Monday 18 July 2022

Armory - Mercurion (2022)

Country: Sweden
Style: Speed Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 22 Apr 2022
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I should admit from the start that, even though I'm rating this 7/10 from a critical standpoint, this is so far up my alley that I haven't been listening to anything else for a couple of days and it needs to move on so I can review something else. Armory are a speed metal band from Gothenburg and, as perhaps you expect from their chosen genre, they play things old school. They're a decade into their career and this is their third full length, a sci-fi concept album because apparently everyone is into making concept albums nowadays and I missed the memo.

It's not just the science fiction side of this that prompts comparisons to Agent Steel, because they are all over the opening track, Message from the Stars, and, while not everything here follows in their footsteps, some of it clearly does, perhaps most obviously Deep Space Encounter, especially after the opening solo. The vocals of Konstapel P. are lower than those of John Cyriis, of course, though some higher notes are reminiscent, not least the very first one on Message from the Stars, and they're rougher as well, perhaps midway between Cyriis and John Connolly of Nuclear Assault. The guitars of G. G. Sundin and Ingelman, however, are right out of the Agent Steel playbook and they are the greatest success of this album.

In fact, I get caught up in those guitars so much that I keep forgetting to take notes. I keep putting the album on afresh, hearing that Agent Steel comparison and suddenly acknowledging that forty-two minutes have passed and I need to start over. I'm not falling prey to outside distraction. It isn't dropping into the background. I'm falling prey to inside distraction because it's the band doing it. I can't complain from the standpoint of a listener but it doesn't help me as a critic!

While most of this is pure speed metal, technical and intricate but mostly put in place to serve the need for speed, it's not all breakneck stuff. There are plodders like Journey into Infinity, and many slower sections in many songs where the band shift a gear or three down but remain technical and intricate. The guitarwork drives everything here, though it's reliant on the tight rhythm section of Anglegrinder on bass and Space Ace on drums, who sets the tone in the album's earliest moments. There are more interesting touches too, here and there, as parts of the story require them.

The most obvious is the way that Void Prison begins, because it sounds like the beats are built out of the sounds of a space age prison gate being firmly shut with us on the wrong side. Other intros are simpler but often just as effective, like the way that we're sucked into Transneptunic Flight as if we just leapt into hyperspace. There are odd narrative sections, but none get in the way, and an occasional choral part too, especially late in Event Horizon. In its way, the space war in the middle of Deep Space Encounter is a narration too, but it's told with keyboards rather than voice.

The most interesting stuff is reserved for the second half of the album and I'd say that the variety ramps up all the way to the fascinating way that Event Horizon ends, as if each musician wraps up their part in proceedings in turn and then proceeds over some threshold that takes them into the unknown. Maybe we'll learn something about what's beyond that threshold on their next album. I have no doubt that John Cyriis is watching the skies so he can keep an eye out for their return.

It's the final two songs that get really interesting. There's power metal in Music from the Spheres, both in vocal lines and slower sections, a nod to someone like Gamma Ray, even if they play a much smaller role here than Agent Steel. That song also features some keyboard swells right out of the seventies, which feels odd given that Armory are otherwise so rooted in the early to mid eighties. There are Megadeth riffs on Event Horizon and it flirts with prog metal often, right to the end.

And I'll shut up now because I just want to immerse myself in this album again. I think that 7/10 is a fair rating, but speed metal freaks like me will want to add another point and interpret that as an 8/10. I must be on my tenth or twelfth time through and it's not getting old. In fact I keep catching new little details each time through, even if I'm too engaged to write them down. Perhaps I will up this to an 8/10 at some point after all.

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