Friday 15 March 2019

Forged in Black - Descent of the Serpent (2019)

Country: UK
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 5 Mar 2019
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OK, this sounded good from moment one. The musicians are clearly capable. The production is crystal clear. Maybe that's an overly repetitive chorus, but hey. Then they pause halfway for a soft moment of Mediterranean guitar and kick back into gear so frickin' perfectly that I grinned like an idiot. This band are amazingly tight!

Forged in Black are from my neck of the woods, though I grew up a long way away and now live even further away. A lot of major musicians have come out of Essex, but I'm not aware of any of note from Southend-in-Sea. These five clearly wouldn't mind being the first because their energy is palpable and their ambition sounds pretty close behind it.

They're a decent heavy metal outfit, with songs like Shadowcasters being a little cheesy but well constructed and well performed, and songs like One Last Sign finding a fantastic groove. They've found a good balance between technical precision and rawness, the instrumentation falling very much on the former but the vocals, especially the backing vocals, being much more the latter.

The biggest problem I have with this album is I don't really don't see them as a heavy metal band. I think they'd be a frickin' incredible thrash metal band and I found myself aching for them to speed up more often. Every time they do, they're truly glorious and I don't ever want them to even think of slowing down again, but they keep on doing just that. So, given that they don't seem to agree with me about their strongest aspect and are happy to remain at a mid-pace for most of this album, I have to review it from their perspective.

And, frankly, it's still damn good, especially when vocalist Chris 'Stoz' Storozynski lets his bandmates run. In many instrumental sections, like the opening to the title track, I could have sworn I was listening to classic era Metallica songs that I'd somehow never heard before. They're that tight and the production is that good. It has to be said that Stoz's vocals are more reminiscent of Diamond Head than their more famous American disciples and that's no bad thing. At points, he digs deeper for a clean doom sound, echoing Messiah Marcolin, and, at others, he reaches higher for a Rob Halford pitch and that's no bad thing either. He has an impressive range!

The other sound I caught here was folk music, which is odd. But, while the lyrics of When Hell is Done sound like something out of Manowar or a Viking metal band, it starts out like a folk song not a power metal song. There are exotic little touches here and there too. I caught middle Eastern melodies in Seek No Evil and to finish up One in the Chamber, while the end section of One Last Sign is almost Caribbean.

In fact, there are all sorts of little touches here that deepen the album. Some of them come out of moments given to individual musicians, especially the two guitarists, Andy Songhurst and Chris Bone, to shine. I do like the moments where one of them is noodling quietly while the other is crunching hard and Stoz's voice is soaring over them both. Other touches come out of texture, like on Palm of Silver, which starts with neatly creepy laughter and Hallowe'en organ and guitar, before turning into a heady mixture of Toranaga and Candlemass.

This is Forged in Black's second album, coming six years after their self-titled debut. Previously they were Merciless Fail, whose one EP was titled Forged in Black, hence the change. It's a better name, just aesthetically, but it also hints at who they are and what they do. There's heavy metal at the core of this band, but power and thrash elements too, even doom metal too. That name works for all four styles.

And this album works, period. They may not want to be the Forged in Black I'm wanting to hear but they're a damn good Forged in Black anyway.

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