place here, because Life Sentence is a clarion call to days of yore, when big hair and leather jackets and skinny jeans were the fashion and music that rocked out big, pompous riffs was the order of the day. Nothing about this is trendy or modern – it is simply a warhammer of titanic, kinetic true metal, and I love it. Satan has made one of the best albums of the year so far, and younger bands will have a hell of a time trying to match even half the energy and style on this album. Get this now and be exonerated into the true metal legions – essential!

No possibility of parole, for eternity. - 92%

hells_unicorn, May 18th, 2013

While the NWOBHM is cited as either the earliest or one of the earliest incarnations of what came to define heavy metal as a distinct entity unto itself, it is too often assumed that the bands associated with the scene followed a completely unified sound, or that they completely cut ties with their rock roots immediately. Indeed, the early 80s was defined by a very diverse crowd that moved either very gradually from the 70s rock scene as with Tygers Of Pan Tang, or more rapidly as in the case of Venom. In the grand scheme of things, Satan presents a rather interesting middle ground that could largely be seen as flirting with the speed/thrash sound being explored in the early days of Slayer and Metallica, but sticking slightly closer to the rocking character of a number of mainline acts hailing from Britain at the time.

After numerous incarnations under differing names and a lengthy studio hiatus that left most of the 90s and 2000s absent of any continued output, these mad Britons have put out what can be best qualified as the logical successor to "Suspended Sentence". Perhaps it is no accident that "Life Sentence" bears a very similar title, because it literally sounds like it could have come directly out of the mid to late 80s. The riff set largely conforms to the olden style of archaic, semi-rock driven riffs played in minor keys and just a hair too fast for Black Sabbath and a tiny bit too ugly for Judas Priest, but still keeping a melodic character in line with both forerunners. The production itself largely resembles an 80s approach with reverb-heavy vocal tracking and light, crunchy guitars that hit hard, but lack the overt loudness and obnoxiousness of many modern bands.

There are two areas where a rather peculiar duality of elaboration of restraint permeate this entire album, namely the overall musicianship of all instrumentalists in congress, and the vocal assault of Brian Ross (aka the front man who made "Court In The Act" a certified masterpiece). Far from being a mechanical affair in revisiting the old arena rock approach with a nastier edge, this album actually rivals the most complex output heard out of Iron Maiden, often mirroring the free flowing jazzy character of Clive Burr's sound on the first two albums of said band. In fact, the closing song "Another Universe" is all but a more complex homage to Maiden's quirky early ballad "Strange World". By contrast, Brian Ross actually plays it a bit safe, largely resorting to a husky upper-mid range croon and only occasionally breaks out the banshee wails for dramatic effect.

But ultimately, the greatest charm of this album, as was the case with their 80s output, is the underlying simplicity of the whole thing, When listening to these songs, in spite of all the activity in the guitars and the frequent shifts in tempo, this is a band of 5 musicians playing as though in a live venue. There are no gimmicks to riveting speeders like "Time To Die", "Siege Mentality" or "Testimony", just a catchy melody and a lot of good old fashioned dual guitar mayhem, presented free of any modern studio tweaking or atmospheric devices. These songs would most likely sound exactly the same in a live setting, minus the absence of crowd noise and perhaps a slightly different diffusion of sound depending on the acoustics of the venue, but this is basically the kind of album that was commonplace circa 1983 but is now hard to come by save a handful of revivalist acts who take the throwback niche to its logical conclusion.

It could be argued that while there is an appeal to a younger generation that might not be familiar with what metal sounded like pre-Metallica, Satan is playing to their own generation. Every element of this album screams retro like a man in his early 50s toting a members only jacket. This is tailor made for fans who ate up "Court In The Act" and "Suspended Sentence" during their respective releases and have been craving more for the past 2 decades. Perhaps they were playing it safe by sticking to what they know, but given the poor track record of reunited NWOBHM bands trying to modernize, one can hardly blame them.

Incendiary old-school heavy metal - 98%

slayrrr666, April 29th, 2013

The long-awaited true third album from incendiary NWOBHM masters Satan, “Life Sentence,” is one of the most impressive and overall enjoyable albums released this year, proving the band is back and better than ever to hopefully continue their legacy.

