So, who is Satan? According to the more religious, he would be the Judaeo-Christian bogey-man of old. To those metal fans who like their band logos to be unreadable, he is the target of worship for assorted acts clad in spikes and smeared in blood, fake or otherwise, and who scream incomprehensibly as if they are shitting out a particularly spiky hedgehog. For those of us who are somewhat longer in the tooth, and non-wearers of corpse paint, Satan are one of the founders and leaders of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal who sadly never hit the heights they deserved, but are now pummelling the masses with a renewed vigour, and still featuring the original twin guitar attach of founders Messrs. Ramsey and Tippins, and this year they release upon the world ‘Cruel Magic’.
From the opening opulent guitar harmonies of ‘Into The Mouth of Eternity’ it is clearly apparent that this is Heavy Metal with an unashamed capital “H” and “M”, the proto-speed/thrash metal riffing that encapsulated their sound and went on to influence so many others quickly bludgeoning to the fore. Throw into the mix the clean siren vocals of Brian Ross, a man who also provides the heart and scream for fellow NWOBHM stalwarts Blitzkrieg, and the pedigree of the band and music virtually bleeds from the speakers. There is no let up in the fire and fury as title track ‘Cruel Magic’ launches out with a flurry furiously played Fender Stratocasters and a pummelling rhythm that should speak to the very DNA of the dyed in the wool metalhead, and have their hair flailing and leather clad fists punching the air. ‘The Doomsday Clock’ continues an unabashed tribute to the sub-genre and in fighting free days of early metal, an acoustic opening allowing the guitarist to show their sensitive side and classical music inspirations before flooring the accelerator and screaming into the distance like a warrior of Genghis Khan.
Not a single track misfires: ‘Legions Hellbound’ is loaded with timeless riffs; ‘Ophidian’ lowers the pace whilst upping the menace; mid-song ‘My Prophetic Soul’ wanders into the proggy realms of a Rush number; and ‘Ghosts of Monongah’ shows that not all in Metal is swords and sorcery, telling the little known, on this side of the Atlantic anyway, story of one of the worst mining disasters of history where hundreds perished in a subterranean explosion. The whole album rounds off with ‘Mortality’, a number that throughout just simply grows and grows in scale and presence, the guitars becoming progressively heavier and more complex, the bass and drums more dense, the vocals more epic with a scream from Mr Ross that would rip the throat from a man half his age, as it all builds up to a crescendo; this is a track designed not just to finish the album, but to be a superlative finisher to any of their live sets.
There really are no surprises on the album, at least for an old bugger like me, albeit the younger listener who is used to having the word “Metal” prefixed by a host of adjectives that aren’t “Heavy” should revel in the clean sophistication of the playing, whilst old sods like me plaster on nostalgic grins whilst revelling at the energy brought to the album by the seasoned veterans of the band. For a couple of years the Hammerfest/HRH franchise ran a two day HRH NWOBHM event in Sheffield, but stopped it recently, citing that they could not get the volume of acts and quality of headliners to keep it running. With Satan’s release of ‘Cruel Magic’, I think at least one headline act has been found, and it may well be time to send out the call to rally the leather and spandex clad masses once more with ‘Cruel Magic’ as their battle cry.