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Steel Tormentor | ‘Return Of A King’


Second albums are difficult for a reason. The hunger and enthusiasm invested in a debut naturally gets dissipated in the year or two following the release of that first, crucial blast.

It’s taken Steel Tormentor, or more frequently just James Kelly, over six years to get this follow up together. Perhaps it was the pressure of wanting to follow up such an incredible debut (remember it?), perhaps maintaining a lineup was difficult, or perhaps it was just constant tinkering.

Whatever the reason, the time has been well spent. This album sounds first and foremost comfortable in its own skin. Each riff has the kind of gallop that’s just the right speed and just the right weight. Secondly, it’s ambitious – out of eight tracks proper, none could be called filler, and each song has its place.

Further, the vocals are massively improved on the previous outing, with new, mature harmonies thickening out the overall sound.

Though there’s much of merit, this album is very obviously all about its focal point ‘Warrior’.

It’s easy to see why they’ve adapted it for a radio edit – it’s a song that has potential to be massive on a continent wide scale, were it only to get the push it richly deserves.

I noted that the vocals had improved upon previous years. Oddly though, it’s ‘Warrior’ that lets the side down (albeit momentarily), falling just flat just on the opening verse. It’s the single fault on an otherwise perfect song.

They pick themselves up immediately. No sooner has ‘Warrior’ coursed by than the fantastic ‘Soul Stealer’ kicks in. Though it could hardly be said that Judas Priest are an obvious infuence on the band generally, this song has so much of them in its driving metallic thump. Its powerful lead vocal line and riff are inspired.

There’s a fair bit of atmosphere on the cd, with the sound of windswept battle fields cutting through a few of the tracks. ‘Return Of A King’ surprises with its clean plucked tonality, again maintaining that high English sense of battle romance. What with songtitles like ‘Avalon’ it’s clear what kind of images the band are trying to create.

It’s a great, traditional heavy metal release in the tradition of the greats. There’s an increased sense of drama and scale in here too. James has developed his character, or indeed charicature – that larger than life quality needed to carry a good heavy metal vocal.

Though the production lacks the high sheen of other recent Irish output it’s more than up to the job, and every element is balanced just as it should be.

Steel Tormentor have worked long and hard to develop this album. They need lineup solidity and proper breaks, because they’ve demonstrated that they can be in it for the long haul. It would be heartening to see this take off, particularly given that continental ears especially will approve. It’s a pumping, confident traditional metal album that confirms their reputation as superb songwriters – and it’s hard to ask more than that.

3.8 / 5 – Earl Grey ::: 20/12/10


16 Comments
  1. James Kelly is in my opinion one of the best examples of someone who is willing to work his balls off for his music. Line-up issues and a siz year gap would have seen many others give up on their project. Instead, James is burrowing away like an unstoppable machine. This guy is an inspirational character and I would suggest that any Irish bands looking for direction in how to produce, release or promote a CD could do worse than follow the Steel Tormentor model. The limited edition packaging for Return of a King is awesome.

    Well done and good luck to Steel Tormentor and James.

  2. Well Done James you are the most underrated singer/guitarist in this country. I don’t know the other members in you’re band but without you they are nothing but a garage band. Steel Tormentor Are you fuckin best!!!

  3. Eoin McLove Says:

    James Kelly for president.

  4. Fist of Metal Heart Of Steel Says:

    Steel Tormentor are without a doubt the best heavy metal band in this country right now, their fanbase theyve built here in the past 6 years just proves it!

  5. Full Speed Ahead Says:

    Darkest Era are the best Heavy metal band in this country right now. Where exactly is the Steel Tormentor fanbase? Ballina?

  6. Full Speed Ahead what are you talking about! Steel Tormentor are 100 times the band Darkest Era are, better songs, better stage presence the list goes on and on… And Steel Tormentor’s fanbase is not just in Ballina its all around Europe they are quite popular in Germany.

