Yep, they’ve done it. Striker’s last two albums, 2012’s Armed to the Teeth and City of Gold from 2014 both suggested a band that was capable of making the leap from enthusiastic young pups to serious international contenders; With their latest, self-titled extravaganza they confirm those suspicions. Striker are evidently the real deal.
Little by little they’ve shed much of their thrash trappings for more melodic though no less heavy forms of enjoyment, fusing the high speed thrills and spills they’ve always provided to a new-found melodic assuredness that only the truly anointed possess. Opening track Better Times, which celebrates ‘good times with bad friends’ is a fine enough opening statement of intent, all heads down riffage and big backing vocalled choruses, but things really get going on the utterly explosive third track Locked In, wherein the band channel their inner Leatherwolf with utterly devastating results. This is heavy metal as it screams out to be played, heavy metal as we, the faithful who’ve clung to this sort of music since its late eighties glory days, demand to hear it.
Thunderous drums, shredding solos, fearless vocals, Striker have them all and in Locked In they squeeze all of those fine, fine attributes into an utterly mayhemic three and three quarter minutes. Lucky then that they throw in the ultimate eighties accessory – the power ballad – into the mix straight after Locked In, giving us all time to calm down and mop our fevered brows. One Life is the sort of superb, non-cheesy balladry that Skid Row made their own back in the day, shot through with class and another fine performance from vocalist Dan Cleary, who really comes into his own on this release as a vocalist of no little talent.
That sort of statement isn’t made lightly, but it’s hard to deny a good singer when he’s got material the calibre of the coruscating Out For Blood to flex his pipes on. As the title suggests this song isn’t looking to take any prisoners, with guitarist Tim Brown in particular causing maximum damage with his chosen weapon. Like the rest of the album, this is heady stuff, fully-formed classic metal just champing at the bit to conquer the world – or at least your little part of it.
The second half of the album is just as potent – a relief in these days of ‘front end loading’ of albums – with the splendid Outlaw kicking off proceedings in a maelstrom of controlled thrash mayhem. This is the sort of music Anthrax made before the board shorts and crass marketing took over in the mid eighties, and it’s quite splendid.
Should you possess such a thing as a metalometer, it’s needles will be forced brutally into the red by the seethless mess of brilliance that is Phoenix Lights, as song that just doesn’t let up as it peaks, plateaus, peaks again and then just explodes amidst a wash of impassioned vocals and yet more beyond-shred heroics from Brown. Stand in the Fire and the staggeringly good The Iron Never Lies keep the pace up and then, on the penultimate track, when you surely think things can’t get any better, the band pulls it’s Ace from the sleeve…
Put simply, Too Late is one of the best eighties metal songs I’ve ever heard. The fact that it was written by men not even alive in 1986 when this sort of schtick was all the rage is hard enogh to believe in the first place; the fact that Striker pull it off, with panache and aplomb to spare, is frankly astonishing. Words actually aren’t enough to explain just how good this track is, so we’ve included the video here for your perusal in case you think I’m making this all up. You’ll see I’m not.
Final track United can’t live up to that fist-shakingly good apotheosis of metal – maybe things should have just been laid to rest after Too Late? – but that’s not to say it isn’t without merit because, like everything else here (even the instrumental Escape From Shred City) is heavy metal undoubtedly out of the top daw. If I hear a better album than this over the rest of 2015 I’ll be a very lucky man, but I don’t think that’s likely. This is as near perfect as it’s possible to get in the world of heavy metal in 2016.
Striker is out now.