Tuesday 2 June 2020

Satan's Empire - Hail the Empire (2020)

Country: UK
Style: Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 20 Mar 2020
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I've been reviewing a lot of albums lately by bands who were active back in the era of NWOBHM, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, that was such a key step in the transformation of the hard rock of the seventies into the heavy metal subgenres of the eighties and on. It's a special era for me and I have absolutely loved hearing new material from bands like Weapon UK, Angel Witch and the Tygers of Pan Tang. I'm especially buzzed to see new albums from the bands who never really got going back then, like Badge and Satan's Empire.

Badge were known only for a single, Silver Woman, released in 1981. Satan's Empire didn't even get that far, only managing to get one track released on the pivotal first album on Neat Records. It was a compilation entitled Lead Weight and it introduced the world to Venom, Blitzkrieg, Raven, Bitches Sin, Fist, White Spirit and others. Satan's Empire wrapped up that album with its longest song, Soldiers of War.

And then they vanished for almost forty years, even though they'd moved from Dundee to London to make it big. They finally got round to a debut album in 2018, which I haven't heard yet but, only two years on, they're back with a second and I have to say that I'm mightily impressed. As that 37 year delay might suggest, this is patient music. It's heavy but it's not fast and these songs are carefully constructed. Just check out Empire Rising, a six minute song with plenty of musical decisions that remind me of Diamond Head.

There are ten songs on offer here and not one of them wraps up in under four minutes. Six run over five with the longest the closer, New World, at almost nine and, while Diamond Head are clearly a major influence, they're far from the only one. The most obvious is Saxon, who are overt in the opening track, Warriors and continue to be important throughout. Vocalist Derek Lyon, who'd stepped down last year because of ill health but is apparently recovered and back in the band, doesn't sound exactly like Biff Byford but he's never that far away as a comparison.

There's also a lot of Judas Priest here, most obviously in Secrets, which is a song deliberately built in the late seventies Priest style, right down to the echo on the vocals that returns on other songs. Perhaps the best song on the album is Hail the Empire, which starts out acoustic and grows like Biff (and oddly at points, Neil Young) singing for Wishbone Ash. Inevitably, with that title, it also ventures into Manowar territory, but it returns to Wishbone Ash for the solos. There's an overt nod to Radar Love in Storm on the Airwaves and All Hallows Eve is the band's attempt at a Mercyful Fate song, even if they wrote it themselves.

Oddly, the only one of those bands that I know recorded for Neat Records was Wishbone Ash and that was much later on. Neat bands had a certain vibe and I kept waiting for it to show up here. Eventually it did on Black eight songs in. It's nastier and more evil, reminding in some ways of bands like Warfare though more metal and less punk. Magpie's drums get quicker and Lyon's voice gets wilder. It's a lot of fun.

One thing I couldn't get out of my head was just how NWOBHM this sounds and I know that sounds obvious but let me explain. NWOBHM was a movement rather than a genre, a label applied to those bands steadfastly making heavy metal albums in the face of punk. When I've reviewed new albums from NWOBHM bands, I've been labelling them "heavy metal" because that's what they are.

This is too, but it's also the closest I've heard to sounding like it could have been written in 1981, even more so than the Badge album which actually partly was. There's no acknowledgement here of how Metallica took the NWOBHM era and used it as a launchpad for whole new subgenres of metal. A song like Shadowmaker is an obvious candidate for Metallica to cover but there's not a hint of Metallica in it. It's Wishbone Ash and Diamond Head again.

I like this a lot and I'll try not to bemoan the fact that we've lost out on decades worth of Satan's Empire albums. At least not too much. I'll stick to being happy that at least they're getting round to that discography now.

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