Style: Black/Speed Metal
Release Date: 31 Jan 2020
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I almost didn't try this second album from Belgium's Bütcher because they're clearly not taking this entirely seriously. Unnecessary umlaut in the band's name? Check. Overplayed album title? Check, though it's a step down from its predecessor, Bestial Fükkin' Warmachine. Misspelled songs? Check. Stupid intro? Double check, as it combines Flash Gordon synths with unintelligible narration. Über-metal pseudonyms? Check times four. I wonder who guitarist KK Ripper's favourite band might be? I'll give you one guess and I guarantee you won't need another. R Hellshrieker, AH Wrathchylde and LV Speedhämmer have names so descriptive that I don't need to tell you their roles. And is that cover art the most metal thing you've seen in years or what?
But forty or so seconds into that stupid intro, it shifts over to exquisite metal guitar, like it's a warm-up for a guitarist who knows he's going to be playing at hyperspeed for the next half an hour and doesn't plan on breaking his fingers launching into the first track proper. That track is Iron Bitch (yeah, I know) but it blisters and I knew that I'd found a perfect antidote to the Stone Temple Pilots album I'm reviewing after this.
The vocals of R Hellshrieker's vocals are certainly over the top, rarely not delivered at a scream. They threaten to be bigger than the studio the band's recording in and I salute the producer's efforts because he manages to keep him high in the mix but not so much that he spends half his time in the red. He has fun with enunciation like Martin Walkyier, and, on the basis of what he does with a scream in Iron Bitch, he has some serious pipes. He's easily half Rob Halford and a quarter each Eric Adams and King Diamond with a hint of an effective black metal rasp to boot.
Iron Bitch does exactly what speed metal is supposed to do: blister into our ears faster than we expect and clean us out from the inside. It's Manowar on speed, NWOBHM on a faster tempo, Judas Priest a little beyond their fastest, all the things you might expect. It's also pretty damn good. As over the top as Bütcher obviously are, they're clearly talented musicians and they play their socks off here. They're not joking with their music. I loved this one.
What surprised me most is how varied this album is. No, it's not bringing in anything unusual but, rather than just ramp up the tempo to ludicrous speed and stay there throughout, like the speed metal band I expected them to be, this is really a love letter to the early years of extreme metal, taking not only speed metal to heart but everything else that surrounded it, with songs or sections of songs bringing to mind Razor, Mercyful Fate and Celtic Frost.
Not all of it is entirely successful. 45 RPM Metal is less a tribute to old school metal singles and more a decent attempt to sound like a Judas Priest song recorded at 33 RPM and played back at 45 RPM. It might kick off with a Tom Araya style scream but it's more speed metal and Hellshrieker finds that recognisable John Cyriis pitch on a couple of screams. Oddly, it's Sentinels of Death that actually sounds like Bütcher may have actually done that 33/45 trick, with the second half shifting in pitch like someone flicked that speed switch on the record player.
If old school extreme metalheads aren't sold on this from those two openers, then you're just not paying attention. And the album only gets deeper. Just check out the nine minute title track. It has an acoustic intro and a choir to make it epic right out of the gate. It builds much slower than the album has done thus far but just as surely. It drops inoto a folky acoustic moment midway and there's an exquisite slowdown seven minutes in. There are Maiden riffs early and early Dio late. And Hellshrieker is versatile here, joining the song like Dani Filth, shifting into King Diamond and ending up as a sort of conversational Martin Walkyier.
If we were only paying attention to the speed, that song surely wakes us up and we notice all sorts of other things going on. AH Wrathchylde is clearly a big fan of Joey de Maio and he gets to shine on both Face the Bütcher and its intro, Metallström, but in different ways. While Sentinels of Dethe is a very fast song, there's experimentation going on. Hellshrieker spits out his vocals at double speed and Ripper's guitar paints atonal textures at points. Viking Funeral draws from the Bathory playbook. There's a Celtic Frost churn under the late parts of Brazen Serpent. And it ends with an acoustic outro that wraps things up like we've just experienced a pagan ritual.
I threw this on just because I needed something insanely fast to counter the Stone Temple Pilots album but I found a lot more than I expected. This band are at least a thousand times better than anyone might expect from all those things I mentioned in my opening paragraph. They might seem to be the Steel Panther of epic metal but they're really talented and well versed musicians who combine genres effortlessly to create something contemporary and utterly engaging. I so need to see this band live. I pity whoever who has to follow them on stage.
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