Hyborian Steel - An age undreamt of 3.5/5

Reviewed: 10-9-09


1. Hyborian Steel
2. Cimmerian
3. Eyes of the serpent
4. Pirates of the black coast
5. M.R.Z.
6. Heavy metal heaven
7. Behind the mirror
8. Bringers of chaos
9. An age undreamt of

Lest the band name leave any vestige of doubt in your mind, Hyborian Steel are an 80s-style fantasy-themed epic metal quartet following in the footsteps of legends like Manilla Road and Omen, with a firm nod to contemporaries like Doomsword, Battleroar and especially Ironsword. For those not up on their fantasy literature, the Hyborian Age was an epoch devised by noted (and oft-revered) fantasy author Robert E. Howard as a fictional timeline for many of his tales, including his famed Conan the Barbarian legends. The band's adulation of Howard is obvious from their frequent use of proper names derived from his mythical world (Aquilonia, Cimmeria, etc.) in their song titles, lyrics and stage names. Hell, the singer calls himself Howie Roberts, the guitarist plays an "Aquilonian Battleaxe", and the drummer punishes his "Pictish Wardrums", on a CD that was purportedly recorded in "Tarantia, Aquilonia, during the summer of 12008 A.C." according to the liner notes. So to say that Hyborian Steel are heavily steeped in the works of Robert E. Howard would be a colossal understatement.

If Hyborian Steel's obsession with Howard reminds you of Portuguese epic metal masters Ironsword, the comparison is an apt one. Like Ironsword, Hyborian Steel pepper their lyrics and liner notes liberally with references to and encomiums of Howard. For a quick example, Ironsword has a song called "Cimmeria", and Hyborian Steel counters with a track dubbed "Cimmerian." But the parallels don't end there. Musically, Hyborian Steel sound like they could be Ironsword's younger brother, in terms of songwriting, vocals, production, everything. I suppose some might find the similarities offputting, but Ironsword's 'Overlords of chaos' CD was in my Top 5 list for 2008, so I'm ecstatic to hear another band playing the same style as Tann and his mighty warrior sidekicks. And they do it well. The band's namesake song, "Hyborian Steel", is a powerful, rousing ode to battle. "Pirates of the black coast" could teach a lot of today's so-called pirate metal bands a lesson in the proper method of merging pounding, speedy heavy metal music with lyrics about plunder and pillage on the high seas. "Bringers of chaos" is another high-energy pounder that lays waste to everything in its path. Yeah, Hyborian Steel pull this style off well, and know how to write a catchy old-fashioned true metal tune.

But that's not to say that 'An age undreamt of' is flawless, or even particularly competitive with Ironsword's magnificent output. Although I believe it was intentional on the band's part to capture the aesthetic they had in mind, the muddy, tin-can production values are so primitive that they're likely to disappoint even die-hard Keep It True folks. I understand why Hyborian Steel wouldn't want this CD to sound slick and polished, but it didn't need to sound this swampy to get their point across. Some of the performances are a touch on the dodgy side as well. Vocalist Roberts needs some work to get to Tann's level, especially when he tries to go for higher notes. Roberts often sounds like a bit of a cross among Tann, Virgin Steele's David DeFeis, and even Zandelle's George Tsakalis in his higher notes. He's just not as good as any of them. And the 8-minute slow doomy cut, "Behind the mirror", drags on far too long, without much to sustain the listener's interest or energy level.

Let's not lose sight of the big picture. The idea of a kick-ass band from Missouri (of all places) playing this style of epic/true metal, all the while paying homage to one of the most celebrated fantasy authors who ever lived, is simply fantastic. I'll support Hyborian Steel wholeheartedly and keep my fingers crossed that CD #2 will be the leap forward in writing, production and performances needed to catapult them among the elites of this genre. One last word to the wise: If 'An age undreamt of' sounds like it might be your cup of tea, don't tarry before checking it out. For some reason, My Graveyard Productions only pressed up a hand-numbered 500-copy print run of this CD, so it's sure to become a highly prized collectible in underground metal circles in the near future. Be quick or be dead, my stout-hearted Cimmerian friends.




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