Reviews are unnecessary. We don’t really like to talk about that out in the open like this, but there you go. Any schmoe with an internet connection and an afternoon off can judge whether or not something’s in their wheelhouse these days. You don’t need fifty blowhard “journalists” kicking the living shit out of a thesaurus for yet another synonym of a synonym of a synonym for “brutal.” Yet somehow the review joints continue to pop up overnight like Dress Barns in the Midwest. And the madness continues to stretch because there’s early music and heavy petting involved, and labels and bands like to have multiple avenues for linking the public to reasons why their wares should be gobbled up before they’re never available again until the next pressing. The internet has killed another thing we used to enjoy relying on, but at least we can find out who was king of Prussia in 1791 while eating mac & cheese at 3am.
Wait, no… Reviews aren’t unnecessary. Scratch that damning opener. The ROLE of the review and reviewer has shifted. Hopefully.
We are here as advisers, wardens and laborers for those short on the patience required to drudge through the endless minutes, hours and miles of every release that falls from the Heavens like unique snowflakes. We are veterans who perform our duty in a proficient, ideally entertaining manner. We recognize the necessity of progression and salute valuable experimenters, but if we are truly worth our salt, we understand the significance of – and obligation to – metal’s genealogy, and to being lifelong students just as much as we are enduring fans. That last point is thorny, because I’ve seen a lot of folks writing under such a role who refuse to understand the significance of – and obligation to – metal’s genealogy, and to being lifelong students just as much as enduring fans. These writers are fools, and they should be rooted out, dragged into the town square, and flogged with great enthusiasm. For how can we properly herald those who suitably repeat the past if we don’t fully understand our past? And if you happen to be one of those ramrods who’s uninterested in music that repeats the past, then enjoy listening to your 0011101001 Future Metal WHILE YOU BURN AT THE STAKE.
“Why was I chosen? I still do not know, though they believed they had told me. Now it is done and I am here. I shall always be here. And if, as wise men tell me, time is cyclic, then I shall one day return to part of the cycle I knew as the twentieth century, for I am immortal.” ~ Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion
That’s right, Eternal Champion is immortal. Doomed to live forever, duty bound to preserve the balance between order and chaos, and in this embodiment, devoted to perpetuating a time when metal was pure, heroic and triumphant. Dig up ancient rags and scan the compilation album promo photos beyond the big names everyone already knows – the Metal Power, Iron Tyrants and Heavy Artillery comps that featured bands like Scarlet Angel, Deus Vault and Deathslayer – you will see Eternal Champion there. Immortal.
And like those hoary forgottens, this band is fairly removed from what’s chic, which, in this case, applies to “retro metal” being produced in 2016. Eternal Champion’s time-honored method is strangely subtle in that it’s far removed from the sort of overblown and over-stylized Brütal Legend approach other goofy bands attempt today. This is not corny, digitally rendered warriors swinging swords twice the size of their body. Eternal Champion’s use of what some might consider a moth-eaten trope pertaining to swords & sorcery is more refined and honestly smarter. For what it’s worth, I’ve been known to enjoy both ends of the spectrum, but it’s nice to balance the wealth of Terry Goodkinds with an E.R. Eddison now and again.
Your pillared halls offer quarter in the night, but no rest
It haunts those when their honor falls
By the dawn you’ll pay the price
For an ocean I’ve crossed
Through sands I rode for my right to bring my wrath upon…”
But regardless of keener methods, one look at the cover (courtesy of Adam Burke) will be enough to either rebuff or entice, and both will make the perfect choice. Pretty simple. If you’re the sort who’s drawn in, just know that The Armor of Ire is gritty, direct and perfectly imperfect. That’s not to say that what’s delivered ever comes across as clumsy – far from it. The imperfections mostly lie in a curious production that reverbs the living hell out of much of the ornamentation. It’s not a significant hamstring, but it forces the need for a lyric sheet, and here and there a lead will sound as if the guitarist has already made it to the next unchartered room down the corridor and is ripping a quick solo to let you know the good stuff has already been plucked from the treasure.
Suckers will throw out the emblematic Iron Maiden or Judas Priest observations, mostly to pinpoint some semblance of dustiness, but this band is obsessed with neither perpetual dual-axe leads (despite having three guitarists) or being hellbent for leather. This is New Renaissance or Cobra Records dishing out Deadly Blessing, Griffin or Chastain. Ralph Bakshi’s “Lord of the Rings” over the polished glitz of Jackson’s version. Metal kings, conceivably, but far from the exaggerated pageantry of the Kings of Metal MMXIV. The record also doesn’t really scream “fellowship” in the typical convention that equates to swinging arms in a beer hall. Not that I wouldn’t want to see these songs performed live with similarly-minded individuals, it’s just that there’s a darker, more solitary edge to most of the songs that’s suited for isolation, and it’s reinforced by the fact that none of the choruses are stein-clanking sing-a-longs.
As the title track suggests, there is a modern crispness to the riffing that shares a similar tone to drummer (producer) Arthur Rizk’s sister band, Sumerlands, but it’s often speedier with Eternal Champion, giving the overall temperament just a shade of that early Agent Steel agility – something that’s bolstered by the fact that singer Jason Tarpey sounds like a glancing collision between John Cyriis and Into the Mirror Black era Warrel Dane, but more understated. He really gets an opportunity to shine on the slower “Invoker,” and the album’s most lordly salvo to crisp, triumphant riffing drops with the amazing “The Cold Sword.” Front to back, The Armor of Ire is vigorous and melodic without beating you over the head with pretentiousness, and it closes on a beautifully somber note (“Shade Gate”) that seriously and unapologetically smuggles a doomed quote from Skeletor into the mix:
“Madness! I demand of destitution, shame, and loneliness of scorn. It is my destiny! It is my right! Nothing will deter me from it…”
It’s wonderful to see so much attention being thrown toward metal these days that folks refer to as “retro.” But it’s important to note that a tag such as this, while convenient for classification, isn’t really retro to many of us – it’s just heavy metal. I suppose that might come across as unduly finicky, but it’s true. Pure, honest, potent heavy metal that existed long before the many branches began to stem has had over four decades of great history, and thankfully, there will always be an Eternal Champion to carry the very same torch hoisted by the Manilla Roads and Cirith Ungols of our day. Heavy metal is immortal, and no amount of dilution or celebrity will ever asphyxiate this beast.
The Armor of Ire – the sort of record a future hesher will uncover at a garage sale in the year 2056 and totally shit his or her pants with excitement because they’ve been looking for it for years.