*Extremely quiet museum docent voice*
“Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a little-known fact, but the band Savage Master took their name from the French ‘Ça Va-Je Mas Terre’, which is a supremely sophisticated name that I just made up on the spot because none of you troglodytes is smart enough to understand my extremely quiet museum docent voice. Now, Ça Va-Je Mas Terre’s first album Avec Whips et Chains (which means With Whips and Chains for you rosé-guzzling hillbillies) was written as a concept album about the thrilling history of the paper doily industry, which began-
*Extremely exaggerated record-scratching sound*
*A bulldog wearing a cape streaks by on a skateboard that is literally on fire*
*A disembodied voice booms from the heavens*
“THE DOCENT IS GUILTY / THE CRIME IS LYING / THE SENTENCE IS DEATH / BULLDOG DESCENDS”
*The bulldog streaks by on another pass and flips a wicked ollie while shredding a guitar solo. At the precise moment the bulldog hits her whammy bar, an enormous marble bust of Paul Di’Anno falls on the museum docent. The tour group erupts into spontaneous cheers.*[fin]
Friends, we’re just having some fun here, but hopefully the point is clear: With Whips and Chains, the second album by Kentucky’s Savage Master, is exactly the kind of snotty, sloppy, beer-spilling heavy metal glory that once made all and sundry so convinced it was a one-way path to teenaged delinquency and ruination. Savage Master fetishizes heavy metal from about 1980-1983, where traditional metal, NWOBHM, and speed metal happily commingled and interbred, but before thrash took the baton. With Whips and Chains sounds pretty much exactly like you’d expect from an album raised on a steady diet of Killers, Frost and Fire, Court in the Act, Angel Witch, Melissa, Fire Down Under, Rock Until You Drop, and Welcome to Hell.
The vocals of Stacey Peak are perfect for the style, roughshod and not always on pitch, but they evoke Royal Thunder‘s Mlny Parsonz, The Distillers‘ Brody Dalle, and Spencer Moody of the Murder City Devils (with an occasional touch of Danzig). If there’s a weak link to Savage Master at the moment, it’s in Zach Harris’s drumming. While serviceable, it’s done with too light a touch, and although the occasional fills are endearing in their flailing, the beat-keeping is otherwise so rudimentary that it’s sometimes distracting.
As such, Savage Master is all about swagger over flash. You may just find yourself dancing to the tambourine-aided boogie of “Path of the Necromancer.” They are not without traces of subtlety, however, as on late-album highlight “Satan’s Crown,” which, with its driving, melodic chorus and epic through-line, sees Savage Master as close to a Mercyful Fate/Angel Witch hybrid as they get on this album.
Apart from the classic metal they’re clearly indebted to, Savage Master also sounds quite a bit like if Christian Mistress had really decided to dig into their dirtbag roots after Agony & Opium instead of tidying up, and the added level of punk attitude and Midnight-styled tongue in cheek evil goes a long way to livening up these songs. That means you’re in store for NWOBHM licks, Satanic kitsch, respectfully traditional chugging riffs, and solos that are sometimes surprising in their competence. After all, much of the appeal of heavy metal’s rapid evolution in the 1980s stemmed from the sometimes accidental profundity achieved in its grimly determined pursuit of crudity.
Savage Master has attitude to spare, and while their instrumental chops are rough and loose, the key to the album’s success is that each song has hook after studded leather hook, so much so that you may find most of these songs banging around in your head long after you’ve stopped listening. And that’s really the key: nearly anyone can more or less nail a visual aesthetic, a particular production, a guitar tone, or a songwriting style. But when you can back up all of those superficial characteristics with catchy, memorable, sturdy songs, that’s what separates retro metal as a fashion choice from retro metal as an honest expression of the type of metal a band wants to hear, play, and live.
With Whips and Chains is tailor-made for the live environment, with plenty of gang vocals and call-and-response that are just begging you to stay out irresponsibly late and nurse one hell of a hangover at work the next day (e.g., from album closer “Ready to Sin”: “Under the banner – 666! – Beneath inverted crucifix!”). Ultimately, With Whips and Chains is a ghoulishly fun album, full of the bratty attitude and desire to play fast, mean, and loud that got so much of this racket we know as heavy metal off the ground in the first place. It’s not going to change your world, but it’ll stay with you.