Monday 21 November 2022

Desolation Angels - Burning Black (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Aug 2022
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Here's a name I wasn't expecting to see pop up on my radar in 2022. I remember Desolation Angels from back in the eighties, when they were yet another British band spawned out of the NWOBHM era. Technically they were part of it, having formed in 1981, but they didn't go past the demo stage until a single in 1984; their debut album arrived as late as 1986, which is when I first heard them on Tommy Vance's Friday Rock Show. They relocated to the US, knocked out a second album, returned home and eventually called it quits in 1994.

However, they've been back since 2012 and they put another album out in 2017, called King, which I didn't know about until now. But hey, I'm paying attention now and I'm always keen on hearing the lesser known British bands I enjoyed back in the day releasing fresh material in a new millennium. This year alone, I've reviewed new albums by White Spirit, Tysondog, Satan, Praying Mantis and Dub War, none of which I thought were still together and mostly haven't been for a long time. After this, I'm looking forward to the new Hydra Vein next week, their first in 33 years.

What's ironic is that I immediately thought about other bands I enjoyed back in the eighties who I would love to see back and the first one I looked up was Elixir. Not only are they back in action too, with a new album in 2020 that I'll have to seek out, but their lead singer, Paul Taylor, is also singing for Desolation Angels and he's right here on this album! He's newish in this band, having joined in 2015 and only guitarist Keith Sharp was with them in the eighties, but I do love coincidences. What matters is that he was an excellent vocalist for Elixir and he's an excellent vocalist for Desolation Angels, who aren't a huge distance away musically.

As with most of these albums from former eighties bands who are back in the game, this benefits from clearly 21st century production but otherwise sounds like it could have been released back in the day. Everything on this one is solid, reliable British metal, not particularly heavy but certainly on the metal side of the fence from rock, built out of riffs, hooks and solos. Nowadays, we could be forgiven for calling these songs melodic or commercial, given what we might compare them to on the metal spectrum, but none of them would have got airplay on daytime Radio 1; they would all have been relegated to the niche of the Friday Rock Show.

I could make a few comparisons to specific bands. The guitars on Stand Your Ground owe plenty to early Iron Maiden while Hydra has a slower, heavier Judas Priest approach. However, the closest I could suggest from bands still active would be Saxon, because this feels reminiscent of what they were doing in the eighties, from their pivotal early NWOBHM years to a more commercial feel at the end of that decade. Of course, Saxon have heavied up over the years while Desolation Angels have not.

It's pretty consistent stuff, both in style and quality. Living a Lie maybe opens up a bit lighter than Unseen Enemy continues and Hydra is certainly slower and heavier than both. Mother Earth finds a neat groove very quickly indeed. The title track plays for an epic feel from the slow intro onward and it does an excellent job. My choice of highlight, if I was tortured into choosing just one, has to be Walking on Water though, because it feels utterly natural, as if every component just fell right into place immediately. I'm sure it didn't but it feels like it did. It would have been the single back in the day and my ears caught some Demon in it.

And that's side one. The other side does much of the same job, just with different songs. There's a strong opener in Burning Black, one of two six minute tracks here that use that time to build quite the impact; the other is the closer, She Walks in Starlight. Eyes of the Assassin is a more up tempo belter with some hefty drumming from Chris Takka. This is the one that comes closest to deposing Walking on Water as the best song here and it's a more vehement one. The two together work as a solid example of what this group can do and indeed does. Check them out and welcome back, folks.

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