BenedictumOn the face of it Benedictum have a lot going for them: In guitarist and main songwriter Pete Wells they have a really muscular musician with an ear for the big riff and no urge to be over flashy with the lead work and in vocalist Veronica Freeman they have… Well if you’ve never heard the lady just dig out a picture of her and then imagine the huge voice that would make them the perfect heavy metal frontwoman and you’ve probably just imagined exactly what she does sound like. They got a little help up from Dio alumni Craig Goldie and their excellent classic metal sounding first album Uncreation got a good bit of press, as did follow up Seasons Of Tragedy. Then things kind of stalled. That difficult third album syndrome bit them squarely on the ass; new label, a deliberate and actually sensible shift in sound away from all things Dio, Rainbow, Sabbath and such towards the other half of their sound which is a more modern take on traditional heavy metal, I guess personnel problems judging by the line-up changes here, but mostly an album that was really just a bit of a mess. All chunk and chug and no hooks, a real head scratcher that allowed none of their strengths to shine. I was worried. Very.

Still I loved their sound enough to want to take this on and…. big breath…. I am so glad I did. The songs and the hooks are back, the riffs are huge and The V is raging with those tremendous pipes of hers.

With an introductory bit of nonsense ‘Dream Of The Banshee ‘ (Ms Freeman’s voice shattering glass when I’m fairly certain she could crack stone) we are rammed straight in to ‘Fractured’. The sound is still the hard, massive sound they were chasing on Dominion but the riff is given time to bellow not chopped into pointless chunks and the new rhythm section of drummer Rikard Stjenquist (ex-Jag Panzer) and bassist Aric Avina (ex-Tynator) has added about three gears of grunt and upped the energy levels so the vocals just fly off the top. It’s a nice and rock hard opener, a good gut punch which kind of means you walk straight into ‘Obey’ which twists from choppy rhythm to low end surging drive with the snarling, gritty vocals whirling around inside like a threshing machine. Gutsy, angry and excellent. ‘Fighting For My Life’ brings a bit of classic melody into play but retains that hammering guitar sound and you begin to realise what they were aiming at with the previous album and with ‘Scream’ pushing Veronica to even her limits with the range and emotion it demands from her you can just lie back and marvel at how good heavy metal can be.

This is stuff that should go down a storm anywhere in Europe; a sound forged under the wings of classic bad tempered Judas Priest, soaring Dio and dominating Accept but with a bright eyed modern glint in its beautifully aggressive eye and a stainless steel production that still leaves all the snap, snarl and dirt in That Voice intact. There are also roots in the classic American sound, too; the stunning ‘Crossing Over’ has that almost Heart like hint in the main melody but it is really more like bright paint on a great, heavy as hell metal machine hammer with hints of the first album there too. They do shake up the pace and the feel too. There is a fine power ballad with ‘Cry’ that stays the right side of a sugar rush, in no small part thanks to it being a fine duet with Tony Martin and showcasing the smoother tones that The V possesses too.

Twelve songs, nothing close to a dud. ‘Thornz’ rips like Rock Goddess used to, just on steroids, ‘Die To Love You’ smoulders and smokes, ‘Apex Nation’ just rides right over you like Judas Priest ‘s steel encased kid sister and closer ‘Retrograde’ rattles the gates like a sinner trying to escape Hell.

Obey is glorious return to form, all the finer for not having a single backward step despite their troubles. Just about one of the best traditional heavy metal album I’ve heard this year, within touching distance of the immense Twilight Of The Gods. Lady and gents, thank you. To hear is to obey.

(8.5/10 Gizmo)