Sorry metal devotees, it appears as if all the extremes have long been met. No one can get any faster, heavier, louder, doomier, thrashier, deadlier, darker, grosser, deathier, eviller, drunker, higher, more violent, more bearded, more obscure, more armored, more grindy, more porny, more hardcore, or more weird during an age when people don’t even blink an eye when a band member walks out on stage wearing a dusty grandfather clock over his head. We’ve even seen bands that feature dogs and birds as vocalists, for Hell’s sake. Maybe we’ll all live to see a day when a band actually does invent a true diesel-powered guitar, but honestly, does it even matter that much anymore? Aren’t we all fully desensitized at this point?
Just be heavy, be fast, or be whatever, and leave the pursuit of extremes to the past when such a thing carried a lot more weight.
That’s really one of the huge benefits of being able to say you were alive and a part of the scene that managed to rankle to life at the onset of the 80s: witnessing first hand the hairtrigger shifts to new extremes that countless bands employed in hopes of challenging boundaries when boundaries were still plainly visible.
People today often laugh at the thought of literally getting spooked by an album, but by God, reading that infernal “We’re possessed by all that is evil…” quote on the back of Welcome to Hell in ’81 towered in its ability to make a kid feel a bit dangerous for having balls big enough to sneak it up to their room. Times were simpler, and you had to be louder, faster and more and more dramatic if you wanted to catch the attention of labels, magazines and any general ripper-at-large, particularly if your chops weren’t quite up to snuff yet.
Clearly, most eyes and ears were pinned to the UK in the very early part of the decade, thanks to consistently durable output from New Wave prime movers such as Maiden, Priest, Saxon, Tygers of Pan Tang, et al, but things really started to kick up a notch by the time ’83 rolled around and bands focused an increased attention toward strengthening speed, which is precisely where Newcastle’s Satan entered the picture.
In a world that was quickly becoming infiltrated by an increased division of humdrum NWOBHM releases that attempted to ride the coat-tails of coat-tails, Satan delivered real chops to the table. And despite sporting the most damnable moniker possible (with a Christian cross “T”? WTF?), the band’s lyrics and overall aesthetic had absolutely zilch to do with anything even remotely occult. But what they lacked in horrific hellfire wickedness, Satan more than made up for by helping to establish the essential building blocks for the quickly approaching melodic speed metal movement:
But just to give you an idea of how quickly things were moving back then, Kill ’em All, Melissa and Show No Mercy all dropped shortly after Court in the Act‘s release in June of ’83, and the following short-list of bands also managed to crop up throughout that very same year: Bathory, Death, Fates Warning, Helloween, Master, Mayhem, Megadeth, Morbid Angel, Possessed and Sacrifice.
Pants were titanically shat back in ’83.
Satan continued to kick out material throughout the 80s — under their original moniker, and via the slightly shifted line-ups of Blind Fury and Pariah — but bassist Graeme English and guitarist Steve Ramsey eventually bolted to form Skyclad with the help of Sabbat (UK) frontman, Martin Walkyier in 1990.
It wasn’t until 2004’s Wacken Festival that the band eventually reunited under the original Court in the Act line-up and decided to test the waters and see if anything was left in the tank in terms of brand new material.
Well hello there, Life Sentence.
There’s clearly been no shortage of bands reuniting in hopes of re-riding this long wave of 80s metal appreciation we’re currently enjoying. New bands continue to crop up to pay precise homage, and I recently counted a staggering FIFTEEN old-school NWOBHM bands outside of Saxon, Priest and Maiden that are still listed as ‘active’ in 2013. Last year delivered the first Angel Witch album in 27 years, and 2011 dropped the grand return of Hell with Human Remains, but I’d have to concede that Life Sentence outshines most everyone in terms of delivering a wholly enjoyable come-back album from start to finish.
First of all, feel free to judge this book by its cover. Is there any question that Eliran Kantor is one of the top three album artists in metal today?
Secondly, a quick tip of the hat is owed to a beautifully balanced production that gives equal attention to each member at nearly any given moment throughout these tunes. Ramsey and English have spent the better part of the last 20+ years further honing their fretting skills through Skyclad, but the rest of the crew has clearly been doing something to maintain this sort of skill level, and Dario Mollo’s mix does a wonderful job of capturing all the raw, vital energy that intesifies the whole album.
By today’s standards, Life Sentence stands far enough away from what most of our readers would consider extreme, it ain’t even funny. But as I attempted to point out in that first paragraph many moons ago, experimenting with extremes holds a lot less significance during an age when you’ve got nuttiness such as a 107.3 The Wave soft rock band fronted by a Satanic pontiff competing for ears. Life Sentence doesn’t need to challenge new grounds in order to garner attention because it’s a superlative example of how fun, melodic, classic heavy metal is intended to sound; there’s simply no need for exaggerated experimentation.
The album is split fairly evenly between songs that maintain a classic NWOBHM sound and ones that jack up the aggression/speed levels. Openers “Time to Die” and “Twenty Twenty Five”, along with slightly darker offerings such as “Incantations” and “Personal Demons” gallop at a mid-paced clip and emphasize bright melody through impeccable soloing and infectious vocal hooks, while “Cenotaph”, “Siege Mentality”, “Testimony” and the superb title track all kick up the adrenaline just enough to draw blood and remind folks exactly why Satan was considered a key architect in the speed metal realm.
During a time when metal continues to stack limp reunions and feeble re-hashers up to the rafters, it’s infinitely rewarding to come across a rekindling that sounds as if it was truly meant to be. Life Sentence finds Satan picking up squarely where they left off some 25+ years ago, and whether or not that equates to a necessary purchase for you depends entirely on what kind of a role dynamic, melodic and considerably satisfying old-school metal plays in your life. If that sounds great, get ready for one of 2013’s top releases.
Welcome back, gents.