One of the more tragic aspects of the genre-defining New Wave Of British Heavy Metal was that few bands managed to continue the momentum after the peak of the movement. By the mid-80s, many acts either broke up, changed musical direction, or failed to re-capture the magic of their debut or sophomore efforts. There are, of course, exceptions to this outside of the stadium-tier acts such as Iron Maiden. Enter Satan, whose 1983 debut, Court In The Act, would later be considered one of the crowning gems of the NWOBHM and an oft-cited example of one of the earliest speed metal releases. Throughout their fragmented career, albeit with different members and under various nomenclature, Satan have managed to do what has alluded the grasp of so many promising bands of the era: recapture the magic of another age as though no time at all has passed.
Fans of the band probably already know what to expect before playing the record, but part of the magic of Satan’s consistency is their ability to present the familiar as something new and fresh. While their general approach to songwriting tends to work within their own confines, few ideas feel recycled from previous efforts. The first track on the album, “Into The Mouth Of Eternity,” shows that Satan still sounds like Satan. Featuring lively guitar leads conjoined with Brian Ross’s signature crisp vocals, Cruel Magic is off to a solid start. Progressing a little further, the guitars really let loose for one of the highlights of the album in “Legions Hellbound.” The shredding behind the chorus creates a triumphant build up of tension before the softer guitar solo creeps into a bridge that explodes with trading solos over a faster passage before returning to the verse.
Satan expands on their flirtation with more progressive elements in their structures, as further evidenced by the equally excellent track “My Prophetic Soul.” In classic Satan fashion, melodies are delivered at breakneck speeds, and it’s just riff after riff. While still working in the confines of an overall verse/chorus structure, its the sections in between that really shine. The bridges are expertly crafted to carry the weight of what is a catchy tune to begin with and expand it into more of a journey without meandering too far from what really makes the band so great: their songwriting. Though Cruel Magic may not be quite as speedy as their previous material, it is without any sacrifice to the electricity of the music itself (which isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of fast-paced burners that glide the record forward).
Satan does evoke a sort of cruel magic on their latest effort. It satisfies anything a fan of classic heavy metal could want and leaves them with the desire for more. Granted, fans of the under-budget production of the old days won’t find that here – the recording is most assuredly modern, but done well and just lets the band shine at what they do best: making good, catchy songs and great moments that make for a powerful performance that belongs in the upper echelons of the band’s already ironclad catalogue.