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Satan > Suspended Sentence > Reviews
Satan - Suspended Sentence

Good songs, bad marketing - 78%

Felix 1666, April 4th, 2020
Written based on this version: 1987, 12" vinyl, Steamhammer

Back in the eighties, Satan, the guys with the worst marketing department of the entire metal history, were either recording an album (exception) or changing their name (rule). This was a pity, because this self-initiated confusion surely had a negative effect on the career options of the band. And this was the next pity, because Satan had the competence to pen pretty traditional yet highly exciting tracks. “Suicidal Justice”, for example, begins somewhat irritating with six high-pitched staccato screams, but it grows constantly and reaches its intense climax with a part that sets in after the repeated statement “We will be Gods”. The double-bass driven sequence opens Pandora’s box and injustice, desperation and resistance become tangible. Despite its length of seven and a half minutes the song does not lack accessibility. Its flow is almost perfect, the band plays very tight together and everything is well balanced between user-friendly catchiness and musical complexity.

In a world of thrashers and posers, Satan were able to evade the black / white categorisation. Their songs did not lack heaviness, they were not made for the big radio stations and even the (for traditionalists) mandatory semi-ballad did not fall prey to its own kitsch. “Avalanche of a Million Hearts” has an authentic and dark undertone – how could it be otherwise in view of the lyrics that deal with a well-known historic crime? Michael Jackson sounds empathic, the song gains intensity during its eight minutes and the guitar work creates sad melodies and mirrors maturity. Instinctively, the band gives this piece enough space to develop its very own flair and both the soft beginning and the stormy main part hit the bull’s eye. Only the “ahaha” background vocals leave an ambivalent impression, but let’s forget this nuance.

In general, the (Graeme) English combo performs the traditional form of metal in a very powerful way. Melodies are not forbidden, but a certain weakness for up-tempo rhythms lends the material a pretty harsh appearance. Moreover, this is definitely no fast food metal. Yes, the listener does not need a cryptographic key in order to decode the song patterns, but nearly each and every track relies on a very stable substance. Only “Calculated Execution (Driller Killer)” starts and ends flat without any kind of significant growth between these poles. It’s much more fun to listen to songs like “Who Dies Wins” with its thundering drums at the beginning, the coherent verses, the dramatic chorus and the excellent mid-part after the second chorus including a brilliant solo. Of course, the lyrics also add value to the opener, because Jackson sings about the Kamikaze fighters – the fate of these young men still makes me shiver. Satan deliver in any respect. “11th Commandment” is another proof that the guys know how to design a song. It begins almost cautiously, but it presents many layers and a high degree of density during its almost ungenerous playtime of 4:49 minutes.

“Suspended Sentence” never got the attention it should have got. Perhaps the formation fell victim to the odour of normality that surrounded most NWOBHM bands – not to mention their compulsive name-changing once again. But one thing is for sure, the compositional skills of the dudes were beyond doubt and the album’s state-of-the-art mix also was no show-stopper. Given this situation, many metal maniacs should lend an ear to this little classic. It’s almost impossible to hate the output due to its metallic pureness, but there are a lot of reasons to enjoy it.

Death Penalty Abolished for Pariahs and Devilers - 94%

bayern, June 21st, 2017

Steve Ramsey and Graeme English are the finest English musicians alongside Toni Iommi and Steve Harris. They’re behind two of the most prominent acts in the history of British music: Satan and Skyclad. Mentioning the former, cause that’ll be the one dissected far and wide here, it befuddles me why the guys chose this moniker in the first place… they could have swapped names with Venom at the very beginning, when both outfits were a part of the bustling NWOBHM movement… a name like this screams “Black Metaaaal!” louder than fifty Cronos clones. And you can’t really expect to hit the spotlight with it, can you…

I guess the latter was hardly the guys’ most urgent agenda, but it must have misled many a metal fan back then. On the other hand, people were hardly talking about black metal in the early-80’s so yeah, I believe it was all good, picking boisterous evocative band names and all; no harm in that for sure. But the band themselves never really settled for it either; after the stunning debut which “Court in the Act” was, the guys shifted to Blind Fury in 1985, and toned down their vigorous speed metal approach, opting for more mainstream heavy metal. The mellower delivery obviously didn’t satisfy them, and they reverted back to Satan for the release of the “Into the Future” EP a year later. Featuring a more audacious approach and a marginally more complex layout, the guys nicely paved the way for the coming of the album reviewed here.

