Sacred Steel - Hammer of destruction 4.5/5

Reviewed: 2-16-07


1. Hammer of destruction
2. Where demons dare to tread
3. Maniacs of speed
4. Blood and thunder
5. Impaled by metal
6. Descent of a lost soul
7. Black church
8. Generally hostile
9. Plague of terror
10. Sword and axes
11. The torch of sin

Germany's true metal veterans Sacred Steel have been stalwarts of the scene since 1998, when they unleashed their debut opus, 'Reborn in steel', on an unsuspecting world. (Their lineage dates back even earlier if one counts Tragedy Divine, a precursor entity that included the band's creative nucleus and formed the embryo from which Sacred Steel ultimately hatched.) In the intervening years, there have been numerous studio albums (this is the band's 6th overall), 2 record label changes, and some key personnel shifts, including most notably the departure of guitarist/co-founder Jorg Knittel and his sidekick 6-stringer Oli Grosshans in 2005. Through it all, however, Sacred Steel have remained something of an enigma, with their 80s styled power/thrash hybrid prompting equal parts fanatical devotion from their core fanbase and dismissive derision from others. I have always been part of the former camp, so the intense criticism is difficult for me to understand. From what I gather, however, much of it is leveled at the unconventional high-pitched vocal style of Gerrit P. Mutz. Personally, I've always enjoyed Gerrit's singing, which conveys the necessary power and emotion while carrying a unique timbre that identifies it immediately as the throat of Sacred Steel. In a world of fungible copycat singers, I find Gerrit's unmistakable delivery refreshing.

Fans of Sacred Steel should rejoice, as 'Hammer of destruction' is their strongest outing since at least 2000's 'Bloodlust' opus, and might just be their finest recording ever. The new blood has done the band loads of good, and those unfortunate death metal influences that plagued the last couple of releases are now a distant memory. All of the band's trademarks are here in spades. The riffing is furious, catchy, and decidedly old-school in bent, reminding of Agent Steel, Savage Grace, Hallows Eve, Exciter, and many other obscure 80s metal combos, as well as bands like Solitaire, October 31 or Metal Inquisitor today. The songs are simple, with great choruses that reel the listener in immediately. Lyrics tend to extol the virtues of metal, including the brilliantly titled "Impaled by metal", whose key couplet is "If metal's dead - the dead walk the earth." I note many references throughout to earlier Sacred Steel song and CD titles. The band shift tempos effectively, mixing speedy monsters like "Maniacs of speed" and "Blood and thunder" with the slow banger "Black church", probably the most epic song the band have ever written. Production duties are masterfully handled by legendary producer Harris Johns, who ensures that this band has never sounded better than they do on 'Hammer of destruction'. But the star of the show is the songwriting. Of this CD's 9 cuts (plus a cover and an acoustic interlude), at least 5 would be mandatory inclusions on any "best-of" Sacred Steel compilation I might fashion.

Aside from the fantastic songs, it's the little touches that set this CD apart from many other recordings in the genre. Sacred Steel made a brilliant decision by covering Jag Panzer's all-time classic "Generally hostile", a song that fits this band like a glove. They make "Generally hostile" their own, much as they did with their cover of Omen's "Battle cry" a few years ago. Moreover, they cleverly weave in snippets of soundbites from movies or the like to introduce or conclude songs. For example, "Impaled by metal" begins with a Tipper Gore type speech about a "demetalling" program to purge the evils of metal from today's youth. The juxtaposition with the hail-metal lyrics of the song is most effective. Even better is the intro to the supersonic "Maniacs of speed", which starts with a breathless voice exclaiming, "Fasten all seatbelts! Seal all entrances and exits! Close all shops in the mall! Ludicrous speed, GO!" At the end of the song, the same voice intones, "What the hell was that?" Once you've heard the song, you'll understand how perfectly chosen these passages are. The package is rounded out with a stellar performance video for "Maniacs of speed". Having witnessed the band's performance first-hand in dank German concert halls, I can vouch for this video being an accurate representation of the band's all-out metallic assault. Finally, Sacred Steel took the extraordinary step of releasing a boxed-set version of this CD that includes, among other things, an excellent full-length bonus CD, 'Pounding inferno', of originals and covers (all hail Raven "All for one"!) that deserves a home in any Sacred Steel fan's collection.

If you have never enjoyed Sacred Steel's music in the past, I can't imagine that 'Hammers of destruction' will change your mind, as everything you hate about the band remains fully intact here. The band did not make this CD for you, so move along. For fans of Sacred Steel, 'Hammers of destruction' represents the band at their absolute best. Buy or die! The last words go to Gerrit Mutz, who commands on the opening track "From death comes life/Now bang your head and go f***ing insane." Amen, brother.




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