White Skull - Forever fight 4/5
1. We are coming
3. Feel my rage
5. Attle and bleda
6. Forever fight
7. Boudicca's speech
8. A mother's revenge
9. Heavy metal axes
12. Beer, cheers (bonus track)
There was a time shortly around the turn of the millenium when White Skull appeared poised to take over the European power/true metal scene. Led by rhythm guitarist/mastermind Tony "Mad" Fonto, the band released a pair of monster/benchmark CDs in 1999's 'Tales from the north' and 2000's 'Public glory, secret agony', sounding in places like an Italian Running Wild with anthemic, swelling choruses. They collaborated with and were managed by Grave Digger's Chris Boltendahl. They were on Udo Dirkschneider's Breaker Records label, with distribution via Nuclear Blast. Their lyrics were about cool historical topics, and their CD covers featured mostly naked chicks with thematic backdrops such as Viking longships and the Roman Colosseum. In short, White Skull had a tiger by the tail. Then that tiger turned around and bit them. Lineup instability struck, and the band was rocked by the devastating loss of distinctive frontwoman Federica "Sister" De Boni. White Skull downgraded to Frontier Records and then Dragonheart Records, and spent their next few CDs getting lost in the shuffle as they experimented with darker, thrashier sounds. In 2006, the band experienced a major creative breakthrough with the excellent 'Ring of the ancients' CD, an intense, speedy, guitar-driven affair sounding more like Grave Digger and Stormwarrior than their earlier Running Wild-influenced stuff. Since then, there've been 3 more member changes, including another new face in the lead vocalist spot, this time in the form of Elisa "Over" de Palma.
My initial reaction to 'Forever fight' was not favorable. The problem wasn't Elisa, who sounds very much like a smoother, more controlled, and versatile version of Federica. She's perfect for this band. But the in-your-face, busy keyboards (courtesy of new keyboardist Alessio Lucatti, who just so happens to be Elisa's significant other) drove me to distraction. Don't get me wrong: Lucatti is a fine player, but he's all wrong for this band. Although they've used keys atmospherically in the past, White Skull have always been about buzzsaw guitars, not tinkling ivories and self-indulgent Vision Divine/Projecto keyboard solos that duel with the guitars on multiple songs. They've never even had a keyboardist as a member before. Lucatti's involvement is symptomatic of an overall shift in sound and production. The guitars are turned down in the mix, and seem to be lacking in the power and crunch that characterized White Skull's previous output. The rough edges of White Skull's sound have been smoothed over, polished, and slicked up. They sound much closer to the "typical" Italian style now than they have in the past. The change is disconcerting.
Once the shock wore off, however, I realized that 'Forever fight' is actually a very fine effort. Those trademark Fonto riffs and melodies are still present in abundance, so it's definitely still White Skull. There's still plenty of speed, such as on the exhilarating title track and the stupendous "Heavy metal axes", which ranks among the best White Skull songs ever and would have been right at home on 'Tales from the north' (silly keyboard parts excepted). More to the point, the songwriting is nothing short of superb, with virtually every song sporting hooks and memorability in abundance. "Spy", "Etzel", "Escape", "A mother's revenge", all are golden in the writing department. And the hymn-like qualities of all of these songs conjure up happy memories of the Federica days. So 'Forever fight' is like a return to the 'Tales from the north'/'Public glory' style of songwriting, albeit with better vocals and arrangements and production more tailored to the stereotypical Italian sound. If 'Forever fight' had been released after 'Public glory', the sonic shift would have seemed much more natural, rather than the vast leap it appears to be coming on the heels of the hammer-down, pummeling material that characterized the Gus Gabarro years.
Special mention should be given to the CD's closing track, "Beer, cheers", which is absolutely the oddball cut. With a lilting, symphonic, folkish, dancing-leprechaun kind of melody, White Skull go into Renaissance Fair mode. Elisa sings in an extremely melodic and smooth voice here, doing her best Irish lassie impression, with the sing-a-long chorus "Beer, beer! Give me one more beer / Cheers, cheers! / Raise the tankards filled." I could see this becoming my very favorite drinking song about my very favorite beverage. It's brilliant. But dear Satan, it sounds nothing like White Skull. The band ought to catch hell from the true metal police for penning such a happy-go-lucky, tiptoe-through-the-tulips, testosterone-deficient kind of song. I guess in some ways, though, "Beer, cheers" summarizes the whole listening experience of 'Forever fight'. If you can overcome your preconceptions about what a White Skull CD ought to sound like in the year 2009, the odds are good you'll find a lot to enjoy here. But if you're clinging to the more aggressive sound of the Gus era and can't abide the more commercial/symphonic nods on this CD, then it may be a painful listen for you. I'm ultimately thrilled with 'Forever fight', but your mileage may vary.
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