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Spiral Tower: Showing up Sacred Steel since 1997 - 69%

OlympicSharpshooter, November 15th, 2005

I'll start with a history lesson for you folks, to explain the title of this review. Back in the early 90's five dudes from Germany were in a progressive power metal band called Tragedy Divine. After releasing one LP in 1996, the band split into two groups, one becoming the laughingstock of the metal community known as Sacred Steel while the others formed the rather fetching Spiral Tower.

Spiral Tower is pounding speed metal the way it ought to be done, a full metal jacket of riffic ingenuity wrapped around invigorating, throbbing tempos. This a band who wear their traditional power metal influences on their sleeves, but steadfastly refuse to give way to the fey and cliché excesses of the genre, preferring to remain earthbound as they speed through crunching valleys and singeing peaks. Even vocalist Alex Koch avoids the balls-in-a-vice antics of the myriad Kiske clones on the market, using his fairly limited in a more Dickinsonian (-esque? -ish?) fashion and saving his wailing sustain for special occasion (save for the up-tempo darkly melodic "Tired Faces"), usually going for a grittier and much more masculine US speed metal style. The band also uses the occasional death growl courtesy of bassist Bernie Altmann and its amazing how much muscle and diversity this adds to the sound. It isn't common enough to become irritating as with the hardcore barks of 3 Inches of Blood, but it pops up just often enough to avoid being considered a gimmick.

The best part of the band is definitely the guitars. These guys know how to write edgy riffs, this glorious dry thrash tone lighting up mid-moshing stun-gun "Lord of Shadows" and the bloody-minded hellion known as "Heartkiller", which is one of the tracks that totally blurs the lines between thrash and speed. The riffage is a textbook of metal riffing, the band's progressive roots giving them the talent to toss off memorable variations on the bog-standard chord progressions that have been metal's bread and butter since roughly the iron age, "The Eyes of the Blind" and "The Martyr is Dead" bringing on the accepted one-two punch of a blitzkrieging opener followed by a deeply grooved neckwrecker. Keep an eye out for the dramatic slow boil on the strobe-light picking during the verses of "Feel the Fears" and the tight machine-gun riffs that rip through the belly of "Execute in Excuse".

Pogdurski and Konstandaras also have a real way with leads, the somewhat dainty Teutonic PM chorus of "On the Wings of an Eagle" gives us a snatch of harmonized lead before just detonating into some gothic Dimebag Darell riffage (think "Cemetery Gates"), all afire with bombastic squeals and wrenching shred. Its totally worth cocking an ear towards the blistering Tipton & Downing-on-Paganini trade-offs in "Looking Down on the Moon", a back and forth of slicing licks and harmonies and noodly hammer-ons as the second half of the song turns into a Megadeth-y lead-based riff tapestry.

Mindkiller is the kind of record that can shake the room, but remains resolutely unshakeable. The thing that makes the album so good is its heaviness, the band crafting a piece of work that seems to slap the shimmering PM legions across the face in order to remind them that, hey, metal is supposed to have more balls than any other genre. Every song has a monster riff or two, and not all of them are just breakdowns thrown away as riffs for the sake of riffs, many of them forming the backbones of songs along with aggressive marching drum beats and commanding vocals, sorrowful baroque melodies overlaying the whole package to give the moshable bits that touch of class.

To bring this review full circle to the opening paragraph, this is an example of one half of a band absolutely stomping the hell out of another (unlike Megadeth and Metallica's fairly even battles and Sepultura/Soulfly's game of sucking one-upsmanship). Sacred Steel, besides being saddled with the sad-sack vocals of Metal's Worst Singer: Gerritt P. Mutz, are an exceedingly boring band who do one style of crappy aggro-power and ram it into the ground ten to twelve times per album, whereas Spiral Tower are an exceedingly rocking band who grasp virtually every songwriting template in the speed metal toolbox and impress the listener's mind with their acumen and wring the listener's neck in the process.

Spiral Tower and Massacre Records have kindly provided this entire album as a free download from Spiral Tower's official website so do yourself a favour and check it out. It isn't brilliant, isn't life changing... but it beats the hell out of 90% of the new power metal on the market.

Enough yammering, go listen ya mooks!

Stand-Out Tracks: "The Martyr is Dead", "On the Wings of an Eagle", "Lord of the Shadows"