Style: Heavy/Speed Metal
Release Date: 23 Nov 2019
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I'm not sure that Dressed to Kill, who hail from Beijing, China, have quite figured out what they want to be yet, but that's fine because they're pretty good at a number of different things. Even once we get past the intro, which is a soft synth thing that sounds like it could have escaped from a B-movie soundtrack from the eighties, maybe the same one that's depicted in the art on the cover, the songs never manage to seem entirely consistent.
They start out with Midnight Comes Around, buzzsaw guitars and fast drumming heralding a speed metal song. The band are Chinese but they sing in English and this song is reminiscent of a bunch of speed metal bands from the early eighties, whether Canadian, American or even British, one of the NWOBHM era bands who felt the urge to speed up, especially given that there's a lot of twin guitar attack in the midsection. This band could easily have shared the stage with Raven and Tokyo Blade and done it well.
Then they move into Rose of Kowloon, which drops the speed and moves into a more traditional NWOBHM sound. It's a catchier track with neat hooks, though it never feels as mainstream or commercial as say, the Scorpions. It's still the music of a jobbing metal band who do their business on the stage. So are Dressed to Kill a heavy metal band or a speed metal band?
Let's check out Welcome to My Carnival, which kicks off with a neat intro of carnival organ and wicked laughter. It moves, however, into punk territory, albeit the glam end of punk, so more like the New York Dolls or Hanoi Rocks than the Ramones or the Sex Pistols. So that's three styles so far in three songs, albeit with Yang Ce's vocals moving seamlessly between them. I wonder where Dressed to Kill will take us next!
Well, things move back and forth between those styles as the album runs on. Breakin Thru the Sky feels urgent: up tempo heavy metal but not speed until a faster section late on, all bolsted with a punk anger. Rock on the Way of Dream plays with that glam sound, with sleazier guitar solos, shouted yeahs and a hairspray laden intro. A Blade in the Night is back to straight speed metal, making me wonder how much this band would blister on stage. I'd love to see them live to find that out on songs like this one.
Part of the problem is the production, which leaves them sounding more like a glam metal band than I think they would otherwise. The vocals are high in the mix, as are the cymbals, but the back end is restrained. With that back end bulked up, as I tried to emulate with my equalizer, Dressed to Kill are a heck of a lot more powerful than they might initially seem.
As much as I like Yang Ce's voice, it's the instrumental sections that sold me on the band most, especially with that equalizer tweaked so I could hear the excellent contributions of Hao Chenxi on bass and Zhang Yichi's drumkit doesn't sound like it's in the next studio over, being recorded through two open doors. The guitarists are Yang Fuwen and Chen Wake and they duel very nicely indeed in the Iron Maiden tradition. The intro to Queen of the Night is glorious and there are sections in almost every song that made me grin.
This is Dressed to Kill's debut album, even though they formed back in 2013. They released an EP in 2017, which featured two songs that made it onto this album too, Murder City and Speed Metal Mania, along with a cover of A-II-Z's The Witch of Berkeley, to underline that NWOBHM influence. However, they've changed vocalist and one guitarist since then, so I'd expect it to sound a little different to this.
I'm interested enough to find out, though, because Dressed to Kill are solid enough to make me pay attention. This isn't the greatest album ever recorded and I hate that production more and more with each listen, but it shows much promise for a band who are happy to alternate between 1983 and 1986 and who really don't seem to care about anything released since. I'd like to hear a fresh album in a couple of years time to see how they've grown.