At the center of the kingdom there is a castle. At the center of the castle there is a fortified keep, from whence the kings of metal reign. Within these sacred halls, an eternal fire burns. Only those deemed most worthy are even granted access to The Flame, for it is The Flame which burns so brightly with true essence of the heavy metal spirit; it is to be protected upon the slow pain of death. Many a champion have approached, and in recent years, it appears as though there has been an influx of warriors testing their mettle (metal?) and striving to nurse a spark of inspiration into the blazing spectre of heavy, molten steel.
While any half-decent musician can whip together a few Judas Priest riffs, deliver a few falsettos around sword and sorcery, and record it all in a manner that sounds like a budget NWOBHM band, very few have that spirit: That burning passion—the true Flame that burns within. Hell, a lot of bands do this and pull off some pretty damn enjoyable releases. Yet, often, it feels like an imitation of what made heavy metal so great. Even when bursting at the seams with potential, often it serves as but a hollow reflection in the shadows of the trailblazers that shaped the genre in the golden age.
Following a brief synth intro, Greyhawk showcase a bit of their versatility right from the start. “Frozen Star” kicks straight into a bit of classic Euro-styled power metal complete with running kicks and shredding guitar, coupled with anthemic, uplifting vocals. Singer Rev Taylor adds an element of might with his muscle-bound larynx, delivering a twist of the US-styled power metal more evident on the EP. The hooks really begin to sink in with the following number, the thrashier, Thundersteelian “Drop The Hammer,” complete with gang vocals and the welcome addition of some tasty lead work atop the throbbing pulse of the music.
The album slows a bit with the mid-paced driver of “Halls Of Insanity,” and the band’s ear for melody really begins to shine through. The leads are fantastic, never distracting from the pacing of the song and spilling tastefully into their solos like blood into the groove of a blade. At this point, Greyhawk have shown they have the skills to manifest that true spirit of the 80s. Yet it’s the next track that truly ignites the kindling.
The Sisters Of Mercy-style beginning of “The Rising Sign” could easily be seen as an influence from a close proximity to Idle Hands, who combined the goth rock elements with the heavy metal sound of the 80s over the last two years. However, Greyhawk’s usage of the technique is but another weapon in the arsenal they utilize in the quest for that 80s spirit, shifting the mood of the song from a more morose feel to a triumphant peak. The guitar tone here is so unbelievably perfect—it hits the radio-friendly vibes of solo Ozzy and Dio, both in riffs and sound. In an era when bands are striving for the “overlooked cult classic” take on production values, this comes as a welcome relief. Greyhawk are bold, and they have nothing to hide behind. It’s simply a pure, unabashed love of the classics that shines through the band’s infectious, accessible sound. An aura of might is added on the bridge with the masculine woah’s to bring the song to full climax, with Taylor belting out about “sun and moon, earth and sky,” calling to the Warriors, the Lovers, and Keepers of the Flame. I hear you, Rev, I feel you!
The shreddy instrumental of “R.X.R.O.” does a fine job of setting the midpoint of the album before dropping into what is unmistakably a top-down, hair out, summer jam of 2020. Call it cheesy, but Greyhawk make the damn honest, feel-good ripper of “Don’t Wait For The Wizard” into yet another highlight of the album. The mechanics behind it are nothing new—the drop into the softer section complemented with a bit of classic hard rockin’ licks explodes into a glorious bridge that will send tingles and summon the power of inspiration over any feelings of embarrassment that may possibly stem from how unapologetically corny it is. It takes some serious wizarding to channel that level of cheese into empowerment, and Greyhawk pull it off with flying colors. No amount of cynical sneering can withstand the magical force that lies within the human heart. As the band states themselves, the power is in you!
Greyhawk demonstrate some strategic insight with “Black Peak.” While it’s certainly not a weak track, it starts slow. A building verse / chorus structure gives way to a set of smoldering solos that nurse the fire within as it grows, each member feeding off one another’s energy before lowering again to an explicitly 80s’ bridge that absolutely explodes at its conclusion, marked with the falsetto that absolutely rips from Taylor’s vocals into an affirming conclusion over searing lead guitar solos.
“Masters Of The Sky” follows, showing the most Iron Maiden influence on the band with its bouncy, playful bass work. However, Greyhawk never feel like they are ripping any of their influences off wholesale—the choral vocals beneath the verse feel more of a US trait than that of the early UK pioneers. In fact, it’s this marriage of the greats of both continents that lend themselves to Greyhawk’s success. It doesn’t matter where it’s from, as long as it’s rocking and heavy, Greyhawk find a way to incorporate it into their sound.
There’s a distinctly vibrant US power metal feel to “Ophidian Throne,” with Greyhawk calling upon the spirits of Jag Panzer and Omen as they begin to wrap up the album and drive the damn point on home. The might and magic element really bleeds through, both in the riffs and in the vocals, as the band draws from the strength of kings of the genre. The catchiness, the spirit and the attitude never falter and come full circle on the title track closer. With all the buildup of the album, an anthemic closer is to be expected, and Greyhawk deliver full force with an anthem suited for singalong, fest-mad Manowarriors. The slower pacing adds a drive to the closer, packed with the spirit of triumph to unite the brothers-in-arms tending the flames of the True Metal Spirit.
Throughout Keepers Of The Flame, Greyhawk manages to channel the spirits of classic artists both renowned and obscure alike, featuring bits of acts such as Judas Priest, Omen, Manowar, Jag Panzer, Helloween, Blind Guardian, Griffin, Ozzy Osbourne, Dio, Gamma Ray, and Riot, to name a few. In all honesty, you can hear so much of the history of heavy metal in Greyhawk’s sound, all packaged neatly into the band’s distinctive style with plenty of unexpected surprises that mask themselves in an air of familiarity that is instantly accessible. Greyhawk holds the keys to the heavy metal kingdom, both paying tribute to and drawing inspiration from the gods of yesteryear. Never relying on scrappy production to deliver their message, Greyhawk are to be blasted loud and proud, brazen and unabashed with the spirit of The Flame burning brightly. Keepers Of The Flame, indeed.