They were right, damn them. Cruz del Sur, in their promotional material, warned that it might take a few listens to take in Lunar Shadow, in all of their glory. I almost didn’t get past the first few bars, if I’m really honest. It was the voice, you see? More of that later. I put it on the back-burner, and to be fair it also coincided with me having the new Fen album to review, which meant that it has taken an active and prolonged act of will to put “Far from Light” back into rotation. I’m glad I did.

This is the first full length album from the German true-metallers, who have a proudly regressive take on heavy metal, channelling as they do Maiden, Priest and Mercyful Fate, with some epic Solstice and Slough Feg-isms rolled in for good measure. If that all sounds ever so slightly formulaic, well, it should do. Everything that you expect to hear is present and correct, and in the right proportions. Twin guitars pumping out predictable melodies? Check. Galloping bass work? Check. Play-for-the-song drumming? Double check. High, clean vocals? Check, or El-Checkerino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. That’s ok though. No, really it is. I’ll explain why.

Sometimes, taking the same ingredients, and cooking them in a different or slightly better way will yield better results. There are a lot of places, for instance, that sell burgers. The ingredients, by and large, are the same – but in truth I prefer the ones that I get cooked at home. It’s still bread, meat patty and some pickles, but somehow it seems to come together better here. So it is with Lunar Shadow. Yes, of course, there are a lot of other bands who have thrown caution to the wind and gone back to the blueprint issued by the giants of the genre. There’s something about the care, attention and apparent joy in tracks like “Frozen Goddess” that elevates it from the also-ran to the all-so-enjoyable. Is it in the flourish of double-bass drumming, or the obvious skill and craftsmanship in the guitar soloing? Hard to say, truth be told. All I know is that in repeated listens, the album gives a little more character, some hints that its naïve appeal is grounded in generous and apparent love for the music rather than some calculated retro-cash in.

It isn’t an album completely without fault. The vocals, though eventually they won me over, are a strange kind of high pitched sound that actually brought to mind Witchfinder General circa “Death Penalty”. The production is a bit rough around the edges too, particularly with the bass sound, that was a trifle fuzzy to my ears. While the band are clearly going for the epic approach, with many of the tracks going over the six minutes mark, one should not always confuse “long” with “epic”, and here and there, some judicious use of editing may have ensured that tracks like the frankly tiresome “Gone Astray”, an almost seven minute, mostly acoustic lighter-in-the-air ballad, don’t oustay their welcome.

When Lunar Shadow get into their stride, however, they really get an impressive march on. The complex riffing and heads-down romp of “Cimmeria” is as good a true metal track as I’ve heard in ages, and the album opener “Hadrian Carrying Stones” is no slouch either. Yes, here and there you’ll hear glimpses of riffs that seem to cheekily wink at other source material, but to be honest, true metal has been around for a very long time now, and there are only so many combinations of notes you can make with them. All in all, I’d have to say that Lunar Shadow are a band with a hell of a lot to offer. They’re not quite all the way there yet, but there’s enough solid foundation here to build on, and a couple of tracks that really stand out. Keep going chaps, keep going.

(7/10 Chris Davison)