Look up the words ‘stalwarts’ and ‘diehards’ and the dictionary should say ‘see also Twisted Tower Dire’. With three of the five having been together since 1997 – Mark Stauffer (drums), Scott Waldrop (guitars and ultra marathons) and Dave Boyd (guitars) – you know this a passion. With the line-up completed by Jim Hunter (bass) and Jonny Aune (vocals) of a ‘mere’ sixteen years and eleven years respectively you can see how they have made it to this their sixth full length. It is however eight since their last album, and even worse 2003 since I somehow lost track of them having been introduced to them by, of course, Russ Smith’s legendary Black Tears distro when their debut came out.
Oh, sorry. This is heavy metal. This is classic, unadulterated US heavy metal. Priest and Maiden roots, NWOBHM fertiliser and grown in the rarefied Virginian air and drawing inspiration from heroic fantasy, horror, sword and sorcery, war. Goddamned pure as Hell US heavy metal. Speak in the same hushed tones as Cirith Ungol, Slough Feg, Manilla Road et al.
Got it? Good. Because no hyperbole; this is just fantastic, top drawer heavy metal in any country or language.
‘The Thunder’ winds up and then the storm breaks. Twin guitars, a riff that charges off in a clatter of war horses and the great, gritty but huge range of Jonny Aune’s superb voice. From snarl to air raid siren he has it all and the lung power to match. But lord the song. If your blood isn’t surging by the time the gang vocal chorus kicks in best check into a morgue as there is no hope. No rest before the martial drumming and dramatic guitars of ‘True North’ breaks in with epic guitar breaks and a hook-line that makes the hairs stand up on my arms. No kidding, this is stunning song-writing. ‘Tear You Apart’ just cements it. Timeless. The energy is huge, crackling across the album like static and the grasp of the need for balance between power, grit and melody is flawless.
‘Light The Swords On Fire’ is just… “Oh and when you’re burning away, we’re cutting you up anyway…” The sheer oomph and snarl of the backing vocals is terrific. The hammering drums both suitably chaotic and still spot on. ‘And The Sharks Came Then’ is the album’s earworm, one I’ve woken up humming for a fortnight now. Slower, but still a good mid pace, the refrain is just joyous despite the subject matter. ‘Riding The Fortress’ rises skyward with huge power beneath its wings (check out your bomber knowledge if you’re wondering) and drops some glorious guitar interplay. ‘Eons Beyond’ thunders ominously.
It just goes on at this level. Well, Ok ‘A Howl In The Wind’ might not be my favourite track but most bands would kill to write it. ‘The Beast I Fear’ is when I realise that if you want to compare Twisted Tower Dire to any European or Scandinavian bands you’d be looking at an unholy cross of tiny bits of Hammerfall’s drama but without the cheese and Wolf or Crystal Viper, in fact I’d say any Wolf and Viper fans would love this album for the sheer heads down metal-for-the-love-of-it drive, and song-writing. It never steps over into power metal, somehow. Just headshaking, fist pumping heavy bloody metal.
Closer ‘These Ghosts Can Never Leave’ has a gorgeous chorus which has the melodic echoes of early While Heaven Wept, curiously as two former members went to said band a long, long time ago, tied to a turbulent riff. Just that perfect, heartstring pulling, gut wrenching melody that leaves you wanting more. A beautiful end.
Twisted Tower Dire may have taken eight years but this is just a stunning, beautiful, powerful and flowing album. Superb performances all round, a master-class in song-writing and heavy metal kept true.
If you call yourself a heavy metal fan you need this. There will unlikely be anything better in this vein this year. Just brilliant.