Epic Heavy Metal/USPM from Texas
Fads come and go and with any scene, metal is just as susceptible to this phenomenon as any other music genre. If you look back a decade ago, “re-thrash” was all the rage and that has since died down. Looking at what’s going on now, it’s pretty clear that there has been a rising interest in classic heavy metal. There have been quite a few new bands that have grabbed my attention, but precious few have done so as profoundly as Eternal Champion.
I first came across Eternal Champion with the release of their 2013 demo, The Last King of Pictdom. I was so damn excited – here was a young band playing a mix of epic heavy metal and US power metal, easily my two favorite sub-genres! Eternal Champion’s sound is deeply rooted in that American epic metal scene, taking heavy influence from Manilla Road, Omen, early Manowar, and Brocas Helm. There weren’t too many new bands playing this historically underappreciated style so it was really refreshing to see. Fast forward just a few years later and The Armor of Ire was released to an overwhelmingly positive response that propelled Eternal Champion to the front of the scene.
The reason that The Armor of Ire has received so much attention is because it demonstrates all the hallmarks of a quality band. The entire package is here – killer riffs, flawless production, a captivating aesthetic, well crafted lyrics, and a genuine passion that radiates from the music. The songs are relatively straight forward and there’s nothing exceedingly fancy or complex on this album, but that’s the beauty of it. The album opener “I am the Hammer” sets the mood with a slow ambient introduction before the pounding of war drums begins and launches us on our epic metal crusade. It’s a mid-paced, anthem-worthy song reminiscent of the classic Manowar– epics we all know and love. The title track follows and provides a strong contrast to the opener with its fast paced, speed metal oriented riffs. Together these two songs form what is in my opinion the strongest 1-2 punch this side of the millennium. The rest of the songs don’t quite live up to the massive opening, but they’re still excellent and lie somewhere in the middle of those two in terms of pacing. A key component that ties everything together so nicely is the masterful production by Arthur Rizk (also the album’s bassist and drummer).
Rizk is a wizard. I just don’t know how he manages to work his magic every time with every band he touches. The mixing and mastering on The Armor of Ire is so well done that you really won’t find many albums with a production this effective. It gives every instrument the proper amount of room to breathe while not overwhelming the listener. The drum tone is just perfect and avoids the pitfall of an overly aggressive snare that many metal bands seem to find themselves in. The very subtle addition and layering of keyboards is tastefully executed and it just adds that extra little bit of spice to the album – these small touches help to make The Armor of Ire as strong as it is. It works to bring out the very best of the band and in particular it elevates and accents the vocals.
Jason Tarpey isn’t a classic vocalist. You won’t find the insane range and control of Rob Halford or the beautiful, soaring vocals of someone like Crimson Glory’s Midnight. He also isn’t overly aggressive and embellished like many of his contemporaries. What we get with Tarpey instead is tempered, but powerful storytelling. His vocals lie somewhere between the sage like crooning of Manilla Road’s Mark Shelton and the gruff, pack-a-day, warrior tone of Omen’s J.D. Kimball. What really sets Jason apart isn’t his vocal prowess, but rather his ability to craft an original story and build a mythos through the music.
The Armor of Ire is strong and nigh impenetrable, but even a record with as many strengths as this one has its flaws. Ambience has its place even in metal – it can be a powerful tool to set the stage and establish a mood, but in this case it’s the armor’s weakness. The album clocks in at thirty-four minutes total and there are two instrumentals tracks, “Blood Ice” and “Shade Gate”, that together make up five minutes. “I Am the Hammer” opens up the album with a one minute ambient introduction and even “The Armor of Ire” and “Invoker” start with short instrumental or ambient sections. This means that there are roughly six to seven minutes of pure acoustic instrumentals and ambient intros/outros. In a vacuum, these intros and outros are absolutely effective – I still get chills every time I hear the buildup for “I Am the Hammer”. However, when you use them so frequently it takes away from the impact of the album and breaks the immersion. Eternal Champion can certainly riff so I would’ve loved to have several bangers in a row without the instrumental sections. When you consider the vinyl format though, the album layout starts to make more sense.
You have an “A” side and “B” side with vinyl and the fact that you have to get up and flip the record makes it an inherently different listening experience than other forms of media. When you look at the instrumental portions of The Armor of Ire through this lens, it becomes clearer what the band was going for. “I Am the Hammer” sets the mood for the entire album with its triumphant tone and “Blood Ice” helps to ease us into the second act while “Shade Gate” is our curtain call. However, when you factor in the fact that “The Last King of Pictdom” is a re-recorded version of a demo song, we’re really only left with around twenty-three minutes of new, original riffs. What it all boils down to for me is the fact that there isn’t quite enough. I think all this would have worked more effectively with just one or two more tracks on the album. With all that said, it’s only a minor issue for me in the grand scheme of things and this is still an excellent album. I’ve listened to The Armor of Ire countless times and it’s very clear that Eternal Champion have struck a chord with me as well as many others.
I don’t access a band’s music by their size or impact, but it’s worth noting that Eternal Champion have joined right alongside Visigoth as part of a new generation of gateway drugs. Since the release of Eternal Champion’s debut, they’ve been propelled into a spotlight that reaches far beyond a typical US power or epic heavy metal band. They are ambassadors for the genre and for this I cannot thank them enough. I’ve used Eternal Champion as a reference point for getting people into bands like Manilla Road or USPM countless times now. The Armor of Ire has made people a lot more excited and willing to try out my favorite micro-genres. This revitalization of interest in turn has made it so much easier to share my passions with you all and that to me is awesome!
Eternal Champion live up to their name – they’ve created something that is timeless. The Armor of Ire is a powerful, but new age testament to the past that has cemented Eternal Champion’s place as torchbearers of the new generation. I’m still not over just how well packaged this album truly is, time and time again I’ve revisited it and the magic is still there. The Armor of Ire is a modern classic and I do not use that term lightly.
Album Rating: 93/100
Favorite Track: I Am the Hammer