Black Widow - Soldiers from hell 3.5/5

Reviewed: 11-7-08


1. Moonshadow
2. Comfort in the dark
3. Just his wish
4. Lay me down
5. Soldiers from hell
6. The serpent
7. When angels cry
8. Widow's web
9. Venom

Hailing from the metal wasteland of Baltimore, Maryland, Black Widow (formally known as "Black Widow USA" these days to differentiate themselves from the several other Black Widows spinning their webs in the metal underground) were formed back in 1997. Their debut, 'Satan's playground', was independently released in 2003 to little fanfare. Despite my sincere efforts to appreciate 'Satan's playground' and my fondness for the Warlock/Backslash/Chastain family of bands, I ultimately concluded that Black Widow's debut was just too primitive, too simplistic and too underdeveloped to be competitive with the flood of new releases washing over the marketplace. Based on that experience, I was prepared to write the band off, until a friend tipped me off to give their new release, 'Soldiers from hell', a chance. He was right: Black Widow have stepped up their game in a big way.

Black Widow play a form of straightforward, mid-paced, dark, old-fashioned U.S. metal centered around the sturdy, workman-like riffing of guitarist John Anthony. There are no dizzying tempo changes or dazzling technical displays. Instead, Anthony keeps it simple and no-frills, churning out crunchy headbangable riffs, locking into a groove with the rhythm section, and marching onward with deliberate intensity. Vocalist Cat may not have a jaw-dropping range, but she holds her own by delivering her lines with power, attitude and conviction, adding a certain haunting tone to the music in places that works very well. The sound job is punchy, strong, and overall excellent for a self-released CD, perhaps due to the involvement of Kevin Gutierrez (who has previously worked with the likes of Raven and October 31) in engineering, co-producing and recording the CD. Most importantly, the songs are very effective this time around, sporting memorable riffs and choruses and virtually guaranteed to keep your toes tapping and your rivet-riddled melon nodding throughout their duration.

It would be tempting to compare Black Widow to the spate of superb female fronted true metal bands these days (Twilight Odyssey, Ignitor, Phoenix Reign, Crystal Viper, etc.), but they really don't fit in that mold. This is just unvarnished, basic heavy metal, designed to bludgeon the listener with brute strength rather than finesse, technical prowess, or songwriting wizardry. Think Iced Earth at their most stripped-down and mid-paced, or perhaps Cage's first record, but with female vocals, and you'll be on the right track for what to expect here. I suppose that one could criticize Black Widow for their lack of variety and their songs' tendency to overstay their welcome (many of them exceed 6 minutes, and the title track weighs in at a whopping 11 minutes) given their tendency to ride a single riff into the ground. If you're looking for a cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, cerebral metal CD, 'Soldiers from hell' ain't it. But if you're interested in cranking up the stereo, drinking a beer, and rocking out on a Friday night without having to think about it too much, 'Soldiers from hell' fits the bill nicely. Black Widow are to be congratulated for upping the ante drastically from their debut, for sticking to their guns, and for delivering an ass-kicking to the traditional metalheads all the way from the Chesapeake Bay. I'll be awaiting CD #3 with great interest, guys and gal.




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