By and large, breaking news of 80s-era bands reuniting and deciding to soldier forward inspires feelings of dread or varying degrees of affronted indifference. Not just in our fair genre, either. Go ask anyone near and dear to your heart who happened to live and love and carouse throughout the 80s if they’re crapping a metric ton over the reformation of Extreme, Kajagoogoo or Vixen. Ol’ Uncle Jim probably isn’t looking forward to decaying ‘neath the rotting aura of Information Society at the State Fair with the missus this summer, but at least he’ll be able to eat like an 8yr old again. “I wanna know… what you’re thinkin’”, Uncle Jimbo, and I have a feeling it has everything to do with fried spaghetti and meatballs on a stick.
Metal’s just as bad, if not worse. A tip of the hat is due to the bands that have endured the years and varied hardships and still manage to consistently produce new and relevant material (Manilla Road and Riot (x 100)), but a steady state of bewilderment is also owed to the staggering amount of dusty wobblers from the NWOBHM era that suddenly decide to brush off the SG’s and rickety Rickenbackers after playing one or two successful shows during festival season. More often than not, the ensuing new releases are as spectacular as a mayonnaise sandwich, but at least it gives fans an opportunity to hear some classics live again, even if they’re frequently muscled through by folks who look like they’d rather be ripping through a half-a-rack of ribs than 30 minutes of 30yr-old tunes.
But the exceptions that manage to test the rule really make the trip worthwhile. Bands such as Hell and Satan (cutest couple!) both released modern material easily worthy of their legacy, Angel Witch pleased many with 2012’s As Above, So Below, and now the epic doom lads behind Sweden’s Sorcerer have decided to bump the ante and release something that manages to eclipse the material they produced more than two decades ago.
The short story is a fairly familiar one. Sorcerer formed in the late 80s and released two very difficult to track down Candlemass-inspired demos. John Perez (Solitude Aeturnus) compiled and released the band’s material twice through Brain Ticket Records – once in 1995, and again in 2011. Original members Johnny Hagel (ex-Tiamat) and Anders Engberg cobbled together a few friends to play a couple festivals, received a wealth of positive feedback, and subsequently decided to begin working on new material. Approximately three years later, In the Shadow of the Inverted Cross is born, putting a definitive exclamation point on the end of an epic doom sentence in 2015 that also includes the words “Crypt Sermon’s Out of the Garden.”
The first element responsible for boosting the record’s overall authority is the clear upgrade in production. In the Shadow of the Inverted Cross jumps off the speakers with a bustling, robust sound that gives ample stretching room for each player. While metal often benefits from more grit, the crispness here does a wonderful job of intensifying two of Sorcerer’s most crucial components: Anders Engberg’s vocals, and the leveling amount of silvery leads that crop up on each cut. I’ll get to the vocals in a moment, but the leads lighting up this record are the best I’ve heard this year. The somber, crawling manner in which a tune like “Lake of the Lost Souls” flows is engaging enough, but the stunning solo that rips for about two minutes around 5:45 fires the song through the roof. There be a bounty of similar moments throughout these 55 minutes.
And by the billowing robes of Marcolin, those vocals! Anders Engberg definitely comes from the “Pipes of Sterling Silver” school of doom vocalists, and the years have been very kind to him. At times, he gives Sorcerer hint of power metal in a Rain Irving/While Heaven Wept kind of way, but he also has a very strong Tony Martin slant, particularly during the album’s darker passages. The closing minutes of the fantastic “Sumerian Script,” for example, and throughout the more vigorous, harder rocking numbers like “Exorcise the Demon” and “The Gates of Hell” – a satisfying portion of In the Shadow… feels as if it fell off a lost Tyr session, thanks largely to Anders’ execution.
As good as all the above individual elements are, however, that lovable, marble-headed ramrodius maximus Aristotle was right on the nose when he prattled on about “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In the end, In the Shadow of the Inverted Cross belongs on any epic doomhead’s To Investigate Immediately List because it showcases a superior song-crafting that weaves all the goodies together into a Hell of a ripping tale, start to finish. The blueprint is obviously pulled from a Candlemassive tome (opener “The Dark Tower of the Sorcerer” is the best Candlemass tune not released by Candlemass in years), but Sorcerer does so much more within each song, thereby distancing themselves from anything that could be considered straight-up copycat. The Sabbath/Tyr infusions, the contagious refrains, those golden leads, the smooth shifts from epic to sullen, and the proficient manner in which it’s all interwoven: These are the marks of a band that knows how to design with longevity in mind, even if it took them approximately 25 years to get to this point.
Slow and steady wins the race.