Deep appreciation for true, classic heavy metal runs deep at this site for a variety of reasons. First, it’s what I grew up listening to, being lucky enough to have cut my teeth on what emerged in the mid-1980s when I was an impressionable youth. Second, it’s the foundation for what we enjoy today, and even though so many bands these days try to recreate it and fail, that respect remains.
That’s a huge reason I’m always excited to get Shadow Kingdom releases for review, because they’re pretty much the go-to stop for bands dripping in classic metal lore from a time before everything branched off into a million sub-genres. Sure, that branching out expanded metal’s reach, for which I’m eternally grateful, but there’s always something about going back to the roots, especially those who rode the wave of NWOBHM and early power metal that always ignite some excitement in my gut and help me remember the glory days of Iron Maiden, Dio, Saxon, Raven, and Judas Priest. They planted the seeds, and when bands come along that channel that essence perfectly, it’s something to behold.
Already boasting a great roster of talent that includes the likes of Manilla Road, Altar of Oblivion, Revelation, and Ritual, Shadow Kingdom has two more bands to continue their campaign of metal glory: Night Demon, a band continuing the influence of the NWOBHM assault on a debut EP that might make you want to take up arms, as long as those arms are swords. The other is Sinister Realm, a band based in Allentown, Pa., that focuses on doom and power metal and are on their third platter full of epic wonder and true metal precision. If it seems I’m going on a little too much about the greatness of bands that capture the essence of true metal, you probably have a point. But it’s just great to hear musicians that actually capture the spirit of what I grew up with and don’t just mimic it. Actually, it just occurred to me that in 20 years, some writer probably will go on and on about some new band that perfectly captures the intent and mission of August Burns Red. I am going to go vomit before I finish the rest of this tale.
We’ll start with trad metal soldiers Night Demon, whose ranks include members of sludgy beats The Fucking Wrath and have a pretty fun self-titled EP to their name. Guitarist Brent Woodward and drummer John Crerar play in that aforementioned band, and they’re joined by bassist/vocalist Jarvis Leatherby in a group that should make you happy if you enjoy metal’s simpler times and, funny enough, when bands concentrated on musicianship and memorable hooks and songs. Yeah, those out there who need things brutal and serious at all times might roll their eyes at some of this, but that’s their problem. This EP is a blast, and Night Demon make the most of all 14 minutes of this thing.
We lead off with, obviously, “Night Demon,” because you need to have an ass-kicking anthem, and this track delivers with classic-style guitar lines, a killer tempo, and promises such as, “We’ll drink up all the beer.” You might be compelled to do the same during this thing just because it seems like the right thing to do. By the way, the one drawback to this one is the singing is stretched a little thin, but that problem goes away with the other songs. “The Chalice” has a Scorpions-style shuffle built into it, and promises of an encounter with “the unholy grail” are in your future. “Ancient Evil” is punchy and catchy, with enough Lovecraftian references to draw Cthulhu from his watery grave, and it’s a true tribute to evil. Closer “Ritual” reeks of early Maiden, as it gallops and simmers, and it compels you to sing back with them as they round up their troops for the evening’s services.
This EP reminds me of my early days as a metal fan, where every day meant a new discovery and adventure into something dark and mysterious. Night Demon are fun to hear over your headphones or in your car, and I’d imagine live they’re a beer-soaked good time.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.nightdemon.net/fr_demonslair.cfm
Sinister Realm have been going a little longer as a band, having formed in 2008 and put out three full-length records now. Comparisons can be made to artists like Dio, Candlemass, Judas Priest, and fellow Pennsylvanians Argus, and they sound like they are crafting metal specifically for Wacken festival stages. Included in the band are vocalist Alex Kristof, who manages to be powerful but not over the top; guitarists John Risko and John Kantner; bassist/keyboard player John Shams Gaffney; and drummer Chris Metzger, and they make a glorious, pure-sounding assault on their new “World of Evil” that will be friendly to classic metal fans. There are a hell of a lot of Johns in the band, as you can see. That’s got to make communication aggravating.
Anyway, the album is perfectly put together, with eight songs clocking in at 43 minutes, which feels like an ideal serving size for this type of metal. The record kicks off with “Dark Angel of Fire” that’s both gruff and melodic, with Kristof howling, “Rise, rise all those who threaten me,” and dual guitar lines setting fires. “Bell Strikes Fear” has a killer chorus that’ll stick in your head for hours after you hear it and is good as classic metal gets these days, while “World of Evil” and “The Ghosts of Nevermore” both remind of Ronnie James Dio’s glory days, with the latter featuring Kristof observing, “A thousand black ships are sailing.” “Prophets of War” is heavier and really chugs along, letting the band show a menacing side. Following interlude “The Forest of Souls,” the album’s only sputtering point occurs with “Cyber Villain,” a track that’s a little too silly and formulaic, but they save face on the pace-destroying “Four Black Witches,” an 8:42-long slurry, prog-ridden epic that’s solemn and heavy, with Kristof pleading, “Show me things I don’t want to see.” Interesting closer that really hammers home their point.
Sinister Realm have been a solid performer for Shadow Kingdom during their run, and they keep improving and getting sharper with each record. I find the heart of summer to be the perfect time for this kind of metal, so Sinister Realm will be soundtracking each hot day to come as I relive memories of my metallic youth.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/SinisterRealm
To buy either album, go here: http://store.shadowkingdomrecords.com/
For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/ShadowKingdomRecords