Frankly, there’s not a whole lot to say here in regards to how different the album’s two parts sound or what’s a good track, the truth of the matter is that the whole effort absolutely smokes from start to finish. Absolutely littered with riffs straight out of the early 80s but poured through modern recording technology, this is absolutely infectious, highly melodic old-school heavy metal performed with enthusiasm and vigor. Whether the guitars are spitting out molten leads and riffing which will please any fan of the style immensely, or the forceful but understated drumming keeping the songs all right around the same tempo and pace and displaying the right amounts of technical virtuosity, or the absolutely silky lead vocals that are pitched perfectly in the mix, this release is a plain joy to listen to on numerous levels and features only minute differences between songs for differentiating between them. That could be a flaw to some, but frankly that is a real virtue when all the songs are that good. Perhaps that’s due to the album’s old-school production and mix that never once seems to douse a modern gloss on the songs but gives the appearance of this being an album of unreleased songs from the glory days that is just now seeing the light of day, making this go down so smoothly and easily it invites repeated listens on a nearly constant basis.

As mentioned earlier, it’s minute differences that separate the tracks and really it’s only upon getting to the chorus that gives the songs away when the name is sung out, but nearly each one is memorable enough. Opener ‘Time to Die’ starts with a swirling vortex of guitar riffs and frantic drumming that gives way to a spacey, melodic mid-section overtopped with impressive vocals. ‘Siege Mentality’ and the title track are both fun, multi-tempo efforts ripe with impressive guitar-work and fantastic vocals, while ‘Incantations’ and ‘Testimony,’ each one melodic thrashing firestorms with occasional bouts of speed interlaced within mark the album’s highlight works and could well become classics of the line-up in the coming years. The only real hint of difference comes from ‘Tears of Blood,’ with its brooding atmosphere and darker-edged vocals making it a little gloomier than the brightness found within the rest of the album, but this isn’t really a real experimentation within their sound more than accentuating an effort found within and is another really strong track overall.

There’s not a whole lot of bad tracks on this one. ‘Twenty Twenty Five’ works mostly because it feels like a left-over song from the debut, and it’s mid-tempo pacing and solid riffing make it listenable if not stand-out. ‘Cenotaph’ is a vicious full-speed thrasher with impressive guitar-work through but is just a little too short to move it up to the classics on the album. Beyond that, the slow dirge of album-ender ‘Another Universe’ feels out-of-place as an end-song until it switches over into a more mid-tempo effort, but still lacks the fire and energy of those other efforts found elsewhere. Otherwise, this one is consistently amazing and a real throwback to the glory days of the past when this was looked at seriously and remains one of the years’ best efforts.

The Hellfire Inheritance - 93%

autothrall, April 29th, 2013

NWOBHM acts don't always have the best track records when it comes to their inevitable reunions and comeback albums. Groups I once loved like Witchfinder General and Angel Witch did not entirely impress me with records like Resurrected or As Above, So Below, while others like Cloven Hoof assumed modern, glossier production and stylistic aesthetics that turned off a good portion of their fanbases. I think a lot of this is that, in so many cases, having been 'out of the game' for so long breeds a sense of confusion between wanting to resurrect 'what they were' with what's out there in the field of today. In a world where Dragonforce is sadly but arguably the most popular band in the entire heavy/power metal spectrum outside of titans like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, where will these old timers fit in? Thankfully, Brian Ross and Satan dodge this entire question by picking up right where they left off, as if the past 26 years between Suspended Sentence and Life Sentence never happened...

