Album Review: Battleaxe - "Heavy Metal Sanctuary"

"Behold the rock of ages. There stands the gates of steel where destiny awaits us - heavy metal sanctuary" - Battleaxe. Metal is as much a lifestyle as it is a musical genre. Metal is a brotherhood that can't be understood by non-metal fans. Put two metalheads in a room together and they will converse for hours about the origins and evolution of the music they love. Metal is life and life is metal. That seems to be the credo of the English metal band Battleaxe.

Battleaxe is a band that has been in existence in various forms since 1980. Originally one of the bands who helped make up the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, they were rocking among the greats and were nearly signed to a major label following a successful gig opening for Saxon. However, for a variety of personal and professional reasons, success as a group eluded them. After a series of personnel changes they came back in the 90s with a tighter, fuller sound but were soon supplanted by a lack of interest in their style of metal and a surge in popularity of death metal and grunge. Lack of opportunity and funding caused the band to go on hiatus until 2007.

Battleaxe reemerged with yet a different lineup and a desire to finish what they had started so many years ago. With fan support but not much else, they set upon a journey to create the album they always knew they could make. Now, in 2014, over 34 years since their inception, Battleaxe is back with a new album, "Heavy Metal Sanctuary", which has been in the making since 2010.

With "Heavy Metal Sanctuary", Battleaxe brings with it the sounds and the stylings of the original NWOBHM but with modern production. The current line-up consists of the original members Dave King (vocals) and Brian Smith (bass) as well as Mick Percy (guitar) and Paul AT Kinson (drums).

This album sounds like it was frozen in carbonite. It's not a second or third generation group trying to emulate their heavy metal heroes. These gentlemen were part of the original scene. They helped create the movement but were never able to cash in. Similar to Manowar in their unabashed passion for all things metal, theirs is a metal that is not just listened to but lived and felt viscerally. This is the metal that flows through their veins.

"Heavy Metal Sanctuary" is a throwback, to say the least, but it is pure and untouched by cynicism and the march of time; the drum beats, the guitar sound, the Bobby Blitz/ Overkill style vocals, leather and denim, long hair and bullet belts. Battleaxe has an Anvil-like story in their tenacity (although not in the number of albums they've made), and their refusal to give up should be applauded and rewarded. They are heavy metal warriors who helped push the juggernaut into the fore and almost became a footnote in the annuls of heavy metal history. But, here they are, giving it their all the only way they know how - the Battleaxe way. I give them praise for sticking to their guns, not selling out and not giving up.

Like many bands from the NWOBHM, Battleaxe has a sound that was influenced by hard rock and punk. There's was a time before thrash when Judas Priest and Iron Maiden ruled the scene. By the way, the album was produced by Fred Purser, formerly of Tygers of Pan Tang.

On an album 30 plus years in the making, you're bound to hear some things that were groundbreaking back in the day but have become almost cliche through overuse. There are moments that are almost Spinal Tap-ish on this album. From the opening lyrics on the first track, to the ominous bell tolling at the start of "Give it More" to the song "A Prelude to Battle/ The Legions Unite" (which sounds a lot like the Accept classic "Balls to the Wall"). And there are some real gems too. "Devil Calls" and "Romeo" are real retro-rockers.

If you can put aside your knowledge of the evolution of metal for a moment and transport yourself back to the beginning, I think you'll find "Heavy Metal Sanctuary" quite enjoyable.

To some, the material may sound dated and it may be but that doesn't mean it's not good. It's like going through your collection and finding a record you bought years ago but never opened. You may have completely forgotten you ever owned it but there it is, still wrapped in cellophane waiting for you. The music has always been there, it was just waiting for you to find it. Keep on rocking, my metal brothers. May we always find sanctuary in heavy metal.

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