Boy, does it feel good to see German Power/Speed Metal kings SACRED STEEL back in action, and at their very best, too. After parting ways with guitarists Oliver Großhans and Jörg M. Knittel (who now are free to focus entirely on MY DARKEST HATE), things looked fairly grim for the now-trio from Ludwigsburg. Despite being a fan of SACRED STEEL from their very beginning on, I wasn't aware of this at all back then; it took the release of their killer live album "Live Blessings" and the accompanying interviews to enlighten me.
However, their performance at the "Easter Metal Meeting" Bochum earlier this year was proof that Gerrit P. Mutz (vocals), Jens Sonnenberg (guitar) and Mathias Straub (drums) aren't going to give in easily. Thanks to new band mates Jonas Khalil (guitar) and LANFEAR bassist Kai Schindela, SACRED STEEL are as strong as ever once again and even played the title song of their new album (available since November) during their gig.
"Hammer Of Destruction" is the name of this release, which is available as a regular CD release as well -- true fans, of course, will have to grab one of 1000 copies of the limited box set. Said box (measuring about 3.6"x11.8") contains numerous goodies: a DIN A2 poster featuring the album cover and the beautiful quote "If Metal's dead -- the dead walk the earth", a patch, an autograph card signed by all band members, and a special CD (only found in this box set) containing ten songs with about 40 minutes of playtime! Apart from the four new songs "Pounding Inferno" (the lyrics consisting almost solely of bands SACRED STEEL are paying homage to. Awesome!), "Children Of The Spirit", "Hell Insanity" and "Unholy Majesty", this CD also contains three now cover songs, namely of RAVEN ("All For One"), NASTY SAVAGE ("Metal Knights") and TANKARDS ("(Empty) Tankard"), as well as "A Curse Upon Your Name" (B-side off the "Open Wide The Gate" 7"), "Iron Blessing" (split 7" with WIZZARD) and the previously unreleased DEATH cover "Zombie Ritual".
But back to the actual album. Upon putting it in your CD player and hitting "play", you may find yourself thinking you just put a record on ye olde phonographe, as the album features the typical LP noises at its beginning and end. I for think it's a pretty damn neat idea, more so because (to the best of my knowledge) this album hasn't actually been released as a LP. Whether it's also the reason for the raw, scratchy sound, I do not know; their previous album "Iron Blessings" had a much juicier production. Regardless, the opener and title track comes a-blasting through the speakers just fine, and SACRED STEEL still are altogether uncompromising in terms of music and lyrics. It's a good thing, too, as after all this band embodies everything Heavy Metal stood for in the 80s -- before all this untrue junk came along.
If you thought the opener already did a good job at cleaning your clock, you're in for a surprise when "Where Demons Dare To Tread" and the slaying "Maniacs Of Speed" hit. You're only twelve minutes into the album and already your neck muscles are wrecked. Just the way it ought to be! The lyrics of "Blood And Thunder" draw from past SACRED STEEL song titles, while the vocals aren't quite as intense this time. The stressed words are a bit unusual, and particularly the "blood" during the chorus sounds a little unmotivated. You will get to hear it again on "Plague Of Terror"! Apart from various dialogue samples from a number of movies, "Impaled By Metal" probably features the most awesome intro of all: a white-bread American talks about a programme called "Demetalling", with which she intends on freeing our poor children from Metal! Oh, how I laughed. The song itself is a genial hymn, par for the course, the lyrics laden with those clichés we've come to know and love.
"Black Church", with the preceding intro track "Descent Of A Lost Soul", drags on too much in the second half, in my opinion anyway. Other than, though, this lumbering, epic piece essentially flawless. Afterwards, "Sword And Axes" conjures up some real live atmosphere, as the fans' cries of "Sacred Steel!" during the concert were used as the intro. I'd love to know from which concert exactly that sample was taken. Maybe my voice is in there somewhere too, hehe. The closing track "Torch Of Sin" is not going to disappoint anyone either, and the JAG PANZER cover "Generally Hostile" also is very well done while staying true to the original.
If that's still not enough for you, put the album into your PC's CD drive and enjoy the first SACRED STEEL video, "Maniacs Of Speed". It shows the band doing what they do best: rock out! I'd like to see more of this in the future, perhaps with the video based on the lyrics or something like that!
There's really only one thing left to say: if you call yourself a Metal fan, you can't afford not to own this album!
(Online January 17, 2007)