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Sophomore slump? No. Sophomore SLAUGHTER! - 92%

BloodIronBeer, October 11th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2004, CD, Remedy Records

On their sophomoric Northern Rage, Stormwarrior moved from almost pure speed metal to a balance of speed and power metal. In doing so, they really seemed to ease into their own sound, and feel more comfortable. Here, they move more into the sound they were meant to play. Not dead serious, but definitely not bordering on self-parody like some moments of their debut album. Melody-driven, and willing to reign in the speed, however infrequently. Thy Laste Fyre, Welcome Thy Rite and To Foreign Shores are definitely more power metal - without relinquishing the grit of the heavier tracks.

The idea is the same though: riff-driven, swift German speed metal that only really relents long enough to let you catch your breath. Enough different European power metal influences have been allowed in so the stark Helloween comparison cannot be made anymore. Thundering drums with constant double bass, and quick tremolo-picked quintessentially European guitar work are still the framework, but the melodies are much stronger. It feels like the extra effort was put forth to take an idea from being good, to great. The melodies are more lyrical, they just have better flow – they're simply catchier. Both the guitar and the vocal melodies.

Maybe I'm imagining this, but it seems like every two tracks after the opening have a theme. Tracks 2 and 3 are the “I've come to shred your face off” pummeling speed metal from the debut album. Tracks 4 and 5 are much more power metal a la middle era Gamma Ray. Tracks 6 and 7 are mid-tempo and old school heavy metal anthems. Tracks 8 and 9 both start with very Judas Priest style speed metal riffs. It's capped off with a pretty solid “epic” track, but in between there is no weak link.

This album is another of Stormwarrior's that has no truly weak songs. In fact, I don't think this album has any remarkable flaws, other than the 2:30 opening track which is a waste of everyone's time. Maybe it would be okay if it was 15 seconds.

As for highlights, there is no question about it. Warning: storytime ahead.

I woke up one day with a melody stuck in my head, and spent hours trying to figure out what it was. How or why I had this melody stuck in my head, having not listening to this album for many years, I don't know – but it drove me insane. Picked up my guitar, played the riff countless times, listened through dozens of albums. It was stuck in my head for hours before I figured it out – and about a week or so afterwards. What is this song? I thought it was Gamma Ray, a band I always thought had some of the greatest melodies.

No. The band was Stormwarrior, the album was Northern Rage, and the song was Welcome Thy Rite.

Depending on the day you asked me, I might tell you this is the best guitar melody in the history of metal. If every song on the album were somehow this strong, I would have to break my own rule of never handing out a perfect score and give this album a 100%. I'm trying my best to not sound hyperbolic, but this is just the truth.

The song begins with the epic melody, and the march-like drums building tension; suddenly everything but the guitar drops out, playing a breakneck speed metal riff, then the drums drop back in with the second guitar playing the main melody over top. And this is what it's all about. It's just doesn't get any fucking better than that moment right there.

The realization that the melody wasn't from Gamma Ray kind of helped cement one thing in my mind - the student had surpassed the master. Truthfully, I used to consider Gamma Ray among my very favorite bands, holding Kai as an untouchable figure in metal, but these days, I'm much more likely to be listening to Stormwarrior. And the irony of Kai helping produce this album isn't lost on me. Make no mistake, Kai is a seminal and legendary figure in metal, but Lars Ramcke's name should be right there with Kai's.

One of the only albums in this style that is stronger than this, is the album they followed this up with. Without question, Northern Rage is a classic of speed and power metal.