Satan – Life Sentence

Satan - Life Sentence

If you have never listened to Satan before, stop whatever you are doing right now and go listen to their classic 1983 album Court in the Act, which is probably the greatest NWOBHM album made by a band not named Iron Maiden. I was introduced to this band when I heard Blind Guardian’s cover of Trial by Fire, and I was instantly floored by it beccause it was easily the best thing I had heard from Blind Guardian up to that point. Court in the Act itself floored me again. Every song on it was absolutely perfect, everything metal should be. So yeah, go listen to Court in the Act before you do anything else. So after Court in the Act, Satan’s history becomes messy and convoluted, with changes to both the line-up and the name (I think  they changed the name like three times over their career). But what matters here is that this is Satan’s first new material in 26 years, and that the line-up here is the same that was on Court in the Act.

In the past few years, there has been a trend in old NWOBHM bands reforming and releasing new stuff. Sadly, most of them either suck or are just kind of there, The only ones who have escaped that fate that I can think of are Pagan Altar and Trappazat, but in both those cases all their stuff was written back in the 80s, and they’re just now getting around to releasing shit (though Pagan Altar’s stuff was floating around on bootlegs since the 70s). I can gladly say that Satan have managed to join those hallowed few. This album is seriously good. Insanely good. The songs are not boring (Angel Witch), they did not drastically change their sound to try and appeal to the “kids these days” (Cloven Hoof), and the modern production is neither annoying nor distracting (Hell). Satan have still got it to a ridiculous degree.

I read on the Terrorizer stream of this album that when they were writing the music for this album, singer Brian Ross says “Rather than just do a new album why don’t we try and get our heads into the way we would have been in 1984 and had we stayed together, the songs that we would’ve written, the songs that we would’ve put together to follow ‘Court In The Act’ is the album that I think we should write now.” This is pretty much the exact attitude all these reforming NWOBHM bands should take. Trying to modernize their songs to appeal to new fans is ultimately a doomed effort, because the NWOBHM for anyone not named Iron Maiden is such an obscure niche, that the only people who care about these bands reforming are the die hard fans of the 80s material.

So the old school mindset has really paid off for Satan, because from this album it sounds like Satan has not missed a single beat.

Satan has always walked the line between heavy metal and speed metal, with songs like Trial by Fire leaving many of the band’s contemporaries in the dust. So it comes as no surprise that the most stand out tracks (Time to Die, Testimony) on this album border more on speed metal than traditional NWOBHM. The crisp burst of guitars that opens the album immediately pump the listener up, and give them a taste of what’s to come. What follows is an amazing meld of speed and old-school melodicism wrapped up in excellent songwriting that few bands can hope to match.

Given the band’s track record, I knew that the songs themselves would probably be pretty good. But going into this album my biggest question was about how Brian Ross’ voice would sound, since singers are usually the band member most affected by time, and 30 years is a long time for a singer. I was happy to discover that Ross still sounds amazing. He obviously isn’t hitting the falsettos like he was back in the day, but otherwise he sounds great. His mid-range vocals manage to be both energetic and emotive, perfectly able to carry the songs on his own if he has to. Luckily for us, he doesn’t need to.

Ultimately, this album is good. Real fucking good. Amazingly good. Age hasn’t slowed the band down, nor has the time apart. Satan managed to come back after 30 years and put so many younger bands to shame. Probably the best album I’ve heard all year.

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Magic Circle – Magic Circle

Magic Circle - Magic Circle

I was introduced to this band by my (internet) friend and former fellow TNOTB writer Zane (Sophus), with him saying something to the effect of “boy, do these guys love Pagan Altar.” Now, comparing something to Pagan Altar is one of the fastest ways to get me to check out a band (because Pagan Altar rules you see). When I heard the title track, I was instantly struck by how much it reminded me of ‘Judgement of the Dead,’ so I knew I would have to check out the rest of this album.

Magic Circle hail from Massachusetts, and are apparently made up of a bunch of dudes from various hardcore punk bands, but despite the  dissimilar background, these guys have a supremely good ear for old school doom metal. As the first paragraph mentioned, these guys are heavily influenced by the almighty Pagan Altar, though the title track / Judgement of the Dead comparison is the only one that’s really obvious, if you listen closely and are familiar enough with Pagan Altar’s music you’ll definitely began to hear not only the similarity in riffing, but also a similar type of lead playing, being shreddy and virtuosic while staying rooted in its subservience to the riffs, much in the way Alan Jones plays.

Now don’t get me wrong, despite how much I’ve mentioned them, Magic Circle is not just a blatant Pagan Altar clone. The influence is obvious but they stand out enough on their own to be their own entity. One of the most obvious differences lies in the vocals. They’re nasally but ultimately full of energy and vigor, which shows up a lot throughout the album. Nasally yet throaty, I guess. They certainly sound like their own thing, and Brendan Radigan doesn’t sound like he’s trying to ape anyone in particular, though he does sound a bit like Ozzy, which is honestly just a thing that tends to happen in this genre. In addition to the energetic vocals, Magic Circle will often pick up the pace of the riffing at several places, providing a nice balance between the slow plodding doom, and the faster US trad metal sound.

All in all, this is a really nice album. While it doesn’t do anything particularity new, Magic Circle manages to create their own definite sound while paying homage to the masters of their genre.

On a scale of Trivium to Manilla Road, I give it a Covenant-era Morbid Angel.