A Tortured Soul - Lucifer's fate 4/5
2. Lucifer's fate
3. Eye of Ra
4. Ashes to ashes
5. Dark chapel
Hailing from America's capital of beer'n'bratwurst, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, A Tortured Soul have been a hot tip in the traditional metal underground for several years now. Their 2007 CD, 'Kiss of the thorn' was an impressive exercise in dark U.S. old-school metal with a haunting, sinister feel. Nonetheless, I was not fully convinced by the band, as I felt the songwriting on 'Kiss of the thorn' was a tad inconsistent and the execution a bit amateurish in spots. Armed with a new deal on Germany's consistently outstanding Pure Steel Records, A Tortured Soul have upped their game in every conceivable respect and made a believer out of me with 'Lucifer's fate'.
In the press, A Tortured Soul face endless comparisons to old Mercyful Fate. To be sure, the analogy to Denmark's finest 80s export is not unwarranted. The music is infused with a sense of brooding malevolence, particularly in the riffs and harmonies of guitarists Ryne Schultz and Nate Gorenc, often recalling the legendary Shermann/Denner tandem. Likewise, A Tortured Soul's lyrics are heavily steeped in blackened occult themes, and are no more suitable for Sunday school recitation than King Diamond's early midnight cemetery texts. And at times, vocalist Rick Black goes into a falsetto mode that instantly calls to mind the signature voice of Kim Bendix Petersen (aka King Diamond), although he does so far less frequently than Mr. Petersen did/does.
That said, it would be misleading and grossly inaccurate to lump A Tortured Soul in with the likes of Portrait and other Mercyful Fate clones making the rounds in continental Europe these days. You see, A Tortured Soul are a much more diverse, well-rounded and complete act, twisting their old Mercyful Fate influences into form with a generous dose of dark U.S. power metal at its finest (a la Helstar, Sacred Oath, Sanctuary, Attacker, and so on). Where A Tortured Soul distinguish themselves most is in songwriting caliber. Aside from the 3-minute intro "Ritual" (more on that shortly), every single track on 'Lucifer's fate' is pure gold, sporting divine twin-guitar melodies and instantly memorable choruses and hooks. What's more, the songwriting is sufficiently variegated in terms of tempo and mood that A Tortured Soul deftly avoid the common trap of writing interchangeable material. This band's songs are unique and independent of each other, yet cohesive enough that they are all obviously the work of the same band. Although the tracks are lengthy, they never drag and there's more than enough speed to keep my attention. Guitarists Shultz and Gorenc marshal inspired riffs and killer leads at every turn. And singer Rick Black is, without question, a world-class vocalist. The man effortlessly switches from a slightly gritty mid-range voice to a devastating early Rob Halford type mournful cry to the over-the-top falsetto I mentioned before, sometimes using all 3 voices in a single song, and each of his voices is superb. Even if you're one of those hearing-impaired nutters (and I know you're out there) who can't stand King Diamond's tones, Rick Black will win you over with his non-falsetto vocal lines. I defy any metalhead not to bow down in worship when hearing Black's double-tracked voice belting out the lines "No God can save you now/You're not asleep so come with me" in "Reign". Simply spine-tingling in its exquisite beauty.
Bottom line: 'Lucifer's fate' is one of the most exciting, mesmerizing, and utterly compelling U.S. metal CDs of 2010. It is fully deserving of the praise being heaped upon it in certain quarters of the Internet, and should find a place of honor on many a best-of list at year's end. If I were scoring this CD on the strength of tracks 2 through 9, it'd get a 4.5/5, easily. But I can't ignore track 1, the "Ritual" intro I mentioned previously. That song consists of Black singing over a quietly strummed creepy guitar melody and atmospheric keys in a tune about a person's ritual suicide, ending in a shotgun blast. Charming. Look, I'm not the PMRC. I don't have any problem with occult lyrics such as those featured throughout this CD and, let's face it, many others of its ilk. But ritual suicide isn't really something I want to ponder when listening to music. I just don't think it's "bad ass" or "cool" to sing about putting a bullet in your head in an act of fealty to Beelzebub, and it's particularly unfortunate that the lyrics have no place to hide over the sparse arrangement. So for that reason, and that reason only, I downgrade 'Lucifer's fate' to a 4/5. Aside from that lone misstep, A Tortured Soul have hit a home run here.
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