Northern Irish symphonic metallers Whiteabbey play a dangerous, high stakes game on new album The Words That Form The Key; possibly too trad metal for the symph crowd, and probably a little ‘sensitive’ for the rivetheads, they need to walk that razors edge where they might literally end up pleasing nobody as they strive to appeal to all…
However on tracks like the quite excellent Dragonfire and the superb Hold Fast they knock that particular problem spectacularly out of the park, mixing full-on synth parps with muscular rhythms (bassist Graham McNulty and drummer Badger Duncan both put in massive shifts on this record) and surgically precise axe work to create an incredibly satisfying take on the symphonic metal playbook. Add to this the reserved but capable vocal presence of Tamara Bouwhuis, who scores points because her style doesn’t really sound like anybody else ploughing a similar furrow in 2024, and you’d appear to have a band really worth getting hot under the collar about.
Just Hold Me is a ballad that contains enough oomph to keep it the right side of interesting, and features an impressive solo from guitarist Steve Moore, but the album’s closer, Think of Me Sometimes, tilts things a bit too far away from the metal axis for this reviewer’s liking. The fact that it ends the album means that it manages to dissipate the impressive head of steam that the band has built up over the course of rollicking anthems like Ireland’s Final Witch and Celtic Curse, both of which exude enough power and poise to cause unsolicited outbreaks of air guitaring whenever they get an airing.
But in the final washup, that’s the only thing I can really find to gripe about; The Words That Form The Key is a very confident statement, and one which I’m sure will see Whiteabbey attracting acolytes to their banner in ever swelling numbers.
The Words That Form The Key releases on February 23rd.