We've all heard the old saying, “you can't go home again.” While we all may be aware of it, bands seem not to have taken the message to heart. There seems to be a never-ending stream of bands from the 80's and 90's taking up their instruments once again, trying to capture their glory days one more time before it's too late. Some of these outings are successful in rekindling a legacy, like Hell was able to achieve, while others fall apart because of the time spent away from music, and some beg the question of whether enough people would still care to even attempt such a feat.
Satan is one of these bands hopping in the ol' Wayback Machine, pretending the last twenty years or so never happened, and continuing on as if they had never left. The spirit of the past permeates the record, in a good way, but does leave me with the distinct impression of being caught in an anachronism. The spiraling tapped leads introducing album opener “Time To Die” are an embodiment of that ethos, clearly played through human hands, not locked into rigid perfection by computers. Being able to hear some personality is now an old-school mentality, which is as sad a commentary on the current state of metal as anything else I can say.
In a day and age where it seems a prerequisite for any metal guitarist to spend as much time making videos showing off their technique, it's refreshing to hear an album where virtuosity will never come to mind. That may sound insulting, but it's not meant to be. Satan still packs plenty of classic riffs and ripping solos into the songs, but they're played by men who clearly want to play metal, and not worry about becoming technically precise guitar robots.
That loose spirit is the most appealing aspect of “Life Sentence”. The band is clearly having a blast getting together and playing music again, which makes the album that much more enjoyable to listen to. “Twenty Five Twenty Five” may start out with a riff that feels lifted from “Death Magnetic”, but by the time the multi-tracked chorus comes in, you forget about those sorts of things, and learn to enjoy the ride.
The good will earned comes in handy, because “Life Sentence” can't manage to match the energy with enough songs to support the album. The opening cuts are solid traditional metal, but by the time third track “Cenotaph” comes along, there's a lack of sharp enough hooks to make the record really bite. The riffs don't slash and burn, and the vocal lines are strong enough to make up the difference. It's all solid enough music, but it's not memorable, which is in some ways reflective of Satan's career as a whole.
There are still some good moments left to come, like the punk meets pop approach of “Testimony”, which is able to pack both a good chorus and plenty of fiery soloing into a four minute package. “Tears Of Blood” follows with some of the better riffing on the record, straight from the old days when guitarists knew how not to over-complicate a song.
Don't get me wrong, I like “Life Sentence”. It's a solid record, a fun record, but it's one I'm going to have trouble recalling when the end of the year rolls along. It's the type of music that's great while you're listening to it, but won't inspire you to reach for the album again and again. It may be satisfying, but you're not going to have an insatiable hunger for more Satan. There's nothing wrong with that kind of music, we need it, so bands like Satan, and albums like “Life Sentence” are always welcome.