It was with some relief that I discovered that, after receiving an email marked ‘this is right up your strasse’, Skull & Crossbones turned out not to be another in the debilitatingly long line of Pirate-themed power metal bands currently doing the rounds, but rather essentially veteran German metal outfit Stormwitch with a new singer… So we are ahead from the start!
Anyone who knows a little about the German metal scene will of course know that Stormwitch is a name that carries some serious pedigree, with a history dating back forty years and a release sheet featuring some stone cold classic Teutonic metal. Happily in their S&C guise the band still seems committed to putting out solidly traditional metal – right up my strasse indeed – and on new album Sungazer there are very few missteps indeed.
In fact the only real clunker here is the ballad Live Your Dreams; Even here the performances are top notch, and it’s just the momentum-puncturing nature of the song within the wider context of the album that makes it a disappointment. Elsewhere ripsnorting melodic headbangers like Tyrant’s Rule more than make up this minor aberration, with Tobi Hübner‘s crystal clear vocals soaring above the jagged guitars with imperious ease. Hübner is the only non-Stormwitchian here, but it has to be said he sounds like he’s been playing with the other guys for years, so natural does the collective noise the band makes sound. At his best in his stratospheric higher registers he brings to mind Geoff Tate in his pomp, and on the album’s best cut, Nature’s Legacy, a prog/power romp of some distinction, he plays full part in bringing the band’s sound to glorious fruition.
That sound is based around the duel guitar sound of Volker Schmietow and Tobi Kipp, an axe pairing who keep things taut, economical and hard hitting. The band don’t leave any flab here, with all songs (bar that ballad) designed to hit hard in the most efficient way possible. This adds a sense of urgency to the songs that keeps you engaged at all times as a listener. This is a worthy addition to the German trad metal canon!
Sungazer releases on September 8th.