VestalThis American duo has had some great releases in recent times, newly assigned to Cruz Del Sur, this is a full album release that encompasses previously available tracks (the entire four track ‘Ungod’ split is re-recorded along with a re-recording/different version of ‘Black Priestess’ from their split with Albatross) and four new tracks. The CD release will feature different tracks (‘Great Goat God’ is a CD exclusive track) and a planned LP vinyl release has an exclusive track ‘So Mote It Be’, so pick your poison… All in all, this is a genuine heavy metal album, but more in line with Epic heavy metal that has a doom and occult undercurrent (even though lyrically there are far more gruesome subject matters to hand!).

Phil Swanson (Hour of 13 etc…) has a vocal tone that for me crosses between Pagan Altar, Arkham Witch and Manilla Road, but still has an individual flavour. ‘The Stranger’ has a touch more epic 80’s galloping metal to it, whilst a previous recording ‘The Demon and the Deceiver’ has a special sense of evil. By this it’s the way that Swanson’s vocals watch over the lighter but still darker acoustic guitar driven track, the chord progressions are certainly in the devil’s musical key which gives the song this eerie delivery. This new version of ‘Black Priest’ is a little shorter than previous offerings, but still over 16 minutes and is slapped right in the middle of the release, a stroke of genius as far as playing/running orders go for an album, because it not one to skip over being slap bang in the centre, but also because it’s such a cool track, you may be spoilt for choice when this album is released in the long run.

Vestal Claret are so much more than a mere Sabbath clone, although there is a cover of ‘Who Are You’ to contend with, but this is a good selection and not one of the usual yawn inspired covers. There is a touch of magic and the keyboard sound still reverberates around my head like the spooky sounding original version does. Opener ‘Never Say No Again’ gives a fresh and exciting intro to this release. It is epic metal at it most vibrant with riffs that sound effortless and arrangements that make you want to grab a stein or horn of ale, thump a table and rejoice in an almost barbaric fashion during this rousing chorus.

Vestal Claret don’t disappoint and they don’t clone one particular band like so many do, they take influences from various authentic sources and produce a sound that has balls, that has heritage and has a genuine epic hard rock doom and metal feel that is no way claustrophobic.

(8/10 Paul Maddison)