Despite the obvious need for innovation in Metal, sometimes the better path to take is to go with what works, and often this will included going back to its roots. Despite its heavy influence on the entire genre, the NWOBHM was a very short happening that only really spawned a handful of bands with staying power, particularly beyond 1 or 2 stellar albums per band. Forming out of the underground UK act BLACK RISING, the Wakefield outfit SHIELD OF STEEL presents their own brand of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal with an eye for tradition, though providing a collection of 8 songs that have not been heard before.
The production of this album alone is a direct giveaway that the band has no intention at following the current trends of Metal or Rock music, namely the addiction to some have at getting a ridiculously loud mix. The dimensions of the arrangement are very mellow, loose fitting and reminiscent of the glory days of analog recording in the late 70s and early 80s. For anyone who is familiar with the sound of acts like URIAH HEEP, RAINBOW, ANGEL WITCH and Paul Di’Anno era IRON MAIDEN, this is in the same basic league in terms of its production quality.
Most of the songs go for an extremely guitar oriented style, in a way that is much more overt than the guitar and bass competition approach of MANOWAR and MAIDEN. The lead style has a slight Neo-classical character to it, though more in the ULI JON ROTH and Ritchie Blackmore style that still kept some of its JIMI HENDRIX improvisatory roots than the strictly structured approach of the MALMSTEEN School that rose out of the later 80s and had a huge renaissance in the late 90s. This is particularly noticeable on songs like “Swedish Chuff” and “Fool’s Gold”, which are very well done shred instrumentals that mix simple riffs with extremely showy melodic and virtuoso lead lines.
Basically guitarist Gavin Coulson steals the show on this album, despite a pretty solid performance out of the other musicians. There is just so much interesting lead work going on during this entire album that you can’t help but be distracted from Pete Goodfellow, who actually does a fairly good job on the vocals, and isn’t all that far removed from a slightly deeper version of Jeff Scott Soto. He gets in a few really good sections on the condensed and strictly guitar driven homage to RAINBOW’S “Gates Of Babylon”, otherwise known as the title track “Communion”, and gives the listener a good dose of classic late 70s attitude on the DEEP PURPLE inspired “Paranoia”.
Although clearly relying more on tradition than innovation, this is something that younger fans of Metal who may just be discovering the early works of DIAMOND HEAD and DIO could get into. The production is definitely outside of any concept of modernity, which may prove to be a hindrance for anyone addicted to digital technology. But this is a sure thing for anyone well versed in the mysticism of classic, grade A Heavy Metal, from RAINBOW to AXEL RUDI PELL. If you thought that the NWOBHM didn’t last long enough, or otherwise didn’t put out the amount of music that it should have, this is definitely an album to look into.
(Online December 22, 2008)