Septer - The god key 3.5/5

Reviewed: 6-13-08


1. The hillside strangler
2. Attack of the Ibex
3. 40 days
4. The darkest hallway
5. Post mortem
6. United at the front
7. Enlighten me
8. Six-six
9. The devil's prey
10. Whatever man

Sometime ago, Septer's 2003 debut CD, 'Transgressor', crossed my desk. I remember thinking that these Illinois dark metallers had some cool songs and an appealing underground feel, but that the out-of-control warbling Halford-type vocals were a real detractor. After a 4-year hiatus, Septer have broken the silence with a self-released platter entitled 'The God key', featuring a new singer, Dane McCartney, who is correctly advertised as being far more Dickinson than Halford. Because this kind of dark old-school U.S. metal is dreadfully out of fashion, woefully overlooked by most of the metal community, and yet totally near and dear to my blackened metal heart, I decided that 'The god key' warrants a full review, much as New York's Rychus Syn did last month.

Actually, the Rychus Syn comparison is apt. Not only are both acts unashamedly rooted in the true U.S. metal sounds simmering beneath what passed for metal in the mainstream in the 80s and championed by the likes of Metal Church, Attacker, Omen, and Jag Panzer, but Septer and Rychus Syn share another important attribute, namely, that some of their material released today actually dates back 20+ years, lending it a ring of authenticity that today's metal-come-lately imitators cannot possibly replicate. "Hillside strangler", "Attack of the Ibex", "Devils pray", "Post mortem", and the smokin' instrumental "Six-six" are all reworked versions of songs that Septer guitarist Orest "Hawk" Dziatyk first wrote in the early 80s as a member of the uber-kult Illinois metal act Transgressor (who are featured in the most recent issue of the long-running Snakepit zine). Those tunes, among others on the CD, feature a dark, eerie vibe in the riffing department that is sometimes reminiscent of classic Mercyful Fate, with the twist being that the lyrics have a decidedly Christian bent. Yep, this is what we used to call "white metal" back in the day because of its unabashedly pro-God approach. It's fascinating to meld these kind of dark, malevolent, pulsing riffs with lyrics extolling the virtues of the heavenly father, and the contrast actually works well.

Less effective are the Yngwie-inspired flashy solos. Oh sure, Hawk's a fine player, but the widdly-diddly, flowery, "look Ma no hands" stuff just seems out of place on songs like these. I'd prefer a grittier, more blue-collar approach to the soloing in the context of this music (aside from the raging instrumental inferno of "Six-six", which is basically designed as a showcase for Hawk's 6-string wizardry, amidst some killer blistering riffs). New singer McCartney is a substantial improvement over his predecessor (Kevin Truell), avoiding the overwrought over-emoting that plagued the 'Transgressor' CD. (Having said that, I know some people think that Truell's performance on 'Transgressor' was amazing, so don't take my word for it.) McCartney may not be ready to go 12 rounds with the upper echelon of U.S. vocalists, but he delivers a more than serviceable performance that complements the material far more than he impairs it.

If the idea of hearing a U.S. band of today crank out evil old-school Mercyful Fate type riffing with a Dickinson-style singer belting out lyrics about eternal salvation and prayer is appealing to you, then 'The god key' is absolutely for you. On my part, the lingering question is what happens when the Transgressor treasure trove runs dry, and Hawk & Co. must write a full CD of new material. The old songs (plus the jaw-dropping closer "Whatever man") are the clear highlights here, but it remains to be seen whether Septer has enough creative juices left in the tank to pen a full CD of brand-new material at this stage of the game. I'll be pulling for them, though.




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