You like power metal, right? Who doesn’t, after all, occasionally yearn for keyboards and wenches, widdly guitars and dragons, quintuple-tracked fake choirs and hymns in praise of the righteousness of the almighty George, Thunder-Unicorn Savior of the Realm of the Mead-Besotted Heaving-Bosom? Still, as unbelievable as it sounds, not everyone can get down with that brand of power metal, and perhaps even as you read these words a poorly blinked-back tear brushes your cheek at the memory of having been ruthlessly mocked for your pastel-colored collection of the soft stuff. Have no fear, friend: Satan’s Host is here for you. With absolutely zero apologies to the wenches, dragons, and George the Thunder-Unicorn, Satan’s Host is here not just to piss on your rainbow and set fire to your lute solo, but also to throw sand in the eyes of anyone who ever dared mock your Fairyland albums.
But now, a caveat: Having blithely and completely ignored the entirety of Satan’s Host’s career until now, please don’t expect a finely nuanced comparison of where the new album fits into the band’s oeuvre or any shit like that. Here’s what can be said with all confidence, though: By The Hands Of The Devil absolutely screams Heavy Fucking Metal from every single pore, and is one of the most muscular, hard-charging, blistering riff-fests of the year. Oh, and have I mentioned Harry Goddamned Conklin? The man is absolutely on fire here, careening through a master class in perfectly-contained vocal theatricality, trading in glass-shattering high notes for venomously-spat lows, bright and clear tones for dirtier timbres, power metal belting for understated black/power rasping, and all on a fucking dime. Hell, his acrobatics are so seamless that he occasionally calls to mind Mercyful Fate even though he sounds nothing like King Diamond.
The basic musical blueprint is a thick, no-nonsense American style of power metal, but with plenty of punch added by extra-thrashy riffing, blast-beating, and minor-keyed tremolo riffs. It’s not quite the truly blackened power metal of constantly-underrated Italians Stormlord, and really, connoisseurs of power metal might scoff at applying the label in the first place, given that there are enough nods to thrash, black, death, and generally extreme heavy metal throughout By The Hands Of The Devil to give the most meticulous genre-scribblers out there five hundred aneurysms. Nevertheless, power metal is the spine of this righteous beast of an album. In particular, if you belong to the huddled masses that have sworn fealty to the lords of old – think Helstar’s Nosferatu, Jag Panzer’s Ample Destruction, the first two Metal Church records, Iced Earth’s Night of the Stormrider, and so forth – then Satan’s Host may rightfully be the new ruler of your fiefdom.
The chorus to the opening title track is insidiously catchy, which is particularly noteworthy given the bizarre intervals of its melody. Make sure to spot the guitar’s preview of the vocal melody in the pre-chorus; small songwriting flourishes like that are what elevate a good band to a great band. And make no mistake, this band is the real deal: riffs, vocal hooks, gnarly-ass Satanic lyrics, crisp and beefy production, tasty solos, and a metric shit-ton of attitude. “Shades of the Unlight” is effortlessly melodic and offers up some killer soloing before it even decides to get down to business, while “Demontia” tosses out some Maiden-esque “whoa-oh-ohs.” The biggest change of pace comes with “Fallen Angel,” which largely trades in the burly American power metal for a much more European style. Conklin peels most of the layers of grit from his voice to emerge with a bell-tone purity that complements perfectly the sprightlier, major-key melodicism. It may be the floweriest thing here, but don’t think for a minute that turning Continental equates to wimping out, as the background flurry of blasting drums and tremolo guitar melancholia that dominates the last minute or two of the song launches early Edguy into Norway circa 1993.
To be fair, By The Hands Of The Devil is not a flawless record. Most of the songs go on for maybe a minute longer than necessary, and the album as a whole could have been trimmed a bit to maximize its impact. And sure, the cover of The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” is only about half-inspired, and half-goofy-as-shit (although it must be said that rewriting the lyrics to encompass such lofty sentiments as “I once saw a priest / burn in the flames / of Norwegian wood” is untouchably badass), but y’know what? Satan’s Host is approximately ten times more heavy metal than you or I on this record, and all of our petty quibbling bounces off its armor like so many acorns chucked at an aircraft carrier. There are better albums out in 2011, but there are none that will make you feel as big and strong as this album. Total metal wizardry.