There are all sorts of odd little observations when it comes to Satan. The band, that is. For a start, they hail from Newcastle upon Tyne and yet didn't start out on Neat, like so many others. Instead, they released material on labels like Roadrunner and Steamhammer that were more prestigious than Neat but didn't have such a grounding in the NWOBHM era. The other observation from me is that I seem to have a lot more of Satan when they weren't called Satan, under which name they have existed for four out of the seven eras of their existence.
That's partly because they changed their name to Blind Fury in 1984, when I discovered rock music. So, while I've heard and thoroughly enjoyed the debut Satan album, Court in the Act, from 1983, I first heard them as Blind Fury, on yet another strong Friday Rock Show session (the 31st May, 1985 show when it debuted is one of my most frequently played recordings). Somehow I failed to notice their 1987 album as Satan, but did pick them again under another new name, Pariah, who played a heavier, thrashier form of metal. I remember their second album, Blaze of Obscurity, fondly. Now I see that they're back to being Satan again, and I realise that I've missed more of their work than I've heard.
It's good to hear Satan again, whatever name they're using this week, and this album took me way back to those days. Sure, there's nostalgia to that, because this is new music that fits right into my comfort zone. I kept expecting Tommy Vance to back announce the track I'd just played. And that's because the style they adopt here is emphatically the NWOBHM era one that they played early in their career, with deep and warm vocals from Brian Ross, who's on his third stint with the band. It would be fair to say that he's the most characteristic aspect to their sound, a clean hard rock vocal over a heavy metal backdrop.
The metal aspect manifests through the twin guitar assault of Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins, the heart of the band. Each is on their fourth stint with Satan (not forgetting one with Blind Fury and two with Pariah), and they're just as capable as Ross, even if they're a little less iconic. They add a metallic edge to the band, ironically because they hint back to seventies Wishbone Ash as much as that band's most overt metal disciples, eighties Iron Maiden. Both of them manifest together on the first side's closer, A Sorrow Unspent, which is up tempo without ever quite becoming speed metal. I could listen to this pair of axemen duel all day. I've actually repeated Burning Portrait three times just now only to listen to them.
With such a grounding in seventies hard rock, as so many of the early eighties British heavy metal bands had, it's perhaps not too surprising that I should hear some Demon here, along with the more expected Angel Witch. Satan are a little heavier, for sure, but everything is still built out of melody, whether it's the vocals or the guitars. They also have a sort of epic feel, like Demon had, that isn't reflected in the length of their songs. None of the ten songs here make it to the six minute mark, though a few come close, but quite a few feel like they're epics anyway, not least the closer, Earth We Bequeath.
Of course, both Satan and Demon shared the side effect of appearing to be a Satanic band, which was cool and edgy until it became a problem when listeners expected them to sound as raucous as Venom. There's nothing worse than to disappoint people for no better reason than not being what they expected you to be. What surprised me here is that they seem to have embraced that Satanic angle again. Sure, they've hardly joined the Norwegian black metal elite, but songs such as Twelve Infernal Lords and Luciferic betray the interests that prompted their name to begin with.
It's actually hard to pick a favourite song here, because everything plays very consistently, even on a second or third listen. Maybe, if you twisted my arm, I'd reluctantly call From Second Sight out as the best song here. But I might say A Sorrow Unspent instead. Or Twelve Infernal Lords. Or, any of the ten songs on offer. On my current listen, I'd say Burning Portrait. And that just underlines how consistent this is. Nothing really stands out above anything else, not because this isn't good stuff but because it's all good stuff, from Ascendancy to Earth We Bequeath. And that's why I've cut my paragraph talking about why I'm giving this a 7/10 and going with a highly recommended 8/10 instead. Hail Satan indeed!