Well if Andy Barker can do a black metal review, I can do a power metal review. Especially when it’s the Jorvik miscreant mercenary troop known as Sellsword. If you don’t know their name, then come close and listen. They are ‘seriously unserious’ power metal from York but back it up with frankly ridiculous musicianship and songwriting chops. Oh and they are the only band to lay siege to Bloodstock with an actual trebuchet… Now that’s Metal!
They are another band I got into through their live work where they have never failed to inject a little fun and a lot of energy into the proceedings. This though is the studio and there is the constant need to see how a band is progressing, where they are heading; all that reviewer stuff.
With an almost Bal Sagoth bombast of an intro the guitars flick out a melody that genuinely makes the hairs prickle. Stuart Perry’s extraordinary voice comes in, the intonation so clear and the drama in every utterance as keyboards broaden the sound into the epic and the rhythm section just keeps the horses galloping. And then we get to the lead breaks. Fluid, frantic flourishes and dashes that genuinely could have all those European power metal bands raising appreciative eyebrows. Dunno where you find one guitarist like that let alone the two Sellsword have in Messers Mahy and Stephenson.
It’s a fantastic opening. The production for me is a step up on their debut, doing a much better job of capturing the energy of the vocals and the snap of the songwriting. Considering even that is ‘in-house’ it just goes to show how many sides these guys have and how serious they are about their ‘unserious’ heavy metal.
‘Inquisitor’ already a live set regular slows the pace a little, a somewhat grim sounding song for these guys but with its own dramatic personality. Then. Ah. Now. ‘Buccaneers’. A pirate song? Does the world really another? Hate to say it but in this case, er, yes! Ok it’s about as silly as they come, no cliché left unused with a knowing grin but I’m sorry that bloody refrain melody gives me shivers (up my timbers….?). It jigs and bounces and it ‘jolly well rogers along’, and when you home in on the drumming you really begin to appreciate the touch that Tom Warner has with the drums; keeping it light while still being the gearbox. It’s all wonderfully silly fun.
The title track is just pure Sellsword; dramatic, twin guitar work slashing across the top and Tom Keeley doing some flat out great bass note weaving to add some real colour and power down there. Yeah I’m a sucker for hearing excellent bass work; it always seems to provide the lift that the leads need to just take off.
Now I promised myself I wasn’t going to do a track by track review as this is definitely one of those albums you want people to explore and discover themselves but ‘Sagaborne’ is a little…well it’s not a departure but there is definitely a real added heft to the riff, a lower gear than you might expect. It also shifts tempo with a more aggressive feel and again lets the bass work shine. It takes kind of half a step closer to some melodeath without actually straying anywhere beyond the power metal boundaries. It even pushes Mr Perry into some different vocal shapes, too. And all still firmly that Sellsword sound.
‘The Courage To Die’ is an oddly sombre song but compelling nonetheless with a lovely slower section. ‘Heart Of The Brave’ is almost a lament to me, a half ballad and full stretch of Stuart Perry’s vocals. Both show the variation in songs here; not everything a gallop, not everything a glory ride.
We end with ‘Blackened Sky’. It’s a huge twelve minute song. Splice a little old Nightwish keyboard style to the Bal Sagoth drama, the by now trademark Sellsword cinematic storytelling and expansive sound with some heart tugging melodic touches and you have not so much a closer as a damned feature film end. Oh it’s utterly magnificent. Full of wonder.
So much to like, so much to say. The extensive but balanced use of keyboards here is excellent; it never overshadows what is very much a guitar based sound. The production and mix is spot on. The performances exemplary. The only album I’ve heard this year that can stand on the same stage for epic drama and glory as the Kull debut.
This is feel good music, yes. It will make you smile until it hurts. But it is more. It is actually just a damned superb metal album. You can feel the huge work that has gone into making this sound so effortless whilst keeping the heart pumping close to the surface. It has bombast but it has soul. It may be happily silly in places, but it makes you smile through unashamed joy. The number of hairs-standing moments I got was alarming; all down to the gift of writing melody and knowing a sweet hook. Take a huge bloody bow, guys, your blood and sweat have created something glorious.
Thank you, Sellsword, for reminding me we are allowed to simply enjoy music. Someone get these mercenaries some European festival slots. They would go down a storm…