(Rise Above Records)
By: Chris Davison
Fashion is a tide. It comes and it goes, washing fresh scum-lines onto the shores. Heavy metal is no exception. Oh, so you listen to the metal, and therefore you're immune to fashion? Think again. Remember the melodic death metal plague of the early 2000's? The death-thrash explosion of the mid 2000's? The retro-thrashers, the metalcore shouters, the folk-metal hey-nonny-nonners, and the black metal pandas? Just about the only sub-genre that has managed to stay away from fashion and stand on its own two feet is the pure, meat and potatoes pure strain of heavy metal. Death Penalty aren't so much anti-fashion as they are oblivious to fashion, in the way if all the best bands. Intrigued? Read on...
Much has already been written about this being the first post-Cathedral band of riffmeister general, Gary “Gaz” Jennings, and as such, it is unsurprising that his well-documented love of Witchfinder General should find itself cemented into the name of the outfit. Joining the king of the infectious riff are Cosy and Michelle from short-lived Belgian doom outfit Serpentcult, (themselves the bastard offshoot of sadly missed Thee Plague Of Gentlemen), and bassist Rak Meukens.
To be honest, I've been a massive Cathedral fan pretty much since their first album, Forest Of Equilibrium, but my favourite albums of theirs tended to be the ones with the most mid-tempo, un-doom riffs – so essentially from The Ethereal Mirror, through to Caravan Beyond Redemption. Happily, Death Penalty is essentially a huge musical sandbox for Gaz Jennings to let all of his non-doom NWOBHM riffs come raining through. Of course, you'd expect some of those infectious, warm-toned Witchfinder General sounds to seep through into the music, and surely you can hear some Cathedral-isms on the likes of “Golden Tides,” but it's on album highlight “Eyes Of The Heretic” where you can really hear the other influences shine through brightly; the mighty Iron Maiden-esque gallop, the rough abrasion of the Angelwitch bridge, and the huge, Saxon-esque, anthemic quality of the chorus.
It'd be a rum do if there was no doom on the album of course, and “She Is A Witch” provides the space for the fine doom credentials of the musicians to shine through with some truly torturous crawling passages, before the guitar solo goes – well – a bit 1983 on your ass, with soaring, bona-fide guitar hero panache, while the rhythm section goes through a proper aerobic workout. That a metal band has a female singer, and that this is newsworthy might be worthy of raising an eyebrow in 2014, but Michelle Nocon is really a key element of this album. Of course, her vocals were interesting in Serpentcult, but here they are lower, more self assured, and perfectly in tune with the off-kilter take on true metal. At times, and in particular during the slower sections, she reminds me greatly of Catherine Wilson from the Mourn album, but far, far better.
In summary then – this is a ripsnorter of an album. There's the grit and fire in the eye that typified the Neat Records roster from the early 1980s, with hints of the heady, worldly-wise experience that the musicians have earned from their times in doom titans. This is simply put an almost uncategorisable and certainly unforgettable tome, and pure, unadulterated listening pleasure. File under: must get.
Wolf Devil Seed
(Century Media Records)
By: Chris Davison
You know, I shouldn't like Wolf. They pretty sound pretty much like the perfect intersection of a Venn diagram of things I hate in metal: high, piercing vocals, riffs that sound like Judas Priest b-cuts, lyrics that read like a crawl through the “Big Beginner's Book of Metal Clichés;” not to mention an aesthetic that owes a sizeable debt to the less sensible photographs taken from heavy metal nightclubs in London circa 1982. Yet, even with all of these factors against them, damn it; I really, really enjoy Wolf.
Why? Well, who knows? I suspect that there was a spectacular moment of epiphany when – admittedly reeling from imbibing truly industrial portions of supermarket-brand spirits – I caught them live at a festival in the UK some years ago. Suddenly, it all made brilliant, glorious sense. Fist-in-the-air, anthemic heavy metal that truly doesn't care if you like it or not. It just is.
...And so, we come to the first album by Wolf in three years, Devil Seed. You won't find anything here that really wanders too far from the established Wolf blueprint – the infectious melodies, the vintage heavy-metal on steroids production and the clean, incisive vocal delivery. I am a fan of 2011's The Black Flame, and so, to be honest, the chance to have more of the same isn't a bad thing at all. To these ears, however, we have incremental improvement to the quality. The songs are ever-so-slightly more polished, perhaps taking advantage of the time taken to craft them. While there was some filler on the former album, Devil Seed doesn't find any tracks that have that magnetic pull of the finger towards the “skip” button.
In terms of the production, everything is just slightly clearer and has more punch too, but really doesn't fall victim to the bombastic, over-the-top aural effect that can infect modern heavy metal albums. Those that argue that Wolf are nothing but cheesy retro-metallers are really rather missing the point. With Devil Seed, they are convincingly at the apex of the pure-heavy metal tree, and although there is little here that's new, as ever, I'd take excellence over innovation any time.