Traitors Gate - Fallen - (7.5/10)
Published on November 1, 2018
With heaviness they rise
Ballsy gruff riffing and the throaty gurgle of bass isn’t what most people remember the NWOBHM for, but if Traitors Gate have anything to do with things, it could yet become a genre staple. Another band who gave it a go in the ‘80s and have decided that regrouping would be a smart move, the four-piece have traded in vocalists once again for Sy Davies to appear on their first full-length almost 40 years after first forming. Despite the big numbers in the last sentence, the Welsh fellows have made efforts to bring their sound into the 21st century and benefit from the bulk that Andy d’Urso drags around in his guitar case, as well as the total meanness of the gritty approach.
These words like ‘gruff’, ‘grit’, and ‘bulk’ are all descriptions of the guitar tone that dominates the low end of the recording with steady, almost doomy riffing. Coupled with Davies’s bold, vibrato-laden mid-range, the style becomes almost oppressive, smearing flat the usual topographic splendour of trad metal’s varied pitch and hitting the listener in the gut with an onslaught of forbidding power. The stark topics that inform songtitles like “Retribution”, “Deceiver”, and “Fall from Grace” are suited to this style, which feels better-equipped for modern world problems than high-pitched squealing and duelling lead guitars ever did. As a result, it’s hard to think of direct comparisons to Traitors Gate, since the songwriting is not unusual for heavy metal yet the sonic atmosphere is much more serious. Let’s put it this way: fans of Argus will probably dig this, as will those interested in Saxon’s ‘00s output; fans of Iron Maiden will probably find Fallen boring.
The simplicity of the set-up does indeed lend this full-length some issues, since a few songs are so sparse in tonal coverage that they sound positively empty, especially when d’Urso pushes power chords into the abyss of the pre-chorus in “Sign of the Cross”. It’s also absolutely true that the drumming of Paul House does no favours, rarely adding anything beyond basic beats, which is part of the reason for the lack of content during the slower parts. With few moments of pace and little to speak of regarding moments of lead guitar activity, the appeal of a metal album like this seems limited. However, do not underestimate the fearsome way that d’Urso launches into the chorus riff of “Sign of the Cross” when he’s finished messing about: the three choruses in that song each take your head off from a different angle, while Davies chimes in with a strident and drearily poignant ode to fallen heroes. Traitors Gate might not know much about apostrophes, but they know how to write a hook.
After the initial shock of the album’s heaviness and minimalism wears off, the realization sets in that Fallen consists of a bunch of 10 conservatively written songs. Structure tends to be cyclical and focuses on the strength of the chorus, meaning that “Retribution” and the title track deliver the goods only at particular intervals, while “Homeland” does combative riffing until the refrain relents in amnesty. There are no awful songs, though “Mean Streets” sounds especially like a throwback to 30 years ago, completing the banal hard rock strut with a repetitive gang chorus of “Shot down, shot down on the mean streets.” The highlights come in the middle of the album and are the only songs that maintain their edge from start to finish. “Solar Plains” succeeds from sheer confidence and some nice chord changes, but “Edge of Destruction” opts for speed and a more stirring vocal delivery to spice up the verses to Painkiller levels, which is the most alive the band sound on Fallen.
Not to knock Traitors Gate for recording their debut after decades of inactivity, but there was absolutely no reason for associating this kind of modern heaviness with the classic name, not in terms of similar sound anyway. Sceptics will rub finger and thumb together with a cynical expression on their faces, although it’s reassuring to know that the old team (plus new singer) made something that doesn’t merely cash in on old demos or the like. Recommending Fallen to the original fans of Traitors Gate may be slightly risky; however, for the rest of us, here’s a slab of classic songwriting tuned into the new millennium.