A few days ago I mentioned how I have two huge preferences when it comes to new metal music. One is the progressive and experimental side, as exemplified by Enslaved and Oranssi Pazuzu in my recent post. The other side is its polar opposite: traditional, old school heavy metal. I’m talking about the heavy metal that existed before thrash metal initiated the sub genre landslide that would reach full force in the early-‘90s. A time when melody was as important as power and aggression. Traditional metal is now like the blues, in that its parameters are practically etched in stone, and it’s all about honouring those traditions by sticking to the formula, and only the best bands are able to come across as original while doing so.
There’s been a small but passionate revival of classic heavy metal in the States in recent years, and every year more bands emerge, each with a thorough grasp of the aesthetic. Recently bands like Haunt, Witherfall, Sumerlands, and Stygian Crown have put out crazily good records, but in 2020 the traditional metal revivalist crown went to two specific bands.
Spirit Adrift have been a big personal favourite of mine for years now, and they keep getting better with every record. The brainchild of Gatecreeper guitarist Nate Garrett, Spirit Adrift mines all the best aspects of old-times metal, specifically from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal to Anthrax and Metallica. This band is all about the power of the mighty riff, and Garrett is a riff machine in the same way I see John Cobbett of Hammers of Misfortune, in that he has total command of his craft that his riffs are so catchy, so unforgettable. When it comes to classic metal guitar, he’s The Man. Enlightened in Eternity continues the progress of the band’s previous albums, but the big difference this time around is his greatly improved singing, which sounds stronger and more emotive than ever before. His singing really stands out on doom closer “Reunited in the Void”, while he shows great power on headbangin’ anthems like “Harmony of the Spheres” and “Ride Into the Light”.
Meanwhile, Austin, Texas band Eternal Champion always struck me as a solid outfit until they put out their second album this past fall. What a transformation! The songwriting captures the sound of early Manowar perfectly: stately, grandiose, Wagnerian, and with some truly commanding lead singing. The only things missing are the loincloths, and I’m sure you’d agree it’s best we let that die with Joey DeMaio. It’s executed so tightly, so masterfully. When you’re dipping into the whole swords and sorcery side of classic metal, it’s imperative to sell the everloving hell out of it. The guitarists have to slay with force and authority, and the if the singer does not bring a commanding presence – a general leading his troops into battle, as it were – it’s all for naught. Thankfully vocalist Jason Tarpey nails it on every level, delivering a swashbuckling performance as the rest of the band do their damndest to evoke Manila Road, Manowar, and Riot. And oh my, do they ever succeed mightily. Maybe someday this will be available on vinyl again, because this album is so good, all copies sold out in a heartbeat. Complete with a resplendent Ken Kelly-painted album cover, this is a near-perfect package.