Sacred Leather - Ultimate Force - (6.5/10)
Published on May 13, 2018
If a band claims to hold leather sacred, it’s odds on that they’ll be fans of the ‘80s, not least the version of the ‘80s as portrayed by Saxon and Judas Priest. Having said that, a glance at the track titles on Ultimate Force also reveals “Power Thrust”, while the bandmembers have nicknames like JJ Highway and Carloff Blitz, which surely imply some tongue-in-cheek irreverence. Oddly enough, vocalist Dee Wrathchild turns out to be none other than Dustin Boltjes, a drummer best known for his past work with Skeletonwitch, not to mention three of the line-up also featuring in black ‘n’ roll outfit Kvlthammer. However, the seven songs on Sacred Leather’s debut full-length show an adherence to the template of the aforementioned ‘80s legends, with very little deviation from the well-known formula except for a sight dalliance with Iron Maiden’s power metal tendencies around the time of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. That means that listeners will enjoy an abundance of melodies, some wistful leads, soaring high-pitched vocals, and pounding rhythms that strongly encourage foot-stomping.
And that’s about it, really. Not to say that Ultimate Force is poor, but there’s certainly the feeling of having heard this before. Imagine listening to a mixtape of Iron Maiden, Queensryche, and Omen while standing in a smoky room late at night after a great gig. If you like those bands, you’ll probably stick around to the end of the album; if not, chances are that you’d rather go straight to bed, because being at the gig tired you out. The effect is the same here. Sacred Leather show a familiarity with the tricks of the trade and handle their instruments perfectly well, though they can’t quite produce the energy and inspiration that would turn decent tunes into a great album. This is particularly obvious on such a stripped-back album as this, peddling just 41 minutes of heavy metal with little hint of excess ideas despite the presence of two longer songs.
To break Sacred Leather down into their constituent parts, the clearest influence is to be seen in the twin guitar playing, since the lead tone is sometimes pinched directly from Iron Maiden’s Powerslave days, even if it wavers closer to ‘70s Scorpions during the long ballad “Dream Searcher”. The riffs bear a slightly different mark despite indulging in some triplet patterns, lunging like Judas Priest in hard rock mode during “Power Thrust” and laying down memorable riff intervals on “The Lost Destructor”, which is the opening part of the double bill closing track. The bass features heavily in the build-up to that song, though is generally played warmly yet sparingly by Magnus LeGrand, chugging along nicely during “Master Is Calling” in totally audible fashion, while the drums (handled not by Boltjes, but by a man known as Jailhouse, which must make introductions rather awkward) thump and jump around the riffs with the necessary precision, though rarely clobber the listener into submission. The vocals are surprisingly vintage given the history of the musician responsible and, while mostly hitting the right notes, are probably pitched a little too high to have the impact desired, something that their softening in the mix highlights all the more.
Due to the mix of influences shown over the course of Ultimate Force, each song displays a slightly different element of the band’s sound. “Prowling Sinner” applies the heaviest dose of speed after a clean introduction, while the title track also ups the ante in terms of excitement; “Power Thrust” provides a simpler, raunchier take on the formula. The epics work out rather differently from one another, proving both the weakest and strongest points of the album, seeing as “Dream Searcher” is too long and too earnest for the emotional resonance aimed at, while “The Lost Destructor/Priest of the Undoer” manages to display both hooks and explorative playing before the hazy guitar soloing forms a suitable end to the release. If “Dream Searcher” were cut down to a more manageable length or the ballad elements were used as an introduction to a more progressive piece, there would be little to complain about in terms of song choice and structure.
Thus, it’s tough to say whether or not Sacred Leather deliver the goods on Ultimate Force. If your idea of a great album is classic metal done well and without too much extra, there shouldn’t be any grumbles about “Watcher” or “Prowling Sinner”, though if you were hoping for anything outside the box, you’re probably better checking out the new Ihsahn album. Nevertheless, whatever your enjoyment of the songs and decent musicianship shown here, there must be a part of you that knows Sacred Leather haven’t made it to the top of the pile quite yet. This is a solid start, but there’s still a lot of work for Sacred Leather to do to reach the standards set by their pseudonyms.