“Suspended Sentence” is a milestone in English metal, it’s a multi-layered genre-transcender that is hard to find an analogue to even on the voluminous contemporary scene. And it couldn’t have been any other way with the involvement of none other than Michael Jackson… ha ha, kidding of course… but no, it’s Michael Jackson all right; only that it’s not the late pop star, but a humble vocalist who here bends it no worse than his legendary namesake… no kidding. So our “satanists” have embarked on an ambitious progressive power/thrash journey that produces some really tasty fruit. And not only but it also begins with the “92nd Symphony”, a great vehicle for Ramsey to display his axeman skills which would have impressed even Beethoven himself. The moment of virtuosity out of the way, the guys start speed/thrashing with passion with “Who Dies Wins”, an energetic “chameleon” with numerous twists and turns Jackson presiding over the proceedings with his passionate hoarse semi-clean baritone, and Ramsey and English both accentuating on their instruments to make this piece a most interesting progressive saga. “11th Commandment” is the power metal galloping heroic anthem which recalls the debut a bit with its more linear riff-patterns the drama enhanced on “Suicidal Justice”, a superb technical shredder which preserves the riffs’ sharpness throughout the 8-min of playing time without breaking any speed barriers except for a more dynamic section in the second half where Jackson also unleashes a few apocalyptic screams.

“Vandal” carries on with the technical “carnage” the shouty semi-choruses helping on the side, a gimmick later perfected on the Pariah works for which this brisk number provides the ultimate template; expect Ramsey to steal the show with a slab of gorgeous proficient leads, and Jackson to hit the very high registers again to a glass-shattering effect. “S.C.U.M.” speed/thrashes with vigour inserting more orthodox rhythms, another reminder of the debut the memories of which will be completely erased by “Avalanche of a Million Hearts”, a progressive masterpiece Jackson pouring his soul out on the initial balladic segment that is suddenly overtaken by more aggressive power metal accumulations with several gallops provided to give the additional requisite boost; the guys serve great melodic hooks which create a seamless symbiosis with the dazzling leads near the end. “Calculated Execution” brings forward more intense, also calculated, speed/thrashing as a finale the band moshing out with the expected amount of technicality and the staple shouty choruses; a brilliant furious aggressive passage rises out of the blue just before the end to make this piece even more compelling, not without the help of several fine bass showings and Jackson’s shrieky, very high-strung support for the umpteenth time.

The more aggressive, also much more complex, approach increased the band’s status who were way more than mere hysterical “satanists” obviously, and also presented themselves as purveyors of the more serious side of the genre, something that wasn’t quite done on British soil at that time. As a matter of fact the technical/progressive aspect of power/thrash was barely covered over there until Acid Reign’s “Obnoxious” three years later, and the doom/thrash elaborations of Seventh Angel at the beginning of the 90’s. So Satan were pretty much the pioneers in this trend, and this opus here remains the finest achievement on the Isles regarding progressive metal, probably second only to this gorgeous anomaly of a record titled "The Sound of Souls", produced by another stalwart from the NWOBHM movement, Holocaust. Apparently the guys weren’t going to tread the heavy metal path well carved by Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest, but were looking towards other horizons to explore those becoming more and more fashionable with time.

The metamorphosis to a full-fledged thrash metal outfit was complete just a year later under the Pariah moniker, and with the release of “The Kindred”. A very good job all around, it lacked the more intricate flair of its predecessor as the approach was more direct and more accessible. “Blaze of Obscurity” followed several months later showing a bigger fascination with the Bay-Area brotherhood. Things looked good except that new vogues came on the field at the dawn of the new decade, and our friends had no intentions on paying tributes to them under any form or any other name. Instead, they founded Skyclad and folk metal in team with Sabbat’s Martin Walkyier, and launched another successful career which lasts up to the present day. They reminded of themselves as Pariah in 1998 with “Unity”, but this affair wasn’t exactly a thrash metal feast based on mellower power/speed metal rifforamas.

Satan are alive and well in the new millennium, with two new albums already behind them. The first, “Life Sentence” (2013), was a distinguished sequel to the one reviewed here both title and music-wise as the band have brought back the more progressive arrangements by leaving thrash more in the background. “Atom by Atom” (2015) introduced a less aggressive, more spacey psychedelic vibe with not too many ties to the band’s earlier exploits, but was a worthy addition to the guys’ diverse catalogue. It seems as though the modern metal fanbase’s sentence couldn’t be any less than very positive regarding the band’s recent feats; except the one of the always hopeful black metal followers…

Bucking the sophomore slump trend, among others. - 90%

hells_unicorn, January 25th, 2011

If Satan proved the previous year with the release of “Into The Future” that they are unaffected by changes in the winds of metal, this compact little masterpiece presented in “Suspended Sentence” presents a double proof. In a year where Death, Possessed, Slayer, and several others were redefining the extreme fringes of the paradigm, these Brits have been content to remember 1982’s version of extreme, which was a big influence on the glory of earlier versions of what those bands were doing. By today’s standards it might not be all that daring when we have blast beats and morosely garbled vocal ramblings that would make Venom blush, but for the early 80s it was quite shocking.

At its most extreme, this album could perhaps be likened to a slower version of Nuclear Assault, though in truth the closest band to the overall character of this middle road between NWOBHM and proto-thrash is Metal Church. The guitar sound is moderately crunchy and somewhat fuzzy and overdriven in character, not all that different from the sci-fi character of “Screaming For Vengeance”. The drum and bass work is large sounding, though a bit restrained in comparison to the wandering, semi-Black Sabbath character of the early demos. In short, minus a somewhat overly rough and wicked vocal performance on Michael Jackson’s part, this album contrasts slightly with the old days in its strong sense of tightness and togetherness.

