Sunday, May 19, 2013

Satan - Life Sentence [2013]

We've had our fair share of reunion bands. Few of them tend to be good. Yes, we were given some truly great releases from a number of bands, the latest Attacker album for instance, but we were also showered with a stream of godawful albums, like the new Rottrevore EP, and even if some recuperating old bands manage to somehow deliver a goody, very few of them are able to bring about the rest of their good material. My point is, bands like Satan don't have much of a shot at re-living the same youthful energy that they exploited during their golden days, and the situation gets even trickier when you're working on a genre like NWOBHM, which today is exhibited to us a rehashing of Maiden, Priest and the like, fused with a more modern framework of disillusioned riffing, so I think you can understand the pressure that Satan had to bear when they first reunited in 2011 and decided to put another album.

The thing that makes heavy metal, and specifically NWOBHM such a strenuous material to process and toy with is that the genre itself is scarce in exemplary offerings besides the few releases that respectfully formed its basis. Satan, with astounding accuracy and dexterity, has managed to overcome both of these hindrances and has ultimately brought us ''Life Sentence'', and let me tell you, unveiling this record is like removing the dust off an obscure-as-fuck demo these guys released in the early 80's, and has already generated sufficient buzz in the metal underground to emerge victorious in numerous end-of-the-year lists. Now, upon reading thus far, a genuine metalhead will be no more than slightly content, I'm sure, and even filled with a bit of trepidation, moaning ''Oh damn, another Maiden rip-off? More Steelwing?? I'm out.'', so brace yourself, because this ain't the generic copycat you'll be expecting. The fact that ''Life Sentence'' is able to emulate any of its peers steel befuddles me. You already knew you were into a hell of comeback with the glorious, old-school logo sticking out in the corner, the spiritual ghoul-demon leaking out of its state of encasement, and this wonderfully picturesque image fit into an archaic, mystifying framework, but no one could have guessed what the five-piece would be able to conjure in less than two years' time.

Satan is hardly thrifty here. They don't spare any of the cannon fodder they've been harnessing for all those weary years, and their techniques reign supreme in every field of musicianship; instead of losing their technical touch, they've gotten even more savvy with their instruments. Secondly, the old school edge is hugely dominant; they've got a skillful penchant for being able to put out material on par with their earlier releases, ultimately succeeding in delivering that clarified NWOBHM texture we've longed to hear, and they can grind their guitars producing riff after riff. That being said, I ought to say that ''Life Satan'' isn't a flurried rush of pure old school instincts; its gleams with an articulate and youthful power that, in my opinion, is the real key to the Englishman's success. They're not stuck in the past, and while still keeping true to their lauded roots, they're brazen and fuse their archaic tenets with dizzying modern, technical dynamics. With their new perspective, a dirty, crunchy tone, and a production that reeks of antiquity, they're able to send stimulating waves of speeding, bleeding riffs with superior melody-directed instincts intertwining with thrashing ruptures. Moreover, nothing seems to be tampering with their outstanding march. Satan are locked and loaded, more flexible than an Olympic gymnast and it seems as though their sheaves of riffing are so prolific that they could effortlessly filter yet a second disc of songs with equally long material, not lacking a single hint of substance and quality.

Though the guitars should be venerated the most here for their terrific performance, harmonious flinging and overall outing of aggression and energy, I need not say that they aren't the sole highlights of the record. You'd certainly love the somber, woven harmony sequences backed with mid-paced thrash ichor on ''Incantations'', or the entwining voids of endless melodies on ''Testimony'', but you'd also have to credit Brian Ross's excellent, earthen timbre for making those tracks the great pieces they are. Ross occasionally plays low (think Danny Foxx of Blood Money with a less frequent usage of high-pitched screams), but he knows when he's going to lead the uproar, and bring songs to their apocalyptic climax when he releases all his steam (''Incantations''). Graeme English's base is also quite entertaining with its pumping, plodding bobs and the drums have that 80's crisp attached to them like an infectious disease, blasting out with spiking accuracy whenever required. With such a backbone of musicians, ''Life Sentence'' converses copiously and explores intensively; you have the vicious melody/rhythm combos of ''Siege Mentality'', the track that piques my interest the most, the classic NWOBHM chug patterns culminating with Ross's flaring vocals on the title track, the thrashing headbanging medley of ''Twenty Five Twenty Five'' or ''Another Universe'' that literally transports you to a different kind of universe with atmospheric presentation of moods galore, and the entire record is bedecked with an enormous quantity of carefully arranged, bouncing leads, spontaneous and laden with a wealth of methods.

''Life Sentence'' will unarguably go down as one of the best releases of the year. It's prowess and viewpoint are unlike any other heavy metal album I've ever heard, and if Satan had released this back when NWOBHM was truly hip and inspiring, back in the early 80's, it would have emerged as one of the greatest heavy metal offerings to date, but even with its late entry into the metal universe, it could easily be classified as a masterpiece, and perhaps the best comeback release ever. So if you love to pick up the newest Enforcer or Maiden albums, you've got nothing better to do than to obtain this immediately. Satan is an inconceivable, sentient beast on this record.

Another Universe
Siege Mentality
Twenty Five Twenty Five

Rating: 94%

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