Album Review: Sacred Steel - The Bloodshed Summoning
If you spend enough time listening to a narrow band of music, you will eventually hear everything. Not literally, of course, but you will hear so much music that fits into the same small box of cliches that nothing short of a revolution will be able to catch you off-guard anymore. You can't be surprised by what you hear, nor can you be overwhelmed by what might have, at a different time, been music that would have helped you define yourself. And so it is with any record that crosses my desk these days that isn't concerned with the latest trend. Traditional metal is, by its very definition, a throwback to the past, but I've noticed the feeling lately that no matter how well done the trope is, I'm failed to be moved by what I hear. It's so familiar, and so linked to memories and feelings of other music I've lived so long with, that it enters my consciousness already in the hole.
Sacred Steel isn't like every other traditional metal band currently out there. They are a heavier, more modern band than most who fit the description. This fact is established quickly by “Storm Of Fire 1916”, a quasi-thrasher with harsher vocals punctuating the attack, updating the sound a bit, but dulling some of the best selling points traditional metal has to offer. Throughout the who thing, you wait for the song to break open and take off, for the vocals to soar above the riffs and turn into a hymn to the almighty music gods, but it never comes.
“No God / No Religion” is a bit closer to expectations, twisting through thrashy riffs and a catchier chorus, a really good example of the potential Sacred Steel has of overcoming their limitations. They don't manage to keep the momentum going, however, as the overlong “When The Siren Calls” is all guitar harmonies and galloping, without much of a song holding the pieces together.
The biggest problem I have with “The Bloodshed Summoning” is the vocal performance of Gerrit P. Muntz. Plenty of singers have done great work with limited range, but he is not one of them. Rather than find what his voice is capable of and writing to maximize that talent, he spends the majority of the album either rasping an irritating bark, or stretching his voice to places it's not physically able to go. The high notes he reaches for in “The Darkness Of Angels” are as painful as outsiders find King Diamond, but without the inherent cheese factor he always brought to the table. Between the limited melodic lines he comes up with, and the delivery itself, he rarely elevates the songs above what they would be as instrumentals.
Jens Sonnenberg and Jonas Khalil try their best to fill the album with riffs, but their approach is more pastiche than inspired. Everything on the record could have been lifted from older releases, and few riffs contain the simple magic that made Tony Iommi and James Hetfield into legends. They try the same tricks, but their riffs aren't earworms in the same manner, nor does their shrill tone help to make them appealing.
By and large, “The Bloodshed Summoning” is one of those records that is a victim of evolution. This would have been groundbreaking stuff if it had been released in 1985, but all these years later, we expect so much more of even the most bare-bones of heavy metal. Being fast and heavy is no longer enough on its own to merit attention. Bands need to either bring a dose of innovation, or an expert sense of songwriting to burn off the fog of remembrance. Sacred Steel has neither to offer, so no matter how much effort is put into the music, I don't hear enough in it to want to come back and listen again and again. The riffs aren't sharp enough to amaze the guitar player in me, and the vocals aren't melodic enough to strike the singer in me, which leaves the album in limbo. It's not bad, but it doesn't do anything particularly well. It is, for lack of a better analogy, a utility infielder. We all know where they end up: on the bench.