[Cover artwork by Tamara Comas]
Toronto, Ontario’s Possessed Steel spends precisely zero minutes and zip seconds attempting any sort of subterfuge regarding what’s on tap with their debut full-length, Aedris. And just in case you’re the sort of revolutionary radical who opts to avoid judging a book by its sweet cover, here’s another handy clue to throw toward the ol’ rods ’n’ cones that should make things abundantly clear:
Correct! They play HEAVY METAL. You remember heavy metal—that thing that existed in simpler times before unlimited branches triggered the now inescapable “but what kiiiind of heavy metal” query. The sort of heavy metal that included a few or (ideally) all of the following: hide vests, gauntlets, leather headbands, sword necklaces, cauldrons that foresee the future, battle steeds, cloaks in lieu of capes, boiled leather britches, wheels of pain, forest life, paying for drinks with reclaimed doubloons, airbrushed tour vans, galloping rhythms, epic riffs, twin axe battles, and a winding narrative delivered by a rogue troubadour who very well might offset his mic hand by gripping a bastard sword the size of a hockey stick in the other.
Aedris conjures a similar sort of glorious heavy metal spirit that made Bruce Dickinson decide a hawk mask, yellow leggings and tube socks were totally reasonable, and it’s the same spirit that made young 80s’ metallers all wish we could uncover the same secret path allowing us to live similarly.
Possessed Steel embodies all of these things, and despite attempts at wisecracking above, it’s crucial to point out that these fellows manage the task with zero sense of jest or insincerity.
Aedris is the protagonist here—a guardian chosen to wield a sword fashioned from the horn of a black unicorn and forged in its boiling blood—and he is charged with the task of slaying three unearthly siblings responsible for creating the world that have since decided to destroy said world because of its inhabitants’ interminable insistence on recklessness. That’s the storyline in a crude nutshell, and Possessed Steel delivers the tale wrapped in a doomy, galloping, epic and deliciously raw blend of trad metal that conjures images of Pennsylvania’s Argus colliding with the Piece Of Mind-era of Iron Maiden.
That slow, heavy strut that’s lifted by the melodic guitars and vocalist / guitarist Talon Sullivan’s serene delivery points to a more, um, carefree(?) version of a record like Boldly Stride the Doomed, and oh what a wonderfully warm and contagious chorus “Spellblade” surrenders. The closing minute quickly changes the mood, though, as Don Bachinski’s fluttering bass launches the song into an accelerated gallop that, when coupled with a fiery little lead, gives the record’s first evidence of early Maiden. This insistence on flattening the listener with a busy, heavily bubbling bass is torn directly from the pages of The Steve Harris School of Bulldozing and is a staple heard throughout Aedris, but the Maidenisms are probably strongest on a song like “Keeper of the Woods,” so be ready to scour some old albums in hopes of discovering an original point of reference.
The overall Possessed Steel method has quite a few tricks up its sleeve to help establish a very unique footprint, however. Even the above-mentioned “Keeper of the Woods” maintains a stride that’s often coated with a healthy scoop of molasses, and the sheer weight it achieves in its closing minutes eventually reaches an “All Your Sins” kind of heavy.
The record also boasts plenty of speedier moments. The cold strike of “Frost Lich,” for example, which incorporates the poisonous rasp Sullivan also utilizes (with discretion). Plus, the most forceful and Slough Feggiest of the bunch, “Assault of the Twilight Keep.”
In addition, stretches of mellow moodiness abound. It’s woven throughout a number of the more heroic songs, but the crown is achieved with the enchanting, Flamenco-touched “Free at Last.” And if you’re hoping for one of those stretched, absurdly melodic epics that manages to fold in everything into one big bombshell that’ll leave you bolting for the backwoods with a double-bit ax strapped to your back, “Skeleton King” absolutely has you covered.
Just how necessary is an album like Aedris for you? If you walked into this review unfamiliar with the band, chances are pretty good you made at least half your decision based purely on the visual elements provided. Thankfully, some of life’s choices can still be just that easy. Any remaining judgement swings largely on the following statement: How badly do you need more mythical traditional heavy metal that leans heavily on doom, oodles of melodic leads, silvery vocals, galloping fury, and the perfect pinch of icy wickedness to slam the triumph home? If the answer to that question is a hearty “VERY BADLY,” you best make some room for Aedris in your stack of 2020 favorites.
Possessed Steel is:
Talon Sullivan – vocals, guitar
Don Bachinski – bass
Steve Mac – guitars
Richard Rizzo – drums
Available November 30th through Temple of Mystery Records.