Steel Assassin - In hellfire forged 3/5
4. Heavy metal soldiers from hell
5. Burn witch burn
6. Attilla the Hun
8. Breakout at St. Lo
It's no secret that Steel Assassin, coming off the critically acclaimed 'War of the eight saints' CD on Sentinel Steel, was preparing for an even heavier and faster follow-up with a World War II themed CD. But prior to recording this much anticipated new effort (now scheduled for 2010), the band decided to enter the studio and record 7 of their classic early-80s cuts with current vocalist John Falzone and current producer Rich Spillberg. An 8th song, "Breakout at St. Lo", recorded during the same sessions, is an advance track from their forthcoming World War II CD titled 'Metal of honor'.
All tracks here except "Burn witch burn" (from Steel Assassin bass player Phil Grasso's Madd Hunter project) and the mentioned "Breakout at St. Lo" appeared on the Steel Assassin 'From the vaults' CD collection in primitive demo form; but this 'In hellfire forged', featuring nearly 40 minutes of brand new 2009 recordings of these songs, easily crushes those early demo recordings, feeling like a real CD, with 8 tracks of impeccable traditional power metal songwriting.
Nearly all of these songs are heavy metal classics, with Iron Maiden being the main reference point. So why can't I place Steel Assassin along side legendary bands like Savage Grace and Omen?
The main reason is the abrasive vocals of John Falzone, who shouts at full throttle most of the time, leaving little room for actual "singing" and subtlety. When he really does sing, he sounds great. But most of the time his Bruce Dickinson-meets-John Bush vocal style delivers the lyrics at peak intensity. It gets tiring after a few songs.
Another reason for ear distress is the waaaay overloud mastering on this CD. 'War of the eight saints' had the same problem (to the point of crackling in a few spots) and 'In hellfire forged' is potentially even louder and more compressed, which reduces the dynamic range considerably. To quote Wikipedia, "Modern albums that utilize dynamic range compression therefore sacrifice the quality of musical reproduction in favor of the illusion of loudness." In the short term it may sound good on a MP3 player or on Myspace, but on a regular CD player the CD's audio is flat and harsh. Admittedly Steel Assassin is not the first to do this, and probably not the last, but one would think that the one-time error with 'War of the eight saints' would have been corrected with 'In hellfire forged'.
But for those that loved 'War of the eight saints' in all departments, none of my criticisms should matter, as 'In hellfire forged' is more of the same, with powerful new renditions of metal songs that are considered classics by metal heads the world over. And future song "Breakout at St. Lo" fits in like a glove, being in the classic Steel Assassin tradition that we all know and love (though I wouldn't mind hearing more harmony guitars).
I give 'In hellfire forged' a "5" in the songwriting, performance (minus vocals) and recording/mix department, as it is THAT good in those areas. Unfortunately the vocals, which I'd score a "2", keep the CD from being an instant classic. And the technically flawed "louder is better" mastering gets a "1" from me. Taking the average and rounding up, the CD scores a "3".
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