Booze Control – Forgotten Lands (Released 2019)
I don’t really know why this is the case, or what is signifies about me as a person, but for some reason I’ve become more receptive to contemporary metal as I’ve gotten older. When I was a kid, I thought it was all indistinguishable death growls and never-ending empty blast beats and pedestrian riffs and so on and so forth. All I wanted was more bands that sounded like Maiden. (Do you have any idea how long it took me to warm up to motherfucking Mastodon? Because I do, and I’m not repeating it here because it’s disgraceful.) Isn’t that supposed to happen in reverse? Shouldn’t I be getting to that age where I start making broad, under-informed pronouncements on how there hasn’t been a decent metal album since 2000-whatever?
Point is, I listen to a band like Booze Control these days, I listen to them trundle out almost-skillful NWOBHM throwback metal, and I can’t help but think about how while teenage Rob would have been all over this shit, mid-30’s Rob is decidedly unimpressed. I don’t wanna say that this album is soulless, exactly, but something is missing. These guys don’t even sound like they’re enjoying themselves; outside of the (actually pretty good) title track, nothing on this album has both good hooks and fun riffs. Slaying Mantis comes close I guess, but this ain’t horseshoes. Other than that, this album sounds like a history project.
Standout Tracks: Forgotten Lands
Savage Master – Mask of the Devil (Released 2014)
Here’s a much better modern take on self-consciously retro metal. Where Booze Control tries to rehash the glory of Powerslave and faceplants in the attempt, Savage Master finds greater success throwing it back to the grimier, less reputable acts from the genre’s glory days (think along the lines of Angel Witch and/or Samson, although maybe not Samson because they suck). The attack on display is still borrowing from the same playbook; there’s lots of quirky mid-tempo riffs and twin leads and such, but Savage Master at least sound like they’re having fun. They even did a decent job of having crappy but winsome production.
All of that said, Mask of the Devil is not perfect. Some tracks just sort of shuffle along aimlessly. If you’re looking for any real speed, you’ve come to the wrong place, until you get to the closing track. The vocals are best described as an acquired taste and it took me a few tracks to warm up to the style. This isn’t the best metal album you’ll listen to this year (or even this week), But at it’s best, Mask of the Devil is charmingly amateurish.
Standout Tracks: The Mystifying Oracle,Kill Without Warning, Death Rides the Highway
Bewitcher – Under the Witching Cross (Released 2019)
Finally, an album released this decade that sounds like it’s from this decade. Or does it? They’re playing fast, but not super fast. I’m not hearing any blast beats, or even much in the way of double bass. The solos seem to emphasize melody and phrasing over pure shredding. And is that a twin lead bit I detect in the title track? Even if you didn’t go through the trouble of removing the existing high-pitched snarling vocals and replacing them with clean ones, would this album really sound all that out of place in 1985 or so? Hell, we had Celtic Frost by then.
I guess it’s still a bit too fast for that. Nonetheless, most of the songs on Under the Witching Cross still betray a certain old-school ethos. Everything on this album grooves, even the more thrash-influenced bits. Opening track Savage Lands of Satan is several metronome clicks above mid-tempo, but the riff isn’t as fast as the barrage of accents makes it seem. In the Sign of the Goat could have been a Dio track. The legitimately speedy stuff (Too Fast for the Flames, Rome Is on Fire) stands out as different. You get the idea; it’s only been a couple weeks, but doing this column is getting me to think most bands these days do, in fact, want to be Midnight. (And really, if I were in a band, I’d want to be Midnight as well.) Anyway, this a fun album worth checking out, but don’t expect your worldview to be rearranged or anything.
Standout Tracks: Hexenkrieg, Too Fast for the Flames, In the Sign of the Goat