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