Album of the Week 28-2013: Satan – Life Sentence

Despite arguably being the band with the dumbest band name in my collection – Edguy and Hell are worthy contenders as well though – Newcastle’s Satan has always been guaranteed to deliver some quality old school Heavy Metal. The band recently reformed the lineup that recorded the NWOBHM classic ‘Court In The Act’ and ‘Life Sentence’ is the first sign of life of the reformed lineup. And with all the half-assed reunions that have plagued music recently, I wouldn’t have expected ‘Life Sentence’ to be this good. In fact, had this been released in 1984, it would have been seen as essential as ‘Court In The Act’.

On ‘Life Sentence’, Satan acts as if nothing really happened since their debut album. As if NWOBHM is still the main heavy musical style in the UK, modern recording technology has yet to be invented, albums can’t be longer than 45 minutes and no one frowns at a hand painted skull on your cover art. And I truly applaud them for it. But what’s most important is that the band has written ten fantastic songs that measure up to the quality of what was heard on their debut album. In fact, I’d prefer some of the songs on ‘Life Sentence’ to their classics.

When hearing the first notes to opening track ‘Time To Die’, it’s already obvious that we’re dealing with classic Heavy Metal. An uptempo twin riff with an in-your-face guitar sound going into a killer riff, with awesome melodies and (later on) guitar leads to boot. This is what a good Heavy Metal record was supposed to be like back in the eighties. All songs on here are Heavy Metal written and played the way I love it, but isn’t released too much anymore. There’s enough variation to keep the listener interested through its entire run with varying tempos and surprising twists in the songs.

Highlights include the relatively fast, yet obviously pre-Thrash inspired ‘Testimony’ – those speedy twin lines are sheer old school Metal euphoria – the slightly slower ‘Incantations’, which spots a few Middle-Eastern intervals in its main riff, the highly melodic title track sounds like it could have been on one of the ‘Metal For Muthas’ compilations and closing epic ‘Another Universe’, which shifts from the creepy tranquillity of the intro to a riff and lead fest for the guitars in the second half.

The production, which is free of much of the digital trickery that over-sterilizes many modern Metal productions, is powerful. The only complaint would be that Brian Ross’ vocals are too loud. I’ve always been more of a fan of his successor Michael Jackson (no, not the most overrated male artist in Pop history), but he does a good job here. Sonically, the album would have improved if he was turned down a bit though.

What makes ‘Life Sentence’ the great album it is, is the fact that it isn’t just a work of nostalgia. The songs are well-written and executed even better. All musicians – especially guitarists Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins – are at the top of their game. Ramsey and bassist Graeme English deliver better tunes than on the recent works of the only western Folk Metal band worthy of existence (Skyclad of course). If you want technical mastery or dull modern chugging, look elsewhere. However, as a reminder of how good old Heavy Metal can still be, ‘Life Sentence’ is strongly recommended.

Recommended tracks: ‘Testimony’, ‘Life Sentence’, ‘Incantations’, ‘Another Universe’

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