Embrace Fire - Savage 3.5/5

Reviewed: 4-11-08


1. By my hand
2. Blood on the altar
3. Demons
4. Chariot of glory
5. The cry of the cherokee
6. The slaughter begins
7. Thunderous roar
8. Revenge
9. Attacking the enemy

When I first picked up Embrace Fire's debut CD, 'Savage', I honestly thought it was an obscure 80s U.S. metal reissue. All the earmarks of the era are present. The suitably disgusting and amateurish painted cover art captures the underground 80s ethos perfectly. The grainy band photo on the back depicts band members with names like Johnny Hott and Spider Lee sporting 80s underground metal hairstyles and wardrobes (zebra-striped trousers, fingerless gloves and studded leather suspenders, anyone?). Sonically, the thing's got a greasy, dirty, underproduced, raw feel to it, from the clattery drums to the fuzzy, musty guitar tone to the mostly absent bass, all of which were de rigeur in U.S. metal circles long before the advent of Pro Tools and pristine, polished, mechanical, clean productions drenched in keyboards and effects. And the lyrics alternate between Manowar-type battlefield glory songs ("Chariot of Glory", "Thunderous Roar") and Mercyful Fate-type occult themes ("Blood on the Altar"). Just as I was congratulating myself for stumbling across this obscure 80s U.S. traditional/speed metal reissue, I learned that I was totally wrong. This 'Savage' CD was recorded in 2006, not 1985. Embrace Fire are Greek, not American. And none of these band members are nearly old enough to remember the underground metal scene in the 80s, much less to have lived it.

Realistically, Embrace Fire will appeal to only a small subset of this site's readership. But I'm one of them. Here's why: these Athenians have the whole kult/obscure old-school true metal vibe mastered to a science. Reasonable comparators would be bands like Savage Grace, Tyrant (U.S.), Attacker, Omen, Bloodlust, and even Halloween. The songs are well constructed and catchy, sporting a fine collection of old-school riffs (with an occasional Iron Maiden touch) that sound heavy as hell while mixing up the tempos from midtempo to full-speed steamrollers. I get the feeling that vocalist Johnny Hott (what a stage name) may be the make-it-or-break-it factor for many listeners. Many of the verses he sings in a clean, slightly nasal timbre like a combination of King Diamond's clean mid-range voice on the old Mercyful Fate CDs and the guy from Impaler circa 'If we had brains... we'd be dangerous'. For most of the choruses, however, Hott simply screams his lungs out in unadulterated Bob Mitchell (Attacker) / Glen May (Tyrant) fashion, with even a bit of that 3 Inches of Blood falsetto thrown in as well. This isn't for the faint of heart, kiddos.

'Savage' is the kind of CD that could be easily picked apart if the reviewer were so inclined. But the whole adds up so much more than the sum of the parts. In isolation, the moderate production, the simplistic playing, the over-the-top vocals, and the rather amateurish packaging and lyrics might be a turnoff. But put it all together and the CD just works. Every element of this CD is in harmony with every other element, and Embrace Fire have created a very cohesive, very cool piece of work. For all the "retro" themed product flooding the metal marketplace these days, few bands are capturing the essence of what made the underground metal movement in the U.S. so great in the 80s. It wasn't thrash like Slayer or true like Manowar, but it was dark and sinister, fast and heavy, and melodic and catchy, all at the same time. Embrace Fire have nailed that niche, and created a CD that will be welcomed with open arms by fans of that style. For everyone else, Embrace Fire have nothing to offer, and I have a strong suspicion that that's exactly the way the band wants it.




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