Deja Vu - Bullets to spare 3.5/5
1. Fall of the brave
2. Wings of steel
3. Catch me if you can
5. We'll burn the sky
7. One by one
9. Hate in my soul
14. Heavy metal breakdown (bonus track)
15. United forces (bonus track)
Along with their brothers in arms over at Battle Cry Records, Karthago Records are fast becoming Germany's coolest label for underground, obscure true heavy metal releases, including both reissues of overlooked gems from the vault o' time and brand-new nuggets of old-school heavy metal exuberance. Karthago has done a fantastic service to the traditional metal community by reissuing such legendary hammers as the Gravestone and Noisehunter discographies, as well as the Mirage and Stranger titles. Unfortunately, Karthago has struggled to find a stable of quality active bands whose current work is infused with the cult, classic metal spirit that is the label's stock in trade.
By signing Deja Vu, however, Karthago have acquired an important piece to their jigsaw puzzle of metal supremacy. Hailing from Germany (where else?), Deja Vu actually formed back in the late 80s, folded a short time later with only a 2-track single under their bullet belts, and reunited just after the turn of the millennium with three-fourths of the original lineup. This 'Bullets to spare' represents their inaugural full-length CD, recorded in summer 2005. Although the informative liner notes (in both German and English) gloss over this point, my guess is that at least a fair number of the 12 original tracks on this CD date back to the original incarnation of the band. These guys play exactly the kind of music you would expect from a band of late-80s German metalheads signed to a label renowned for the stoutness and purity of its metal. The obvious guideposts are acts like heavier Judas Priest, Sinner, a touch of Primal Fear, Grave Digger, etc. Keyboard flights of fancy, subtle acoustic interludes, and melodramatic power ballads are nowhere to be found. Instead, Deja Vu dish up a tasty, uncompromising slab of old-school metal, replete with lyrical themes about "metal's the law", "heavy metal maniacs", "posers and fools" and the obligatory couplet rhyming "pain and death" with "your final breath". Any lingering doubts about the band's old-school cred are annihilated by their inclusion of spot-on covers from Grave Digger ("HM breakdown", natch) and S.O.D. ("United forces").
Originality and unpredictability are not prized traits in the traditional German metal niche; therefore, the success of a CD in this style typically turns on the vocals and the songwriting. In the former category, Werner Kerscher does a fine job with a powerful voice sticking for the most part to the middle register in a manner that sounds like a slightly cleaner version of President Evil (Powergod). Kerscher's only weakness his propensity to attempt an Owens/Scheepers type of scream from time to time (see "Bloodsucker"), with less than stellar results. In the latter department, Deja Vu's songwriting at its best is nothing short of outstanding, especially in the faster tracks. Opener "Wings of steel" is reminiscent of top-shelf Primal Fear, while "Nightmare" skillfully employs a "Killing the dragon"-type of galloping riff, "Highlander" is tailor-made for singing along and headbanging, and "We'll burn the sky" is a superb speedy number with a soaring chorus and a more power-metallish guitar approach. Unfortunately, the Deja Vu boys are not as consistent as one might hope. The boring, plodding "Bloodsucker" descends into 'Jugulator'/'Demolition' depths of despair, complete with fingernails-on-the-chalkboard screeches. And the aptly monikered "Pain" (because of its effect on the listener) inexplicably is modeled on one of those crappy bluesy sloppy Kirk Hammett riffs that Metallica foisted on their fans during their mid-90s sell-out phase. Why? Finally, the band earn a special demerit for shamelessly pilfering the lyrics from "Sixteen tons" (as recorded by Memento Mori, Johnny Cash and a raft of others) in "Skullcrusher". If you're going to borrow lyrics, guys, at least acknowledge their source.
If I were Executive Producer of this 'Bullets to spare', I would have axed "Bloodsucker", "Pain" and a couple of the other plodding tunes, rearranged the track list a bit to hide some of the less impressive momentum-stunting tunes currently found near the CD's beginning, enjoined Kerscher from ever attempting to emulate a Ripper-type scream, and forced the band to rewrite (or, more accurately, write) the lyrics to "Skullcrusher". But that's all I would have changed. There are 45 minutes or so of excellent traditional German metal here, basted in the authentic attitude of a band that began plying its trade in the heady days of the 80s. At the moment, Deja Vu linger a step or so behind the Metal Inquisitors, Axehammers, and Attackers of the world. But they're off to an undeniably strong start and I fully expect their sophomore CD to be an absolute scorcher.
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