Monday 21 October 2019

Assassin's Blade - Gather Darkness (2019)

Country: Canada/Sweden
Style: Speed Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 18 Oct 2019
Sites: Facebook | Metal Archives | Official Website | YouTube

Disappointed by the new Lacuna Coil, I went looking for a palate cleanser of speed and found this album from an international band. I believe that four of the five musicians are Swedish, including the two whose material prompted the band to get together to begin with, Peter Svensson and David Stranderud, so it's probably fair to call the band Swedish. However, the lead vocalist is Jacques Bélanger, of Exciter fame; he's from Quebec in French Canada and I'm pretty sure he hasn't relocated to Scandinavia, so they're international in scope for now.

They initially got together to release an album, Agents of Mystification, in 2016, which has a glorious steampunk/weird west cover. The process must have been a good one because they're back three years later for another album, an excellent one too. The opening track, Tempt Not (The Blade of the Assassin) is a sheer joy for speed metal freaks, very much in the sped up Judas Priest vein. Bélanger hits all those wild notes and the band behind him feel urgent and alive and passionate. This is for everyone in love with Painkiller and, well, the much earlier Exciter. You thought Bélanger's old band didn't take their name from the Priest song?

Priest are the most obvious influence throughout, though almost always their faster material because Assassin's Blade are fundamentally speed metal with little intention to explore dynamics in the vein of, say, Victim of Changes. There are slower songs, The City That Waits chugging along for a while at a mid-pace, and there are slower breakdowns in faster songs to keep a variety, so they're not balls to the wall all the time. However, even when they slow down some, they're still most reminiscent of Priest. Check out the intro to Gods and try to think of another band!

There are other influences in the mix here and there. There were points in Dream Savant where I thought I was listening to an old Iron Maiden song that I inexplicably didn't remember. Part of it is the guitar interplay but much of it comes, I think, from Bélanger singing at a certain pitch and reminding of Bruce Dickinson for a while more than Rob Halford. It's there a little in The City That Waits and The Ghost of Orion too. Those are two very different vibratos.

I enjoyed this immensely, but I'm biased towards old school speed metal. The biggest problem with the genre is that the music soon outstripped production quality, so a lot of those old albums sound thin in 2019. Of course, studio technology has progressed by insane degrees in the last forty years, so when a new band releases a new album in that old style but with modern production done right, it not only tweaks the nostalgia zones in my brain but makes me happy generally that the genre is alive and represented so well.

If there's a downside, it's that the songs, while enjoyable throughout, are not all as catchy as they could be. The riffs are solid throughout but there should be more killers. The hooks are strong throughout but, with the single exception of Tempt Not (The Blade of the Assassin), I'm not replaying them inside my skull after the album finishes. The solos are excellent throughout but, again, I'm experiencing most of them afresh each time through. The one exception there may be The Ghost of Orion, which is very tasty indeed.

I like this band though and I'd love to see them live. This is a no nonsense speed metal album and I treasure those. Bélanger dances through the octaves and his clear enjoyment doing that extends outwards to the rest of the band. I'm eager to check out Agents of Mystification and especially to see what a couple more years might bring. Assassin's Blade have huge potential and their third album could well be a classic.

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