Titan Steele - The force 3/5
2. Devil take me
5. Take what fate brings
6. Titan steele
7. Lady lightning
9. The sign
Shortly after the release of their excellent sophomore CD, 'Blitz invasion', on Hellion Records in 2004, Germany's Ritual Steel were torn in half. Drummer Martin Zellmer carried on with the Ritual Steel project, recruiting new musicians (including 2 members of Ivory Tower and an American vocalist, John Cason of the band Exiled) and inking a new deal with Karthago Records. Meanwhile, a triumvirate of other members of Ritual Steel (singer Sascha Maurer and guitarists Torsten Lang and Timo Tippman) defected, assembled a new rhythm section and formed the band Titan Steele, whose debut CD, 'The force', was recently released on Germany's fledgling Pure Steel Records (also home to Crystal Tears and the awesome Sencirow, among others). The parting of ways was apparently acrimonious, as Zellmer airs his dirty laundry in liner notes for the new Ritual Steel CD by complaining of the former members' lack of professionalism and financial responsibility for band activities. Too bad.
All of this backroom drama notwithstanding, the question remains: Is Titan Steele worth your hard-earned money and scarce metal-listening time? The answer is, well, maybe. If you're familiar with the first 2 Ritual Steel CDs, then this Titan Steele debut will not have any surprises. This is old-fashioned, traditional metal all the way, sounding perhaps like a mixture of the NWOBHM sound (Tokyo Blade, Blitzkrieg, etc.) with the likes of Sacred Steel or even Paragon in places. The production values are appropriately rough'n'tumble, lacking the slick sheen that permeates so many of today's metal releases, but they actually fit the music well. (That said, I wish they'd eliminated the organ that shadows the guitars in "Nightgazer". To paraphrase Tom Hanks' plaintive cry in 'A League of Their Own', "There's no organs in true metal.") At their best, on opening cut "Devil take me" and the triple threat of "Titan steele", "Lady lightning", and "Metal", the old-school riffs are fantastic, the songs are catchy, and the spirit of true metal fills the air. The band's namesake track is particularly impressive, with an awesome guitar theme and the immortal lyric, "Don't stand in our way/We are the living TNT/Our legions stand upright/Our foes will crawl on their knees." If only every song on this CD were as cool as "Titan steele".
Unfortunately, there are a few potential snags with 'The force'. Vocalist Maurer will be a stumbling block for some, as those familiar with the first pair of Ritual Steel CDs can attest. Although none can deny Maurer's enthusiasm or pure metal heart, his limited range and somewhat coarse delivery can become a problem when he tries to exceed the capabilities of his own voice. A more serious problem is that the song quality is not uniformly high, and a couple of tunes smack of filler. Given that the CD's running time is a skimpy 40 minutes (8 proper songs and an intro), it may be that Titan Steele hit the studio before they were really ready to record a full-length CD. This concern is amplified by the fact that none of these guys wrote much of the music in Ritual Steel (combining for just 4 music writing credits on 'Blitz invasion', for instance), so they're not the most experienced songwriters. My sneaking suspicion is that Titan Steele rushed 'The force' to make a statement to Zellmer that they could compete with their ex- bandmate. Whatever their motivation, the fact is that Titan Steele have not quite delivered the goods.
It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that 'The force' is a poor or unworthy effort. Fans of early Ritual Steel or 80s-styled true metal influenced by the English and German invasions will find this CD an enjoyable and headbangable listen. But the marketplace is highly congested, and it will be difficult for 'The force' to stand out. My hope is that Titan Steele will work tirelessly to refine their songwriting craft, and restrict Maurer to the comfort zone of his voice. With those improvements, and the band's stalwart true metal pedigree and solid musicianship, Titan Steele just might release a corker of a CD next time.
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