Warlord is a pretty good example of how the success of a band sometimes is entirely dependent on factors outside of the musicians’ control. Formed in 1979 by guitarist and main songwriter William Tsamis (aka Destroyer for this record), they were one of the earlier bands that signed onto Metal Blade and were staples on Metal Massacre II and III. A general lack of financial support and their native Los Angeles being a difficult town to make it in doomed the band to relative obscurity upon their breakup. Naturally, their lore became adopted and influenced quite a few European bands from the end of the 90’s onto today. It is a shame that they didn’t “make it” as much as they deserved: Deliver Us stands as one of the best metal EPs of all time.
Warlord’s style is immediately striking, upon listening to this for the first time. It’s very obvious they’re influenced by the NWOBHM and Sabbath, but whereas those prior influences had their “obvious rock & roll moments” (not an insult, mind), Warlord’s approach is a more “purified” approach to metal. The bulk of this EP is mid-tempo heavy or semi fast, but the grooves here do less swinging, and have more of a marching kind of cadence to them than anything else. An example of what I’m talking about is the way the drums frame the riffing in a song like “Deliver Us From Evil” – it’s groovy, but does it in a way that stomps more than swings, if that makes sense. Mark Zonder (AKA Thunderchild) is more famous for his work in later prog metal groups, but here he brings a sense of energy and hard-hitting power that helps move the songs forward without being pure flash for its own sake. Consummate performance, really.
Still though, it’s really the combination of Tsamis’s guitar work and vocalist Jack Rucker (AKA Damian King I) that really stands out the most on this EP. Tsamis’s riffing is certainly quite muscular and physical when it needs to be – the main riff that “Black Mass” is built around is a mighty, ominous stomper that’s nearly worthy of Sabbath in force, and others like the main riff of “Child of the Damned” and “Lucifer’s Hammer” are instantly memorable. There’s a very peculiar melodic sensibility about the guitar work on this EP that’s always drawn me to it – an evocative “old world” sensibility that brings to mind crumbling, formerly ornate temples and mausoleums (the album art really is one of the most fitting in metal truthfully). He has a rather expressive melodic style with his leads too – flashy in an 80’s metal fashion like you’d obviously expect, and yet there’s quite a lot of care seemingly taken for them to fit with the rhythm parts and the general apocalyptic moodiness the band’s music puts on display than they are a display of pure pomp. Flashy when necessary and understated when absolutely needed, these are some of the most instantly memorable solos in metal and just work about flawlessly with the rest of the writing.
The melodicism and riffcraft go hand-in-hand with Rucker’s performance here. He probably wasn’t a super proficient singer on a technical level (I know, bear with me for a second here) – he has quite a willow-y voice and almost seems to lose control on the high registers. The more important thing for a vocalist to do, however, than to be technically perfect, is to be able to convey the core emotion/mood of a song through melody and emotion than it is to be 100% pitch-perfect all the time. On that count, Rucker’s performance fits the songwriting and is genuinely excellent on that count. He brings to mind a performance almost soaked in the apocalyptic dread and impending doom (without being full blown doom metal, if ya get my drift) and conveys a sense of constant, growing apprehension that lays at the heart of Deliver Us’s songwriting. It brings to mind another vocal performance, namely that of Kevin Heybourne’s on the first Angel Witch record. (and perhaps, if you had to name a band who was perhaps Warlord’s most obvious forebearer, that band would be it)
All six of the original songs on Deliver Us are excellent. Warlord weren’t the most blazing of bands, true, but the generally mid-tempo heavy, marching pace the band adopts for a lot of this album gives them a chance to develop their riffs and melodic ideas to their fullest extent. And the result is some seriously excellent metal – the opener alone is one of the best metal songs of the 80’s, a solemn slab of steel that has a vaguely hymnal quality to its chorus that complements the guitar work perfectly. It’s absurdly memorable without having to force-feed you the hooks in it throughout. The aforementioned “Child of the Damned” rips straight out of the gate and might be the most obviously forceful song at hand; it’s definitely the fastest, with said riff constantly being referred back to as its main theme while the verses constantly counterpoint it.
And even the more balladic songs here are pretty great – both “Winter Tears” and “Penny For a Poor Man” are overtly melodic, to the point of basically being sappy without quite hitting that ignominious depth. It is because of the band’s handling of their arrangements; simply put, they never really use the sense of strange, arcane mysticism that permeates the rest of the album, so there’s still focus and tension about ‘em. Still though, if you’re gonna ask what the best tune on here, it’s “Black Mass”. That main riff, as noted above, is a colossal motherfucker of one. But it’s really the way it plays off the vocals, and the subtle keyboard use meant to shade both the rhythm guitar and vocal melodies, that really gives the song its best quality. In some respects, it feels almost like an inversion of the opening track, in terms of mood and the way the song builds itself up and moves throughout. And it has one of the coolest climatic solos in metal, a patient figure that perfectly suits the anxiety-soaked mood of the song.
As said above, this really is one of the best metal EPs of all time; certainly of its own era. It’s consistently interesting even when it’s kinda sappy; it’s definitely heavy as hell when it gets going, and the way the individual parts all work together make it greater than the sum of its parts. It has a very arcane sort of quality that, one you’ve heard it a few times, makes it mighty hard to resist going forward. Essential stuff right here.
Favorite track: Black Mass
Release rating: 95/100