Sign of the Jackal - Mark of the beast 4/5
2. H.M. possession
3. Paura nella citta dei morti viventi
5. Night of the undead
6. (Heavy metal) demons
7. Fight for rock
8. Paganini horror
9. Sign of the Jackal
10. Queens of hell
11. The beyond
12. Trick or treat
The blurb inside the CD booklet describes Sign of the Jackal as “heavy metal with female voice from hell influenced by late-70s and 80s horror movies and cult obscure USA underground heavy metal bands.” That’s actually a pretty great summary of what this Italian 5-piece are all about on their debut CD, ‘Mark of the beast’, released on Germany’s superb old-school High Roller Records label. Sign of the Jackal are working in the same niche market populated by acts such as Cauldron, Widow, Air Raid, Rocka Rollas, Borrowed Time, Enforcer, Katana, Volture and so on. Musty 80s-style production with short catchy uptempo songs and enthusiastic performances is the name of the game. This is music for the bullet-belted, patch-jacketed headbanger who thinks progress peaked somewhere around the intersection of ‘Violence and force’, ‘Ample destruction’, ‘Don’t break the oath’, and ‘Burning the witches’. If that’s not you, then just move right along because Sign of the Jackal are not for you.
Although ‘Mark of the beast’ is the band’s full-length debut, some readers may have encountered Sign of the Jackal back in 2011 when they released a limited edition 5-song appetizer EP entitled ‘The beyond’ on Heavy Artillery Records. If so, you know exactly what to expect, as 4 of the EP tunes (excluding the Meghan cover “Head over heels”) appear in slightly different versions on ‘Mark of the beast’. The material is constructed around the sturdy, timeless, classic-metal riffage of guitarists Bob and Max, with the straight-up true metal vocals of Laura “Demons Queen” over the top. Laura’s not an operatic songbird and she’s certainly not some kind of extreme wailer. Instead, she settles into an attitude-laden middle range that’s perhaps a bit like early Doro Pesch circa ‘Burning the witches’, with a charming Italian accent surfacing from time to time (like when she tries to pronounce the phrase “heavy metal hellhounds” or “the wrath of damnation”). Most of the choruses stick from the first time you hear them, and would fall into the category of fist-in-the-air, beer-swilling stuff. I dare you not to rock out and sing along with anthemic refrains like “Heavy metal demons in the night, all right!” or “All right/Into the heat of the night” or “This is the call of the night/An evil presence to rush out the darkness” or “Go back to hell/Back to the city.” Sign of the Jackal are eminently fun, hooky, mindless headbanging joy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So what about this horror movies angle? You know, the lyrics are packed with references to evil and darkness and possession and zombies and night and graveyards and that sort of thing. And many of the songs are introduced by short sound clips of just a few seconds (sometimes in English, sometimes in Italian) that add to the creepy occult atmosphere. I’m no horror movie buff, so it’s no surprise that I didn’t recognize any of the snippets, but perhaps the devotees among you will. To be clear, this isn’t the kind of overblown horror movie theme found on say, the Prowler ‘After you’ CD. In fact, if not for the intros and without studying the CD booklet, I might not even have noticed. Heavy metal and dark, scary imagery have fit together like an iron glove over a hand of steel since the genre was invented, so no worries there.
A pair of tracks deserves special mention here. “Paganini horror”, an instrumental found at track 8, has taken flak from certain reviewers for featuring a melodic theme that bears a passing resemblance to Bon Jovi’s “You give love a bad name”. To be sure, the track has more of a hard rock flavor than most of the surrounding material, but it provides a welcome breather from the harder, heavier fare and besides, the guitarists’ playing is particularly incendiary on this tune. Also, the CD closes with “Trick or treat”, which some may remember as a Fastway song found on the movie soundtrack of the same name. It’s a fine version, and again showcases the more hard rock aspect of Sign of the Jackal’s sound.
For fans of the throwback metal style, Sign of the Jackal comes easily recommended. Their Italian pedigree, female vocalist, and horror-film inspiration all serve to set them apart from the crowd. And their catchy songwriting provides enough substance to give ‘Mark of the beast’ considerable replay value. Hats off to High Roller Records for enabling this CD to see the light of the day, and here’s hoping Laura “Demons Queen” and her bandmates keep rockin’ the call of the night with those evil heavy metal demons for many years to come.
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