The world’s in flames. Capitalism and the environment are collapsing, cyberwars are rife, entire nations are reduced to battlefields, and I’m sure you’re aware there are political, social, and cultural clashes galore. To top it all off, you might have noticed that deadly pandemic that’s currently sweeping the globe. The only thing we haven’t experienced yet are plagues of boils, but they’ll likely turn up next week, and then we can officially close the book on the utterly failed experiment that we like to call humanity.
Is that too bleak? It doesn’t feel like it!?! Dangerous mishaps and major catastrophes are gathering pace. But have no fear, because Aotearoa New Zealand speed metal trio Stälker are here to brighten up your end of days. The Wellington-based band have a penchant for video nastiness and post-apocalyptic Hellscapes: think Mad Max via Evil Dead via Escape from New York. Stälker are only too happy to slip on their high-tops, zip up their too-tight jeans, and get down to business unleashing the kind of gritty speed metal that honors everything that’s lawless and wildly over the top about heavy fucking metal. (See that 666% OTT album cover above, for a start.)
Stälker are standard-bearers for 80s-worshipping metal, and if you’re a fan of spikes, studs, gauntlets, bullet-belts, and patched vests, then Stälker’s sophomore full-length, Black Majik Terror, has got you covered. Black Majik Terror is an album made for those who recognize that Show No Mercy and Hell Awaits are better albums than Reign in Blood. Stälker’s line of attack tips its hat to bands like Nasty Savage, Exciter, Sadus, Razor, and Whiplash, who often delivered visceral music that eclipsed the raw intensity of many of the Big Four’s releases. I could spend all day naming subterranean old schoolers that Stälker raise a toast to—see the likes of Morbid Saint, Wehrmacht, Helstar, Agent Steel, Lȧȧz Rockit, Iron Angel, Hirax, and Toxik—but I’m sure you get the point.
Like those aforementioned bands, Stälker wrap shred-head pyrotechnics around streetwise speed and thrash metal (and they throw a few NWOBHM-worthy melodies into the mix too). Stälker’s sound is authentic and authoritative, with quickfire bursts of punk attitude injected into fist-pumping metal. Stälker haven’t just appeared out of nowhere either—the band made a strong first impression selling 1,000 copies of their 2016 demo, Satanic Panic. That drew the attention of Napalm Records, who snapped Stälker up and released the band’s well-received full-length debut, 2017’s Shadow of the Sword. Stälker followed that release with their sold-out 7″, “Powermad / Behold The Beast,” which brings us to the long-awaited Black Majik Terror.
The pressure was definitely on Stälker guitarist Chris Calavrias, drummer Nick Oakes, and the band’s not-so-secret weapon, powerhouse vocalist and bassist Daif King, as they recorded Black Majik Terror. Shadow of the Sword did well down under, but even better in Europe, where fans from France to Germany to Hungary praised the album’s rip-roaring tracks. Like Shadow of the Sword, Black Majik Terror features pitch-perfect retro metal with Halford-like falsettos and countless screaming solos, but nothing here sounds derivative or plagiarized.
Black Majik Terror sees Stälker dialing up the pace, power, and intensity. Album opener, “Of Steel and Fire,” cuts right to the marrow of what it means to be a metalhead, with a self-aware wink embedded in all the six-string theatrics. The album’s title track is up next, and after a Hammer Horror intro, Stälker unleash another super-catchy collection of lightning-fast riffs, rocketing solos, and sky-high vocals. Pedal-to-the-metal tracks like “Sentenced to Death” and “Stalker” offer more high-speed and unhinged musicality. But as blistering as most of their tracks are, Stälker take time to step off the gas, for a moment or two, on slow-burning numbers like “Holocene” or “The Cross”.
Both tracks whip themselves into a frenzy of fretboard gymnastics in their latter stages, but, initially, Stälker rein in the pace on “Holocene” and “The Cross.” Slowly ratcheting the razor-sharp pressure, before everything detonates in a whirlwind explosion of dive-bombing guitars, bass, and propulsive percussion reveals another dimension to Stälker’s sound. There’s no question Stälker can deliver warp-speed metal, but it’s also good to see a little more sonic diversity on Black Majik Terror. Maelstrom tracks like “The Cross,” “Iron Genocide,” and “Intruder” marry rock-solid hooks to a bare-knuckled approach, and Stälker’s MO throughout their new LP takes you back to a time when bands like Venom and Warfare didn’t so much turn heads as just tear them off.
You might have noticed this review is heavy on the positives thus far, and that’s because Stälker’s anthemic tracks exemplify all that is (un)holy about skull-shaking, old school speed metal. Black Majik Terror is exhilarating, and that inspires a lot of enthusiasm, but there’s also nothing groundbreaking here, so if you’re looking for trendsetting, cutting-edge, or forward-thinking metal, you best look elsewhere.
Black Majik Terror doesn’t suffer from any compositional or instrumental issues, as such. I mean, production-wise, everything is red-raw and throttling, but that’s also kind of the point. Stälker’s lacerating guitar tone, bulldozing bass, and crashing drums are perfectly aligned with the band’s dirty underground 80s aesthetic. But if you wanted to gripe about Stälker’s singular focus, that’s fair enough. If you’re not willing to fully commit to the world Stälker create, then hasta la vista, my friend. Stälker clearly don’t tolerate fence-sitters or half-hearted fans. You’re either all in or GTFO.
If you’re in, then hang on tight, because the band’s amphetamine-fueled tracks are delivered with maximum conviction and maximum firepower. It takes a mountain of swagger to play with this level of self-assurance; not to mention a fair amount of dexterity and intuitive talent too. I don’t want to over-intellectualize the primal nature of Black Majik Terror, but Stälker’s ability to distill metal down to its purest essence, and then super-charge the result, shows a deep appreciation of both the genre’s history and histrionics.
The sheer joy of listening to Stälker tear it up on Black Majik Terror feels more important than ever—and, dare I say it, it even feels downright cathartic at this point in time. Black Majik Terror is a full-bore celebration of metal’s most captivating and charismatic characteristics. The album doesn’t just pay tribute to metal’s greatest hallmarks, though. Black Majik Terror also extols the virtues and value of banging your head, pounding your chest, and wrecking your neck for the cause.
Black Majik Terror is a tour de force of speed metal mayhem. It’s fun, furious, and off-the-fucking-chain – from its very first seconds to its last.