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Clenched Fist - Tribute to the brave ones 3/5

Reviewed: 5-8-09


1. Adaga (Cravando o mastro oitentista)
2. Into the fire
3. Bang your head
4. Clenched Fist
5. Death's words
6. Valhalla
7. Trombetas da destruicao
8. Divine victim
9. Intro
10. Bang your head
11. Hates of dogmas
12. Into the fire
13. Words of death
14. Clenched Fist
15. Valhalla

Flying the flag high for 80s-inspired true metal, Clenched Fist have been balling appendages, squeezing digits and squaring jaws since 2001. This pugilistic quintet from Sao Paolo, Brazil, goes all out with their uncompromising love of heavy metal. Stage names include vocalist Vagner Fist, bassist Chris Clenched, guitarists Epicus Metallicus and Frost and Fire, and drummer Will Wild. What a riot! The photos in the CD booklet depict the band members on stage bedecked in bullet belts, studded armbands, and patch-festooned denim jackets. The singer's got what looks like the 'Battle hymns' eagle tattooed on his right shoulder, and the instruments are adorned with brightly-colored metal logo stickers (Hallows Eve, Running Wild, Dio, Accept. etc.). Song titles include "Bang your head" and "Valhalla" (no, not a Blind Guardian cover). From these objective clues alone, it should be exceedingly obvious what style of music Clenched Fist play.

Things aren't quite as promising as they seem at first blush, however. You see, Clenched Fist recorded their debut CD, 'Tribute to the brave ones', back in 2006, but did not secure a record deal to release it until 2 years later, when Marquee Records finally offered them a contract. The low-budget nature of the recordings is evident in the final product, with the guitars lacking crispness, the drums lacking punch, the vocal overdubs sounding forced and out of place, and the stringed instruments sometimes warbling in and out of tune. Singer Vagner Fist tries hard, maybe too hard. Linguistically, he switches back and forth between English and his native Portuguese, although it's sometimes hard to tell which language he's singing in at a given time without consulting the lyric sheet. In terms of approach, he likewise divides his time among a low, rough, half-growl; a slightly operatic mid-range a la Messiah Marcolin; and occasional ear-piercing shrieks. Sometimes he sounds a bit like Erico La Bestia (Dantesco/Narval). Just as the vocals are all over the map, so too are the songs, some of which come across more as a collection of pretty cool old-school riffs randomly pasted together at different speeds than anything approaching coherent songs. To make matters worse, 'Tribute to the brave ones' has a 58-minute playing time, but the final 25 minutes of that are mere padding in the form of 7 very rough demo tracks, most of which are muddier versions of songs appearing on the CD proper. The lo-fi demo songs are really no bonus at all, so we're effectively left with a bare-bones 33-minute CD.

Notwithstanding these shortcomings, I like 'Tribute to the brave ones'. It positively oozes enthusiasm for true metal. The band members may not be the most talented musicians ever to don the denim and leather, but their passion shines through loud and clear in their performances. And the riffs are tons of fun. Many of the them capture that glorious 80s metal spirit, even if it's easy to pick out the Running Wild part, the Manowar part, the Manilla Road part, the Saxon part, the 'Kill 'em all' part, and so on. As a further inducement, Clenched Fist had the good sense to include a smashing cover of Manilla Road's "Divine victim", with Vagner pulling off a convincing Mark the Shark impression to go with the many other facets of his vocal performance. "Divine victim" easily blows away the Clenched Fist originals, and constitutes the undisputed high point of the CD. Also enjoyable are the mid-paced "Valhalla", a snappy little anthem with a memorable chorus, and the galloping "Trombetas de destruicao", where the riff and tempo transitions work surprisingly effectively.

For those who dabble in true metal, this CD is probably too obscure, too unpolished, too primitive and embryonic to justify a recommendation. But for those who delight in delving deep into the marrow of the genre, getting down to gutter level where all flash and glitz and glamor are gone and only the pulsing heartbeat of beer-soaked metal spirit remains, 'Tribute to the brave ones' deserves both a listen and a hearty hail.




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