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The Holy Ghost of metal's past. - 80%

hells_unicorn, May 14th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Independent

The rule used to be that metal icons come and go, and circa the early 1990s there seemed to be a disproportionate number of them leaving the scene rather than flocking to it. While much of this was due to changing demands in the music market, combined with scarcity of resources for recording and marketing an album, the peculiar case of Iced Earth's early years (i.e. the pre-Barlow period) had a bit more to do with clashing personalities. The jury is out as to whether original vocalist Gene Adam was fired due to actual incompetence given that his work on the eponymous debut has its share of champions, but it is generally stipulated that his successor John Greely was a formidable vocal presence that may well have seen Iced Earth rise to similar commercial prominence as what came to be later in the 90s had things panned out. The passage of time and a renewed interest in heavy metal, not to mention greater accessibility to the market via the internet and home studio advances, would finally see Greely's presence return in the late 2000s via an obscure groove metal outfit dubbed Avoiding X. Though little came of the project other than a demo in 2007, it was pretty clear that eventually new material from the original Stormrider was on the horizon, and the first inkling came from an arguably unlikely source.

Seventh Servant is essentially Greely's first musically serious project to field recordings since the early 90s, and is also one that is likely most reflective of his current creative and ideological state. In essence, this power trio that sees Greely also handling guitar duties could be likened to a Christian version of Iced Earth, with a particular focus on the apocalyptic literature of the Bible, a fitting subject for a thrash project despite favoring the heavenly side of the depicted conflict. The format is fairly straightforward, consisting of a moderately fast pace that could be best compared to the more gallop-happy yet melodic and restrained material from the Stormrider and Burnt Offerings era. The rhythm section is more focused on rhythmic precision than overt technical showboating, but the drumming is highly competent and has a fair degree of nuance and power. Be this as it may, this album is largely Greely's show and he does an adequate job of mimicking the chunky, impact-based thrash riffing style that Jon Schaffer has continually brought to the table, though in a less complex fashion. In somewhat similar fashion, the vocal work Greely brings to the table this time is a bit more idiomatic to a power metal context, consisting largely of mid-ranged singing and only occasional flirtations with higher, Halford-like territory in the vain of his brief stint with Iced Earth.

The two resulting songs have their own individual charms, with "Revelation Of Jesus Christ" being more vocal-centered and occasionally featuring some signature high-pitched wails, though mostly falling in more of a husky baritone bellow that is fairly similar to Barlow's approach. There is also a slight symphonic character to these songs, though in more of an occasional gimmicky sense that dovetails with the formula heard on "Angels Holocaust" rather than a massive, cinematic display comparable to the host of bands bearing the symphonic moniker as part of their sub-genre description. The guitar sound is a bit on the thin and crackling side, which is only really noticeable during those brief moments where Greely's voice drops out, but it's pretty clear that the guitar work is more geared towards bolstering the rhythmic backdrop rather than engaging in overt melodic interchange with the vocals. By contrast, "The Almighty One" sees Greely mixing in some consonant lead guitar harmonies that are somewhat indicative of the latent Iron Maiden influence on Iced Earth, not to mention a respectable guitar solo that is maybe a tad less technical than Randy Shawyer's shred fests from the Stormrider days, but fairly close to what the average Iced Earth solo has sounded like since Shawyer left the fold.

Though the majority of Iced Earth's fans are likely more inclined towards either the Barlow era or the ones that immediately followed it, just about any fan of said band who isn't totally put off by Christian-themed lyrics will probably enjoy these songs, as Greely's voice currently sounds a good deal closer to the signature sound that Barlow and Stu Block have exhibited during their respective funs with Schaffer and company. Naturally anyone looking for an total throwback to the glory days of Night Of The Stormrider may come away disappointed as this isn't the sort of late-80s inspired power/thrash where the riffs relentlessly cut the listener in half and then sew him back together in an instant, though there may be some of that on the horizon if a potential LP for this project is in the works and Greely is feeling a bit nostalgic for the days when Schaffer was miraculously avoiding carpal tunnel while banging out "The Path I Choose" and "Pure Evil" and starts shattering glass again while mixing up the songwriting formula a bit more. But as far as comebacks more than 2 decades in the making, this is definitely on the better side of the equation, change ideological affinities not withstanding.

Needs More Tracks! - 85%

ChoujuX, May 13th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Independent

I just found this band, not twenty minutes ago, as a result of reading about Iced Earth's ex-vocalist, John Greely. What we have here is band very similar to Iced Earth's brand of thrashy power metal, with Christian lyrics focusing on the Book of Revelation. Upon further research, I found that the band is working on a full concept album that "will walk listeners through the prophecy found in the book of Revelation practically word for word as found in the text." The two currently released songs are very well done, with my favorite being "The Almighty One."

The first track on The Benediction, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ," is the shorter of the two. It is followed by "The Almighty One," which uses several lyrical themes found in the previous song. As noted above, both songs take heavy inspiration and wording from Revelation, albeit rearranged to better fit the role of lyrics. Musically, the songs display a heavy Iced Earth influence, with plenty of gallops and simple-but-effective riffs. The rhythm department is solid - I have never heard of Ginger Sizemore (bass) or Shawn Walker (drums) before, but they are quite talented. John Greely covers both vocals and guitars, singing both tracks in a lower, gruffer tone than on Night of the Stormrider by Iced Earth. It reminds me a bit more of Stu Block's work with the band, although there is a distinct lack of screams or wails.

Seventh Servant's EP (which appears to be identical to their single?) is a promising teaser for things to come. If they keep the same quality with the rest of the album, it should be a fantastic debut. My one complain would be the lack of songs on this release, as it's a bit short for an EP. I'd prefer 3-5 songs, but that's relative. I recommend these guys to fans of Iced Earth (obviously), Theocracy, Diviner, and the like.