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Not quite the dominator yet - 80%

Gutterscream, May 6th, 2005
Written based on this version: 1983, 12" vinyl, Metal Blade Records

"...lo, the kiss of death awaits those that have no faith..."

Not to be confused with the not-so-known rock band of the early '70s that really never lived up to its name, Savage Grace enjoyed a semi-short career kicked off by “Scepters of Deceit” featured on the Metal Massacre II compilation and then this ep.

Here, there seems to be two personalities to the CA five-piece…well, maybe one bi-polar personality. One song will have the band quite white-fisted with a technique sinewy of early power metal that just wants to rove into thrashier territory, then the next track has a hard time kindling the conviction of Dokken. The disparity isn’t limited to the first two tracks, and the record plays as if each band member got a shot at concocting a song to feature. No doubt internal struggles of musical direction is what caused Kenny Powell to leave and form Omen, a band that’s always been higher on my playlist. Either way, this toggling of musical paths will have the listener feeling like a passenger in a car driven by someone two hours into learning stick shift.

Sturdy and mean is “Fight For Your Life”, driven by a strapping riff that if thrown into overdrive would easily rival thrash. Vocally, John Birk, a guy who after this release wouldn’t be showing up to practice sessions, is a competitor to the soaring soprano of Abattoir’s Steve Gaines, Helstar’s James Rivera and Agent Steel’s John Cyriis. This splendid beginning then barrels into a roadblock of pillows. With an unexpected swerve in attitude, “Curse the Night” is as watered down as the average Keel or post-'83 Loudness song, timidly prancing along like the fans that thought the aforementioned two bands were supra-heavy. How’s that for a lopsided one-two punch?

What lurks on side two is “The Dominatress”, flexing with an attack directed more toward the first track, meanwhile the up-tempo “Live to Burn” sounds like something Lizzy Borden would’ve had a good time penning, but lacks the heaviness of the two side openers. To me, one of the coolest things in music is witnessing a single talent overcome a band a.k.a. a member leaves and noticeably takes his influence with him. No one knew what Omen would sound like until the exceptional “Torture Me” showed up on Metal Massacre V, and upon hearing it fans of Savage Grace may have said ‘hey, it sounds like the last song on the ep”. “Too Young to Die” is the unmistakable Kenny Powell contribution and is a sound that decorated no other SG track afterward…continuous traditional and moderate pacing, dramatic vocal tract lacing the chorus, and an unpredictable blurb of subtlety in the center. All you need is J.D. Kimball (R.I.P) to wrestle the mike from Birk and it’s Omen.

With their next two offerings, SG would thankfully solidify their sound into something more thrash-like and burgeoning. As for The Dominatress, avoid “Curse the Night”. It’s the early Pantera of their song catalog.

I can’t help but think of Betsy Bitch whenever I see the cover.