Seax - High on metal 3.5/5

Reviewed: 9-1-12


1. Blade of the seax
2. Molten iron
3. Carry the torch
4. Livin’ above the law
5. Heavy metal seax
6. Metalhead
7. High on metal
8. Warfeast (F.B.D.)
9. Need for speed

I lived in Massachusetts for most of the decade of the 90s. Whatever else could be said about it, the state was not a hotbed for traditional metal, or really metal at all. With a few notable exceptions (Wargasm and Meliah Rage being the most prominent), hardcore was the predominant form of hard’n’heavy music churned out by local acts in venues like the Rathskeller, The Channel, Axis, the Paradise, the Middle East, and so on. During the decade after I left, of course, Massachusetts became notorious as ground zero for the metalcore style, spawning the likes of Killswitch Engage, All That Remains, and Shadows Fall (okay, they’re more thrash than metalcore). Given this history, it is positively shocking that today Massachusetts finds itself in the eye of an embryonic old-school metal revival. Crusty ancient relics like Steel Assassin and Meliah Rage are slugging it out once again, with renewed vigor. More impressively, there is also a crop of younger bands steeped in the ways of olde. Skull Hammer, Iron Will, Ravage, Sonic Pulse and Lich King are all out there playing loud and proud while waving the banner from classic metal.

Add Seax to this fledgling batch of upstart true-hearted metal maniacs hailing from the state that brought you the Red Sox, Michael Dukakis, and Aerosmith. Seax (whose name is an old English term for “knife” that is typically used to describe large Anglo-Saxon single-edged knives made of iron) certainly look the part of certified old-school heavy metal youngsters. They wear patch-covered denim jackets, as well as the obligatory rivets and tight leather pants. Both their CD title and 3 of their songs incorporate the word “metal”, with other tracks having titles about wielding torches, going fast, melting iron, and breaking the law. You get the picture. What sets Seax apart, however, is their refreshing and somewhat unique slant on the oversaturated 80s metal subgenre. You see, Seax combines uncompromising old-fashioned speed metal with an unabashedly punk sensibility. The ‘High on metal’ CD sounds like early Exciter mixed with vintage Motorhead, Impaler (circa their ‘If we had brains, we’d be dangerous’ opus on Combat Records), Razor, and just a dash of ‘Kill ‘em all’ Metallica. The playing may be crude and primitive, the songs may be simple and repetitive, the vocals may be snotty and brimming with attitude, the production may be raw, and the running time may be a ludicrously short 28 minutes spread across 9 songs (4 of which fail to eclipse the 3-minute mark). But none of that matters. Seax have captured the essence of that metal/punk hybrid that characterized so much of what we called “speed metal” during the 80s. Offhand, I cannot think of any other current band mining the same territory quite the way Seax does.

The rough-hewn, throwback nature of ‘High on metal’ is its greatest strength. Unfortunately, it may also be its most formidable weakness. Here’s what I mean: If someone were to tell me that ‘High on metal’ were a lost mid-80s Combat Records gem, I’d probably believe them. It sounds that authentic. The other side of that double-edged blade (not to be confused with a single-edged iron knife like a seax) is that this particular brand of underground 80s metal has not aged very well because it is so simplistic and (for lack of a better word) sloppy. It’s the kind of 80s speed metal that bands used to play before they learned how to play. Hold on: That sounds much harsher than I intended. To me, this style is incredibly endearing because it reminds me of being a teenager riding around in my older brother’s beat-up ’78 Honda Civic listening to cassettes of bands I’d never heard of that I’d obtained via the underground tape-trading circuit. It has a purity, a simplicity, a nostalgia and an energy to it that it is awesome to behold. But it also sounds so unsophisticated, unchallenging and undeveloped that folks who weren’t around for those halcyon days of yore may have a difficult time relating to ‘High on metal’, given the huge leaps and bounds that state-of-the-art heavy metal writing, playing and recording have taken in the intervening 25 years.

A parting thought: this Seax CD is the soundtrack to one of my favorite nights of live heavy metal music in recent memory. At the end of June, I was fortunate enough to watch Seax lay waste to the Shrunken Head Club in Columbus, Ohio at the pre-party event for the Warriors of Metal Festival. The sweat, the beer, and the chunks of molten metal from Seax all melded together to create an unforgettable concert experience. On CD, that energy and passion don’t quite translate. Seax is undoubtedly a band better experienced live than on silver disc. That said, ‘High on metal’ is a genuinely fun debut that will give the old-school speed metal maniacs something to cheer about, while bringing a breath of fresh air into the crowded trad metal revival scene.




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