  7. Well, my favourite band’s collective penis size is bigger than your favourite band’s collective penis size.

    Ordered this from James recently and am really looking forward to getting my hands on it. It definitely seems like a lot of work has been put into promoting and presenting it, and I hope it pays off for ST, and that the positive reviews translate into a few sales.

  8. PatrickReborn Says:

    This has been doing well in sales to the best of my knowledge, especially in Europe and Japan.

    Unleashed was in the wrong Key for James, plain and simple. The new tuning has been a great benefit to the ST sound, and James’s vocals have alot of power on this album and are nearly spotless, with the exception of a flat note here and there (which at least proves that he’s not reliant on autotune, which is a good thing).

    Roll on No. 3, i say…

  9. “better stage presence the list goes on and on”

    I have to say, this has always been ST’s downfall. Anytime I’ve seen them the stage presence element has been glaringly absent, which is a big negative in regards to this style of music.

    Big Jim has done well with ST and I enjoy the two albums but all some of you are short of doing is sucking the mans penis. “This guy is an inspirational character” “you are the most underrated singer/guitarist in this country” Get a room lads.

    Personally I’d like to see Steel Tormentor back up this great album with some electrifying live performances, they would gather some momentum for sure if they can rectify this element as critics and fans have clearly warmed to the material.

  10. PatrickReborn Says:

    “I have to say, this has always been ST’s downfall. Anytime I’ve seen them the stage presence element has been glaringly absent, which is a big negative in regards to this style of music.”

    I’d say James would be the first to agree with you on that note. It’s all down to the willingness of members to participate and display a bit of passion. God knows Reborn has had its fair share of dull, useless members. Ive been working with James for the last few months in ST and even that small change has given the band a second wind. Hopefully anyone who sees ST at the Dark Forest gig in FEB will see how the band has progressed…

  11. Alright lads decent review nail on the head regarding vocals & production…as for the comments ha ha settle down lads tis only a bit of craic.

    I could go into all the bullshit details of the past 6 years or so but I don’t want to bore you all to death.In the end the album was a compromise there were so many problems with it.I was able to get a few days in the studio with Lasse Lammert to try & fix a few of those problems.But because time was against me I ended up redoing all the vocals & most of the guitar stuff live in 1 or 2 takes.Ok you can hear the odd fuck up here & there but I rather do it that way than fuck about cutting & pasting riffs into place & auto tuning the fuck out of everything.At the end of the day its heavy metal not lady gaga.

    Live – I agree with the comments about stage presence ST didn’t play a gig in Dublin or anywhere else for 3+ years because of that very reason.I think those who were at the gig we did with White Wizzard saw a completely new band one that was enjoying themselves on stage.Hopefully we will be able to build on that & do more gigs around the country & play a few places we haven’t played in a long time or in most cases haven’t played at all.If you want us on a bill just give us a shout.

    For now we’re trying to get the bands name out there using all the PR stuff in magazines & what not.Germany is our main target that’s where most of the sales have gone so we are trying to get on a few small festival bills over there…

    I’d also like to add we’ll be back in LSD studio Germany in 2011 with Lasse Lammert to record a new album.

    Next Steel Tormentor gig will be with Dark Forest on the 18/02/11 in the Pint.If you want to see the new band in action come to the gig.

  12. well done finally getting this out james
    I know its been a torment
    I got a nice a5 flyer for it with a plastic head order I got in the post today
    so at least theyre doing something for it

  13. Ya it has been a head wrecker I could write a book or maybe a blog 😛 on the do’s & don’ts of recording ha ha.Nice to see PH are sending out the flyers it all helps.

  14. Eoin McLove Says:

    Looking forward to catching you at the DF gig. Leave the fan club behind, though! The sight of the lads above fellating you on stage is too much to take…

  15. Nekroculchie Says:

    The album is very good. It’s one of those albums that is really enjoyable with a few beers. I never heard the first one. I look forward to seeing how shit you are live sometime!!

  16. bringerofhate Says:

    i presume they are takin the piss in all fairness. massive fan base in ireland, amazing stage presence, sure.

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