Steel Engraved - Steel Engraved - (8.5/10)
Published on March 8, 2019
There has been a popular trend to late where power metal bands have abandoned the classic visuals of dragons and Sci-Fi landscapes for something a tad more morbid. Though the grisly visuals of zombies dinning and war torn wastelands is still largely reserved for the more extreme fringes of metal’s wide umbrella, moonlit cemeteries and Gothic cathedrals seem to be all the rage these days if recent outings by the likes of Grave Digger and Impellitteri are any indication. Of particular note has been the latter’s rather curious employment of the mythical object of lycanthropy, comparable to the one that has been a staple of Powerwolf’s album art for the past 14 years. Not to be left out of this recent craze, the Bavarian outfit Steel Engraved has opted for possibly one of the most classic visuals to adorn their own 2019 self-titled LP. Curiously enough, while this album doesn’t really include many stereotypical elements that would correlate to the Gothic imagery associated with Powerwolf and the latest Impellitteri album, or even the dark and heavy character of Grave Digger’s cemetery-obsessed speed metal, it does present a somewhat different musical sound from the melodic yet gritty Hammerfall meets Edguy sound of yesteryear.
In keeping with the misty, moonlit aesthetic of the album art, the sound presented here has a denser atmosphere and draws a fair bit from the keyboard-driven, Stratovarius side of the coin than last time around. To be clear, there has always been a slight neo-classical character to this band to go alongside the metal traditionalism, but the level of depth inherent to this album presents about as heavy of a contrast with 2012’s On High Wings We Fly as Firewind’s Immortals would with Hammerfall’s Crimson Thunder. Truth be told, this album shares a pretty blatant affinity with the massive, bordering on pompous production quality of a typical Firewind offering, complete with a large sounding guitar tone to amplify what is otherwise a fairly straightforward riffing approach and songwriting style. Coupled with a thunderous rhythm section, a guitar soloing display that is maybe a tad less fancy than Gus G, and a vocalist in Marco Schober that sounds like a polished middle ground between Apollo Papathanasio (ex-Firewind) and The Storyteller’s L.G. Persson, this is a collection of songs that embodies many of the best elements of a mainline 2000s heavy/power metal sound that has seen a decline in output over the past couple years.
While all of the aforementioned bands likely had some degree of influence upon how this album came out, there is definitely a distinctive sense of versatility on display here that sets this offering apart from anything put out by them. The Stratovarius-tinged, keyboard driven opener “Where Shadows Remain” and the somewhat punchier yet still keyboard-happy “Slave To Yourself” bring home the infectious hooks while also having a technical edge to them, while the minimalist and bass-heavy crusher “One By One” exhibits a little bit of a progressive edge to it. On the flashier side of the equation stands “Nightwarriors”, probably the most overt of a nod to Firewind found on here, complete with a highly technical guitar presentation and a general speed-dominated structure. By contrast, the rugged fury of “Searching For Regret” cycles through a number of almost Nevermore-like riff sets before landing on a metalcore like chorus section, minus the whiny vocal display. All of these take a backseat to the thrashing madness on display in the gallop-happy “Generation Headless” and the blinding riff machine “Rebellion”, both of which could pass for early Mystic Prophecy save for the droning keyboards in the background.
If nothing else, the atypical contents that comes inside this typical-looking package should add further credence to that old adage about not judging a werewolf by its coat. In the absence of a new studio offering out of most of the previously noted older and likewise comparable bands over the past three or four years, Steel Engraved may well prove to be the right band at the right time to make a broader impact on the power metal scene. Further still, for anyone who has been itching for some piano driven content in the mold of Sonata Arctica and has been likewise disappointed with said outfit’s output of late, the two bonus songs offering up here in “We Will Follow” and “All That Lies Below” touches upon somewhat similar territory of semi-balladry while still maintaining the heavier edge that typifies their other influences, the latter sneaking in a brief church organ quotation of the theme song from the Phantom Of The Opera musical no less. This werewolf may not have fully shed its rags from its body following its full moon metamorphosis, but there is scarcely a blemish to be found upon the song that he howls at the night sky from his misty cemetery abode.