Friday, July 1, 2016

Album Review: Spellcaster - Night Hides The World

I was remarking recently that this has been a down year for metal, at least so far. We haven't seen a young upstart come out of the gates and make a name for themselves, nor have we seen the litany of established big names live up to the standards we expect of them. I feel like I'm repeating myself, but I've said each of the last three or four years that "this is the worst year for metal I can remember". Next on tap to try to fix that is Spellcaster, a group of youngsters trying to resurrect classic heavy metal from the forces that continue to think Manowar is the formula to use. Here's a hint; it's not.

There are hints of various bands in Spellcaster's sound, but thankfully they don't veer too close to any one in particular. There is some thrash in the drumming, and the guitars have the Priest/Maiden approach, but the end result is more an amalgam of the 80s than a singular homage. That approach does let the band exist outside of nostalgia, and have an identity of their own, which is a key to being taken seriously.

Perhaps the most unique bit about Spellcaster lies in the vocals, which carry a tone unlike what you normally hear in classic metal. The tone is highly reminiscent of the not well known band Keldian, and is just the sort of little difference that makes Spellcaster stand out among the crowd. That, and their ability to transcend songwriting cliches.

There's a certain playbook for how traditional heavy metal is written, and far too often bands who followed in the footsteps of their fore-bearers are too willing to rehash what has already been done. Spellcaster's music has a higher melodic quotient than much of the traditional metal being made now, which is a decision I heartily endorse. The choruses aim to be slick and soaring, and while they don't quite reach those lofty goals, there is a working-class charm to the songs that makes them appealing.

I particularly like "Betrayal", which starts off with a clean surf/spy riff, before a chugging 80's Metallica gallop gives the song a heavy character. The chorus can't pay it off, but there are the beginnings of something really good in there. And that's where I come down on the album as a whole. There are pieces in here that show a lot of promise, but I think the songwriting needs to tighten up a bit more if the band is going to reach their promise. There are a few songs that drag on a bit too long, and the main hooks don't stay with you as much as I would like. They're melodic, but not hooky, if you can undersand the difference.

That said, Spellcaster has made a solid record here. It's not going to bowl people over, but solid metal isn't always easy to come by.

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