For British metal fans of a certain age, the name Satan will always be synonymous with feelings of ‘what if?’. For surely with an atom of the luck bestowed upon some of their eminently less deserving contemporaries – and I’ll name no names here, you’ll have your own candidates I’m certain – they would have become a mid-eighties bastion of British metal after the stunning debut, Court in the Act, they released in 1983.
But sadly, as my teachers and parents never tired of telling me, life isn’t fair, and whilst some bands prospered on the back of well, not a lot actually, the mercurial talents of Satan fell by the wayside, doomed always to be regarded as unsung heroes, or perhaps worse still, simply forgotten…
Pleasingly, the original iteration of Satan – the one that recorded Court in the Act – reformed in 2011 and has so far recorded a couple of studio albums, neither of which quite managed to catch the fire of the glory days. Will third time be a charm for these persistent Geordies?
It’s hard to give an answer (try – I’m not paying you to dither – Ed) definitively. Court in the Act was recorded with the help of all the piss and vinegar of impetuous youth, something that clearly diminishes over a period of thirty five years. Satan circa 1983 would never have dreamed of opening an album sounding like King Crimson, as they do here on Into the Mouth of Eternity, but it’s an opening gambit that works for the band in 2018.
After that there’s a lot of well-played, well thought-out and superbly executed heavy metal to contend with, but sadly none of the quicksilver genius that marked the band out as serious contenders in the early eighties. Brian Ross is an old school metal storyteller, and on Cruel Magic he brings to life the D-Day invasion (Legions Hellbound) and an obscure North American mining disaster (Ghosts of Monongah) alongside the usual tales of cunning devilry and institutional evil, in a lyrical exposition that many younger songwriters would look at with envy. But this is trad metal we’re listening to, and unless the lyrics are carried along by galloping riffage and singalong choruses their impact lessens. And that’s what’s missing on Cruel Magic.
The Doomsday Clock comes closest, Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins – surely the greatest British metal duo after Murray and Smith and Tipton and Downing when on top of their respective games – riffing and soloing with the sort of practised ease that only true masters can muster, leading from the front, hacking and slashing as only they can. But even this highlight suffers at the hands of a production that saps power from both guitars and the always excellent drumming of Sean Taylor.
Which is all a very long-winded way of saying that Cruel Magic isn’t quite as good as Court in the Act. But how could it have been? My bet is that in time, the songwriting quality at the core of Cruel Magic will ensure that this album comes to be seen as the closest the band have come to truly matching their storied debut. It’s a solid heavy metal album made by people who know what they’re about, and if it fails to ignite teen passions that’s probably more my problem than the band’s.
If you love classic heavy metal, metal without frills or the need to remember we’re in 2018 rather than 1988, then you’ll find enough to enjoy on Cruel Magic to warrant a bit of Wallet action next time you’re down the town.
Cruel Magic is released by Metal Blade Records on September 7th.