Cults are bad things, or so we are told. The connotation that comes packaged with the word is one of evil, the occult, and brainwashed minions blindly following their leader. In that last respect, there is a grain of truth to the attachment of that word to certain bands, the ones who inspire a fan-base supremely devoted to their favorite artist. Slough Feg is certainly a cult band, if we put it in those terms. The band has spent more than fifteen years building an audience that is fiercely loyal to their particular brand of classic metal, all the while remaining hidden enough that the tag continues to stick to them.
But when is a cult not a cult? In the case of Slough Feg, calling them a cult band isn't fitting, because there's nothing outsider about what they do, they do not live on the fringes of heavy metal. Slough Feg is, and has always been, a traditional heavy metal band that should have been bigger than they are. They play the kind of old-school metal that is both undeniably heavy, and musical to the point of being mind-numbingly addictive at times. Capped off with the unique vocals of band leader Mike Scalzi, Slough Feg has only lived outside the mainstream because of the shifting stupidity of common sense.
Signing to Metal Blade, Slough Feg has the chance to reach the audience they should have had all along. As a prelude to a new album, the label is reissuing three of Slough Feg's early albums, “Twilight Of The Idols”, “Down Among The Deadmen”, and “Traveller”, the period where the band found their identity and made their name.
“Twilight Of The Idols”, the band's second album, is logically enough also the roughest of the three. There is great music contained within it, but the full scope of what Slough Feg would become had not yet crystallized, the songs lacking the 'je ne sais quoi' that would soon make Slough Feg instantly identifiable. Even Scalzi's trademark roar had yet to develop into the aged bellow later albums would see it become. The pieces were there, from the pounding glory of “Highlander”, to the folky charm of “Brave Connor Mac”, but they were separated and cordoned off, seemingly pieces of different albums stuck together to make the whole more interesting. “The Wickerman” and the eponymous song come close to predicting the future, giving a glimpse into what it's like when Slough Feg hits on all cylinders. “Twilight Of The Idols” is an interesting relic of the early days, and an illustration of the maturation process any band must go through, but it is not essential listening.
The growth between that album and “Down Among The Deadmen” was immense, and immediately apparent. The opening seconds of “Sky Chariots” are classic Slough Feg, mixing the classic metal riffs, folk-influenced melodies, and Scalzi's now perfected vocal style. The record sees Slough Feg bringing more diversity to the material, integrating it in a manner that makes everything come across sounding like nothing but Slough Feg. Whether the stop-start riffing in “Walls Of Shame”, the folk-metal perfection of “Warrior's Dawn”, or the acoustic number “Beast In The Broch”, the wide pallet of colors all derive from the same hue. “Down Among The Deadmen” has it's share of classic metal goodness as well, particularly the infectious two part punch of “Heavy Metal Monk” and “Fergus Mac Roich”. This was a massive leap forward, and an essential piece of Slough Feg history.
“Traveller” is different, in that it is a concept album based on a game of the same name from the 70's. The sci-fi backdrop, and the focus on telling the story throughout the lyrics, give the album a different feel than the previous two albums. The occasional sound effects that pop up do the same, and depending on your view, either make “Traveller” a work of genius, or ruin what would have otherwise been a solid Slough Feg album. I sit on the side of the aisle that laments what could have been. “Traveller” is still absolutely a good record, but a sci-fi concept album isn't something everyone can get into, and I am one of those who cannot. The albums keeps me at arms length, but doesn't diminish my respect for it. “Traveller” is a well-honed concept album, but the focus on getting the story across robs some of the focus on making each song as viable as they could have been, which makes the album less vital than “Down Among The Deadman” was. It's not bad, but a different focus than what I most appreciate.
What you get from these early Slough Feg albums is a glimpse into the development of one of the more interesting and individual bands of the current metal scene. There isn't anyone else like Slough Feg, and after listening to these albums, you can hear why. All three are solid albums of classic heavy metal, worth listening to. That being said, “Down Among The Deadmen” is Slough Feg's finest hour, and a truly exceptional piece of work, so that is absolutely the place to start for people who may not yet know who Slough Feg are.