Satan - Life sentence 4/5
1. Time to die
2. Twenty twenty five
4. Siege mentality
7. Tears of blood
8. Life sentence
9. Personal demons
10. Another universe
A much-loved band getting back together after many years away can often be whatever the antonym of a blessing in disguise is, either ending up as low-key affairs that gradually dwindle away again or, worse, only one or 2 returning members half-arseing it with a new line-up that only has tenuous links to their established style (hi, Diamond Head!).
From the angry swarm of killer bees guitar harmony that opens “Time to die” though, it becomes clear that the reformed Satan not only mean business, but have not forgotten how to write in the style that made them an underground legend in the first place.
The long, chequered story of Satan and their various releases as Blind Fury and Pariah before seemingly disappearing for good in the late-90s mean the core of the band has done a lot more together than their 2 releases under the original name would suggest, but nevertheless ‘Life sentence’ feels very much like a deliberate and calculated sequel to their cult favourite debut ‘Court in the act’, and the fact that it is such a success in this regard, nearly 30 years to the month later, is pretty remarkable.
Certainly the garage band sound they have gone for goes some way towards this – bravely recorded in a small-time analogue studio (though sensibly shipped abroad for the crucial mix and master) has ensured a warm, loose production that captures the proto-speed/thrash of the debut perfectly. But more than this, making a deliberate attempt to revisit a particular style after 3 decades of development as musicians can’t just be like flipping a switch – something a lot of bands trying to recapture their halcyon days don’t seem to understand - and has involved a very conscious effort on their part to unlearn what they have learned, and remember the habits and practices they adhered to as far younger men.
One of the key differences between Satan and other less successful NWOBHM reunions is that all the musicians involved have kept their chops up to one degree or another over the years rather than picking up an instrument for the first time in a decade, and that makes winding back the clock so successfully even more of an achievement.
While the biggest hitters are undoubtedly the storming speed metal songs, it’s nice to see that the fiendish intricacy and indeed the slowed-down atmospheric sections of ‘Court in the act’ (and indeed their other releases) haven’t been forgotten about in a rush to find a superficial match for past glories.
2nd in the tracklist is apocalyptic “Twenty twenty five” which immediately harkens back to darker NWOBHM and classic Swedish metal like Gotham City and shows straight away that ‘Life sentence’ won’t be a one-trick pony. Similarly, the following “Cenotaph” isn’t content to fit to a standard template, as while it largely continues the mid-paced and emotional approach, it contains some murderously fast breaks while, elsewhere, songs like “Personal demons” bring those classic, insidiously dark Satan melodies back to the forefront.
But worry not, dear speed freak, as the fast songs crackle with unbounded energy, and the professionally sloppy recording style coupled with the trademark helter-skelter harmonies provide the thrill that it all might fall apart at any second, meaning that the CD rushes past in such a blur that the slower and doomier moments feel only like brief respites from the onslaught.
While the instrumentalists – none of whom have played anything this consistently fast for a very long time – are all entitled to click their fingers and smugly say “still got it”, special mention must go to the ageless vocals of Brian Ross (appearing on only his 2nd Satan CD in any of their guises), whose falsettos soar with the same alarming exactitude as they did in 1983. His sonorous, operatic range is also in typically fine shape, adding extra depth and emotion to the closing lament “Another universe”.
Guitarists Tippens and Ramsey really steal the show a lot of the time though, having not lost an inch over the years with their craftily interweaving solos and harmonies and plenty of arresting riffs that propel the songs along with such efficiency that ‘Life sentence’ seems to pass by in half its 45 minute running time. All in all it’s about as good a comeback as you’re likely to hear from a NWOBHM band, not quite scaling the heights of Hell’s eternally delayed 2011 debut but still a formidable addition to Satan’s scattered discography and hitting virtually every note a fan could hope for along the way.
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