[Artwork by SeventhBell / Jack Welch]
We all have those certain bands we champion like heroes and attempt to push into the lives of virtually anyone lucky enough to coexist in our sphere. And when our cohabitants somehow avoid reacting with an equivalent or greater enthusiasm to said band, we either chalk it up to their shoddy genetics or we build a time machine for the express purpose of jumping back to when we first met as to dodge that fateful union and therefore avert years upon years of wasted time in their paltry presence. Or, you know…we could just attribute it to a difference in appetite, which is a deeply rational albeit somewhat docile reaction I should probably give more consideration.
But you know, maybe they should? Could? Would? If their primary concern is largely tied to some inherent “dustiness,” that is. Yes, Sanhedrin plays bonafide classic metal, but they do so in a way that channels the golden era without sounding as if they require it as some sort of crutch. And honestly, that’s not intended to come across as an affront to the bands that…well, do, as I believe there’s truly room aplenty for both, but Sanhedrin sound as if they play classic metal from the perspective of individuals who do it simply because they enjoy and are influenced by ‘80s metal, whereas any number of other groups do so because they specifically want to sound like ‘80s metal. That may seem like a minor distinction, but it’s fairly crucial. Point of fact, there exists a very palpable modernness associated with a record like Lights On, so while you’re certain to hear elements of Judas Priest or Angel Witch, Sanhedrin manages to put forth a pretty unique footprint.
Two key factors that very much reinforce this modernism. Firstly, Sanhedrin sidestep fantasy realms in favor of contemporary themes and issues. Per drummer Nate Honor: “These songs are a collection of feelings of loss, uncertainty, hope, fear, anger and a deep examination of the human condition.” Appropriately, Lights On tackles issues that examine survival in the modern age—in this case, from an American perspective—and includes topics such as pandemic life, police brutality, and the Capitol insurrection. This doesn’t necessarily mean the band is somehow anti-sword & sorcery, though. Case in point: “Scythian Woman,” a ripper of a song that focuses on a 2019 archaeological dig in Russia that unearthed four women spanning the ages of 12-50 who were clearly sturdy warriors. Again, Sanhedrin finds compelling ways to pull classic metal into 2022.
The second factor adding to the freshness is the production. As has been the case for every Sanhedrin record, Colin Marston is at the helm for production / mixing, with Brad Boatright responsible for mastering. The outcome is, as expected, the furthest thing from dusty one could imagine. It’s an overall sound that’s ideally suited for a power trio, which is to say it’s properly balanced and gives each player equal share of the spotlight. It’s also not over-produced, instead opting to celebrate the band’s raw energy with gusto. Understand that Sanhedrin is, above all else, a band to be experienced live, and all that detonating energy generated from the stage is captured on Lights On in a way that makes it feel as if the band is ready to burst from the speakers right into your living room. It’s a “live in the studio” spirit that makes everything feel a little closer to Unleashed in the East than Screaming for Vengeance, and that definitely works to record’s advantage.
Where A Funeral for the World did the work to lay the foundation and The Poisoner witnessed the trio honing their interplay to a more refined point, Lights On takes things a step further by ensuring the wider audience afforded by a label like Metal Blade will be exposed to Sanhedrin operating at the next level. The result is a record that’s more varied in both texture and form, which isn’t always easy when it comes to this particular style delivered by a threesome. As noted by drummer Nate Honor: “As a 3-piece band it can be hard to be dynamic, so we strive to keep things interesting while staying true to ourselves.” Slide the record on the player and anyone already aware of the band will quickly recognize Lights On as Sanhedrin, but time spent getting to know the songs will open up a number of new and more deeply developed avenues. The riff is still largely king, yes, as the whopper that kicks off the opening “Correction” is all too willing to illustrate, and the songs continue to adhere to a fairly straightforward intro / verse / chorus hook / verse pattern, but there’s more variety painting the corners this time around. We get a touch of Alex Lifeson in Sosville’s fretwork after the mellow bit in the slightly darker title track; “Code Blue” kicks off on a wonderfully warm and summery note before its prowling midpoint ushers us into damn-near Whitesnake turf; and “Heroes End” is easily the most sinister song the band’s done to date, with Erica’s normally hoisting voice taking a surprisingly wicked turn and Sosville eventually launching into a riff as evil as Hell Awaits.
Everything here whips together with optimal force and harmony—the riffs, the hooks, Jeremy Sosville’s superb soloing, Nathan Honor’s rumble-drumming, and Erica Stoltz’s punchy bass and belting voice. The record is sure to please existing fans, which is obviously great, but the added embellishments, expanded atmospherics and overall bolder spirit relating to songwriting also makes Lights On an ideal entry point for first timers or as a homecoming to those who failed to resonate with previous works. It’s an upward swing, pure and simple, which is precisely what you’d hope for with respect to a band swinging through with their third record. Sure, you’ll probably need at least a passing interest in the sort of Marshall stack melting uproar laid down by the likes of Blue Öyster Cult, UFO and Thin Lizzy that quickly lead to the NWOBHM, but then…why the hell would anyone find reason not to love what got us here in the first place?