Traditional Metal from the UK
Satan – a band that proves some legends never die. They formed almost forty years ago in 1979 and were very much an important part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) that we all so love and cherish. They released several albums in the 80s under the names Satan, Pariah, and Blind Fury. Satan’s debut album, Court in the Act, has withstood the test of time and remains one of the finest achievements of the NWOBHM. Its speed-metal tinged riffs are truly unforgettable, and with a mighty vocalist and rhythm section to boot! Satan went radio silent in the late 80s before they came out of nowhere and hit us with 2013’s Life Sentence.
Comeback albums are dangerous. Most of the time, the band has been outside the scene for decades and has lost touch with metal and what originally made their music so good. Quite frankly, most comeback albums are unlistenable and hollow. Given the length of time from Satan’s previous activity and Life Sentence, this could easily have been the case. They proved us wrong. Life Sentence is undoubtedly one of the best comeback albums of all time in metal – it was like the band never skipped a beat. Their last release, 2015’s Atom by Atom, continued the trend of killer albums. Expectations for their newest album, Cruel Magic, is as high as it could possibly be.
It’s clear from the very first track, “Into the Mouth of Eternity”, that Satan’s still got it and we’re in for yet another classic. It builds up slowly before erupting into a metal storm of riffs and melodies that we’ve come to expect from guitarists Russ Tippins and Steve Ramsay. Vocalist Brian Ross doesn’t sound like he’s aged a single day since 1983’s Court in the Act as he delivers line after line. It quickly becomes apparent that the opening number is not a fluke as the vocal melodies and riffs on the entirety of Cruel Magic are just as catchy. The production found on this album is more classic sounding and roomy than the last two efforts. It’s mixed well and it almost sounds like it was produced in the 80s. This may be off-putting if you were expecting something more modern sounding, but for me this is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Perhaps the highlight of the album is Sean Taylor’s drumming. I’m not typically one to pay attention to the drums unless there’s some blastbeats or fancy fill going on, but in this case they’re so spectacular that I can’t help but be drawn to them. The drum tone in particular is incredibly full and organic, a marked improvement over the snare-heavy tone of Atom by Atom. This type of drum sound should be what every traditional metal band strives for! Taylor’s excellent drumming is accompanied perfectly by Graeme English’s pounding bass guitar as together they form a thunderous duo of rhythm and bass.
While Satan’s latest offering is overall an incredibly enjoyable experience, it isn’t without its flaws. The entire album runs for about fifty minutes, which is about five to ten minutes too long for an album of this style. There are a couple of tracks that don’t quite hit the same mark as the rest of the album that could have potentially been dropped. The title track has a bit too much of a rockin’ feel to it that stands out in a negative way and “Ophidian” never quite gets off the ground for me. In general, Cruel Magic lacks a bit of intensity that we got on Satan’s other albums – it has more of a relaxed angle to it. Brian doesn’t really let his vocals soar like he used to and there aren’t any exceptionally aggressive moments on the album. With all that said, these things are minor in the grand scheme of things. Cruel Magic is a thoroughly enjoyable listen and undoubtedly one of the best albums of the year.
One thing is very certain: Satan seem to be incapable of writing a bad album. The band’s sheer consistency and quality almost forty years after their initial formation is virtually unheard of. It’s almost like Brian and the gang haven’t aged at all and they’re still riding the high from the 1980s. Perhaps they’ve found a way to harness some form of temporal magic, or maybe they have a DeLorean that works as intended? Whatever the case is, I’m thankful that they’re still around to carry the torch after all these years. Cruel Magic is yet another notch in this legendary band’s belt, a testament to their innate ability to write kick ass metal.
Album Rating: 92/100
Favorite Track: My Prophetic Soul