Clearly, grunge did not kill metal. What it did kill, however, was hope—the hope of every mid-to-late 80s’ hard rock / metal band that was interested in rocketing into living rooms via MTV / 107.7 The Boneyard / etc. and becoming the next household name. As hard as it is to imagine, young bands with guitars actually made a living off music back then, so having a commercial element attached to heaviness wasn’t as contentious as it is today. During the 80s, people mostly wanted good parties, good hair and cocaine highways, and hair metal and hard rock were only too willing to provide the soundtrack for the endless celebration. Grunge slaughtered that in a warmly gloomy instant, though—move over Kik Tracee, there’s Tad to be had.
Fifth Angel also made a couple early misguided decisions—namely the curious choice to avoid small venues, which stymied opportunities to strengthen an early reputation. Sure, songs like “In the Fallout” and “Fifth Angel” had the potential to score huge on the big stage, and the debut was received well enough to land them a multi-record deal with a major label that led up to 1989’s slightly cleaner Time Will Tell (which featured “Midnight Love,” a song that Howard Stern would use for years as his opening theme), but it wasn’t near enough to prepare the band for the arrival of the moping Flannel Army. By 1990, Fifth Angel and most every band of their ilk took a very sobering back seat.
Luckily, thanks to a little outside help, great music often finds interesting ways of refusing to die—please take a moment to give thanks to Keep It True out of Lauda-Königshofen, Germany. Not only is this yearly festival responsible for reviving classic line-ups for live performances of Awaken the Guardian, Doomsday for the Deceiver, Dreamweaver and the like, they’ve helped rekindle interest for classic (in some cases, largely forgotten) bands such as Deadly Blessing, Hexx, Abattoir, Heir Apparent, Cerebus, Heavy Load and, yes, Fifth Angel. In fact, it was a particularly well-received KIT reunion show in 2010 that revitalized the Angel dudes and lead to a deal with Nuclear Blast. Now, a full 30 years since the release of Time Will Tell, most of the musicians involved in the creation of the first two records (apart from founding guitarist James Byrd and original vocalist Ted Pilot, who is now a dental surgeon) are back, and they’re finally ready to deliver record number three, The Third Secret.
Because they all cruised the Seattle streets around the same time, Fifth Angel were and still are most often linked to Heir Apparent and Queensrÿche. But where the latter two put a notably progressive spin on metal, Fifth Angel opted for a streamlined blueprint that emphasized a more natural rock structure of intro, verse, chorus, bridge, lead and outro, and all with a serious insistence on hook. Basically, the same sort of hard rockin’ metal that put a record like The Ultimate Sin into endless ears. That formula hasn’t changed a bit for The Third Secret, but there is a bit of an added weight—both in design and production—that makes it evident that the band appreciates the fact that it’s the headbangers who are ready to embrace them again. In that regard, the record parallels the debut a bit more, with songs like the opening “Stars are Falling,” “Dust to Dust,” “This is War” and “Shame On You” all galloping with a heft that, when tied to lead guitarist Kendall Bechtel’s “John Bushy” voice, gives a modern Armored Saint impression.
There’s still plenty of that fiery hard rock in the band’s veins, however—most notably on cuts such as “We Will Rise” and “Shame On You” that underscore a little more sass and blast. All of it draws attention to addictive hooks and smart songwriting, and Kendall Bechtel’s lead guitar work in particular is absolutely fantastic from start to finish. Hell, they even still manage to make ballads and the more slow & stormy numbers highpoints, rather than something you’d normally skip due to sappiness. It might seem strange to offer up a slower cut as your first slice of new music in three decades, but “Can You Hear Me” hits all the right notes.
“Fatima” is similarly brooding and lands later in the album, which further demonstrates the band’s savvy for recognizing that a mixture of moods and tempos ultimately adds to a record’s overall virtue and longevity. It’s one of many smart moves pertaining to The Third Secret, and its a strong reason why Fifth Angel is no exception to the truth that this year has been very kind to classic bands that either find themselves still in active duty, or back in active duty for 2018.
If you count yourself a fan of the earliest interpretation of U.S. power metal mixed with a healthy dose of hard rock, or if you’ve always been a fan of the band and find yourself curious about the effects of a 30-year gap, be sure to put this record on your list. The Third Secret recalls a time when metal wasn’t afraid to cast a wide net and bands still wrote music intended for the arena, but it also manages to avoid sounding purposely dusty, which is refreshing. In essence, a banger of a record that’s deserving of universal attention.
Good to have you back, Fifth Angel.