The logo is back. The title theme and cover artwork is flush with the first two records in the 80s. But most prominently, the sound is much the same. Granted, the production is understandably cleaner than on the earlier works, and the musicianship also more pristine, but otherwise it's direct continuity. Whereas many of these comebacks feature only a handful of the original lineup, Life Sentence is a COMPLETE reunion, with all five members of the Court in the Act roster returning: Brian Ross (vox), Russ Tippins & Steve Ramsay (guitars), Graeme English (bass) and Sean Taylor (drums), all of whom are older and wiser after stints with bands like Blitzkrieg, Blind Fury, Pariah or a little known group called Skyclad. But most importantly, they've brought back the crucial component that has earned them the adoration of traditional metal addicts incessantly for the last several decades: the riffs. Satan was one of the first bands of this niche (beyond the more popular groups like Maiden, Def Leppard, Motörhead and Raven) that I had explored as a kid. I guiltily admit, initially, their name had a lot to do with picking up their tapes, but once I placed them in the deck, I was immediately taken aback by the refreshing musicianship, with busier guitars and melodies than I often associated with simpler acts in the same scene.

So I don't speak lightly when I say that Life Sentence is the band's most consistent and intricate recording to date, and hands down their best, building upon the two strong predecessors that enabled their legacy. The guitar riffing here is slick and dextrous without becoming obsessively indulgent or flashy, and no track passes without some head spinning progressions that marry the techniques of antiquity with the prowess of younger musicians. Experience the storm of harmonics and speed/power metal licks coursing through "Life Sentence" itself, the sub-thrashing tempo of "Twenty Five Twenty Five", acrobatic melody runs in "Testimony", or the darker, spiraling contours of "Personal Demons" and "Cenotaph" and you'll come to share my opinion that, along with Attacker's latest Giants of Canaan, Life Sentence is likely to go down as one of the best guitar-oriented records of 2013. Each lead is carefully constructed, thoughtful and interesting, while the brighter spikes of speedy tremolo picking channel classic Maiden, and there are incredibly few note patterns here that can be predicted right off, which is all too rare for this genre as a whole...

But Tippins & Ramsay alone do not get all the credit here. English's lines are constantly swerving, grooving and natural, never par for the course or second fiddle to the rhythm guitars (if you'll pardon the Skyclad pun). The tone is clean but more akin to psychedelic/prog rock than, say, your usual Steve Harris muscular thudding. I could honestly just listen to Graeme and the drums alone and still derive enjoyment from the songs, if that says anything to you. Taylor's performance is about as organic as you can hope for, with a nice old snare tone that plays well into his varied fills and cadences; just hectic enough to support these waltzing and gallivanting guitar lines all over their respective fret boards. Lastly, but not leastly, Brian Ross has not skipped a damn beat; if anything, his mid range here, one of the band's long distinguishing traits, is even more robust than the early years; though he'll still mete out some occasional, elevated screams. All that time spent keeping the Blitzkrieg torch burning might not have resulted in a string of phenomenal recordings through the 90s and 'oughts, but if it primed him for Life Sentence, all the power to him, because he's just as catchy as he was on Court in the Act or A Time of Changes. Ross even leads the charge for some outstanding harmony arrangements.

Above and beyond all of these compliments, Satan does not sound 'old' or 'exhausted' in the slightest here. Comparing this record to, say, Manilla Road's latest, or the last album Diamond Head put out, is like comparing a lit firecracker to a tray of old cigarette butts (and don't get me wrong, I love my Lightning to the Nations and 80s Road quite a lot). I'd consider the songwriting and guitar picking here to remain adventurous and interesting, despite the overall moody and muddy darkened depths of the production, which are clearly content with letting the tunes stand by themselves. Not a unique approach, since a lot of veteran bands prefer the pure analog (or analog sounding) output, but with Life Sentence it helps generate this interesting contrast between nostalgic tones and very future thinking composition, even some of the lyrics, which vary between subjects like ancient Egyptology ("Incantations"), self realization/perseverance ("Life Sentence") and the ever-lingering potential for worldwide Armageddon ("Twenty Five Twenty Five"). It makes NWOBHM feel like new again. Like it's 'today', and forever, and not just something we need to restrict to bands whose balls dropped in the late 70s.

Sure, these blokes might never have really fallen out of practice, but if you told me six months ago that they'd be releasing a new album this, I'd have asked if you were planning on selling me snake oil with that. And then you'd be calling upon me to remove your boot from my teeth, because Life Sentence is outstanding. An audio dissertation on heavy metal redemption, which plays salutatorian to exactly NONE of the band's peers around today. Hail...well, you know...Satan.