Perhaps the album could be described as a slight departure in light of a slight move towards a more melodic character. This is showcased right off the cuff with a somewhat consonant yet forbidding prelude in “92nd Symphony”, which leads into a catchy and upper mid-tempo crusher in “Who Dies Wins” that reminds heavily of early 80s Judas Priest. The epic ballad “Avalanche Of A Million Hearts” goes a little bit into Neo-classical territory, but largely resembles that classic early Iron Maiden approach to roping the listener in with an easy to follow chorus. But there is still plenty of time left for ventures into rougher territory, as proven out by “Suicidal Justice” where Jackson goes a bit berserk with the gravely screams and “Calculated Execution” which thrashes it up quite nicely and reminds a little of early Metallica.

The only thing that is really unfortunate about this album is that it marks the end of Satan’s studio career (barring a comeback album in the coming years). It was a fine way to close out the 80s and a vital pickup for any NWOBHM junkies who like their metal heavier than Tygers Of Pan Tang and a little lighter and cleaner than Venom. It showcases a band that adheres to that same sense of stylistic consistency and apathy towards mainstream sentiments as that of Motorhead, though sadly they didn’t match their speed metal elders in terms of prolific studio output.

Originally submitted to ( on January 25, 2011.

Very good, but flawed - 86%

fluffy_ferret, September 4th, 2007

With Satan’s second album, Suspended Sentence, Michael Jackson joins the band, and the music immediately changes character. Gone are the beautiful melodies and NWOBM-ish feel of Court in the Act for a more aggressive, intelligent and “tech-like” approach. There’s something about the sometimes cold and mechanical riffing-style that draws my mind to the progressive thrash bands of the 80s such as Anacrusis, Coroner and Watchtower. Satan don’t exactly sound like those bands, but they could be described as their heavy (traditional) metal equivalent. This, I imagine, was such a daring, even extreme, change of musical direction, that it probably turned-off a lot of people in the process, which I think explains why the band never made it big (big as in Iron Maiden). Like previously mentioned bands, Satan were simply too advanced and too many years ahead of their time. Admittedly, I didn’t like this new Satan much at first, but I simply couldn’t deny the talent which was at display so I kept on listening and after a while I was sold.

New vocalist Michael Jackson deserves his own paragraph since he plays such a crucial role. He sounds a little like Martin Walkyier (Sabbat), or perhaps Blackie Lawless (W.A.S.P.) and he has that same commanding presence as those two, but he has some glaring weaknesses. I like him, no doubt, but he has a tendency to go a bit overboard with his screams and some notes he attempts to hold sound slightly out of his range. The guys in the band couldn’t have made a better pick though as his rough and hard-edged voice serves as the perfect complement to the sound they were going for. He would later much improve for a more well-rounded performance in Pariah’s Blaze of Obscurity, but he sings perfectly well here, especially on ‘Avalanche of a Million Hearts’, where he gets to mix up his usual aggressive style with some cleaner – and actually quite ear-pleasing – vocals.

Mentioned earlier, the absolute highlight is the epic, 8:11 long ‘Avalanche of a Million Hearts’. “Flawless songwriting” is a description that’s a bit overused and misused, but it may never be as aptly applied as on this song. The build-up is slow – it takes about two and half minutes before the song really gets going and we get our first distorted guitar – but it never gets dull as the guitar work and melodies are killer all the way through. Michael Jackson sensitive singing adds another layer of quality to an already exceptional song. Think Iron Maiden’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, but better, which some damn good criticism in my book. The second best song is clearly ‘Who Dies Wins’, which can be seen as a sign of things to come on Blaze of Obscurity, as the songwriting takes on that lush and dynamic complexity the band is capable of. The instrumental break that starts around the 3 minute mark and goes on for about 3 minutes is a definite hot chop, as it mixes the usual mechanical (I say mechanical when I mean really well-structured and executed-) riffs with some unexpected melodies. Another highlight is ‘11th Commandment’. It’s not the most dynamic song the band has ever written, but it has the catchiest guitar playing on the album and it’s paced masterfully. ‘Suicidal Justice’ also deserves a mention; its refrain isn’t too catchy, but there’s something fascinating about the intense atmosphere, and sense of urgency that oozes throughout the song. The general mood of the album is predominantly dark and serious in varying degrees, sometimes evil, which suits me just fine.

To tell the truth, all songs are pretty good and worthy of mention but discounting ‘Avalanche of a Million Hearts’, they are all a little flawed. Suspended Sentence sounds a lot like its spiritual successor Blaze of Obscurity and comparing it with that album it quickly becomes apparent why Suspended Sentence doesn’t quite reach those heights. The problem lies in the songwriting structure; most songs feel a bit too drawn out and repetitive to fully grab my attention the way Blaze of Obscurity did, resulting in an album that is overall less solid and less interesting. That’s some unfair and petty criticism though as pretty much everything out there sounds bad compared to that album. Suspended Sentence stands on its own feet as a pretty damn well-written album, far better than the average and, as always when these guys are involved, exquisitely played.