Female voices in rock music used to leave me a little cold. On her good days, Ann Wilson would get me moving, but most of the time the voices just missed some mark I could never really put my finger on. From Pat Benatar to Lita Ford to Stevie Nicks… it was like when I was ready for a zig, they always zagged. Exceptions existed, of course: Tina Turner is the greatest metal singer to never sing metal; Joan Jett is as tough and surly as Phil Lynott or Bon Scott. But for the most part, I just never got what I needed from female voices. At least in rock music.
But there is always this nagging piece of a 16-year-old in me that makes my reaction to female voices raise up pointless defensive derision. Sanhedrin has a female vocalist, Erica Stoltz, and she sings in a traditional heavy metal style—clean, slightly operatic, slightly drunken brawler.
My immediate reaction to her voice was the stupid 16-year-old. But as is almost always the case, I mentally sent his surly hormonal ass to his metaphorical room and listened as an adult. And I have to tell you, Stoltz is fucking great. She hits all the sweets spots necessary to get me over the clean female vocal hump. She has range and a decent conservatism of her own vibrato and gravitas. I would call her voice very much akin to Bruce Dickinson’s, both in how she punctuates and how she carries the notes.
The music she sings upon is trad metal in the traddest sense of the word. It is that just-the-other-side-of-1983 style: lots of mid paces, gallopings, and the occasional quieter moments you used to find in post NWOBHM bands of that era. And lots, and I mean LOTS of tasty riffing, clear as a bell by way of guitarist Jeremy Sosville, whose setup has a “Swords and Tequila” sound that satisfies even when weighed against the overdriven glory of modern guitar production. With Erica taking on bass duties, drummer Nathan Honor rounds out the band, and his style is snare-heavy, but not in the rolling sense and more in “the accent of the off-beat” sense. Very cool.
Add those vocals to this, and you have a recipe for throwback metal greatness. From the anthemic pounding “Meditation (All My Gods Are Dead)” to the subtler, somewhat Queensrychian “The Poisoner” to the straight forward Motörhead-ish rocker “For the Wicked”, the band plays it like they were right there in the heyday of arena metal.
But where the band lets us down is in the recording. The sound of this record makes me think of a very well-produced demo with a lot of single-take performances and not a lot of backing tracks for rhythm guitars. It sounds like the vocals have had a few echo effects added, but otherwise the sound is of a rental space and a four-track. Now and then Sosville’s guitars get some massive double tracking, but generally the sound is strangely empty.
…which may be the intention. My death-metal-addled brain may be looking for wall of guitar and finding designed empty space. Fair enough. But it does create the occasional moment where the band sounds out of sync. Just here and there, not consistently, which makes me wonder whether they are just a little off—which I doubt as the band otherwise sounds like a gig-forged trio—or whether the production style does them a disservice?
Whichever it is, the simplicity and joy the band wrings from their songs all but negates the defects. As for my pathetic misogynistic reluctance to give a lady singer a break—hey, I am still growing. And Stoltz’ voice puts a shotgun to my back and tells me to get my old ass moving.
So, if you will excuse me, I got to move.