Solemnity - Shockwave of steel 3.5/5

Reviewed: 2-17-06


1. Enter the axeworld
2. Mephisto
3. Axe attack
4. The queen of hades
5. The book of eibon
6. Shockwave of steel
7. Bloodbath
8. Red monk
9. Impaler
10. Volya I razum
11. Chainsaw lullabye
12. Black horizon
13. Up from the grave

Veteran German underground true metallers Solemnity return with their first studio platter in 2 years. Gale force winds of change have ravaged the Solemnity camp. For starters, both guitar players and the bassist from the band's first 2 releases have flown the coop, leaving only singer/songwriter/mastermind Sven the Axe and drummer Adrian Brock as holdovers. (Brock has since departed too, from what I hear.) According to Sven, one guitarist lost his passion for metal after the Asian tsunami, while the other abruptly cut his hair and embraced hip hop music, an odd transformation for a bona fide member of the tr00er than tr00 sect. Only one guitarist was replaced, so the twin-axe attack has yielded to a single-guitar approach. The new bassist bears the sobriquet "Red Monk" and wears, you guessed it, a red monk's habit. But that's not all. Solemnity have severed ties with their former label, Remedy Records (home to such metal merchants as Stormwarrior, Paragon, Airborn, Predator and others). By all accounts, it was an ugly divorce, with Sven proclaiming in interviews that the band were ripped off and the liner notes listing a special "no-thanks" to "record-companies who cheat their bands." So Solemnity have released 'Shockwave of steel' themselves via their own fledging imprint, Solemnity Metal. The resulting catastrophic distribution collapse in North America has rendered this CD quite difficult to come by on these shores.

But what impact has all of this tumult and turbulence had on Solemnity's music? Thankfully, not much. Under the steady guiding hand of Sven the Axe, 'Shockwave of steel' stays the true metal course while providing surprising diversity in tempos, melodies, and feels, ranging from raging speedsters ("Shockwave of steel") to midtempo anthems ("Axe attack", "Black horizon" and "Red monk") to a sweeping epic doomy track with clean guitars and melancholy singing ("Book of Eibon"). There's even a stupendous Aria cover (sung in Russian that sounds convincing enough to my non-Muscovite ears) of the first track from the Russian Iron Maiden's 'Whom are you with?' opus. Totally cool. And Sven's distinctive voice, an integral part of Solemnity's magic, remains intact and effective. If Sven D'Anna (Wizard), a young non-shrieking Warrel Dane ('Sanctuary' era), Gerrit Mutz (Sacred Steel), and Harlan Glenn (Juggernaut) were to lock arms and bump heads in a rugby scrum, a voice like Sven the Axe's might emerge.

There's plenty of meaty, grade A Teutonic metal on this CD to satisfy the craving of the denim-n-leather headbanger set. But I can't help feeling that it falls short of Solemnity's other works, in areas both superficial and substantive. On the former point, the band have eschewed the glorious Ken Kelly paintings that adorned their first 2 CDs in favor of a Manowar-styled painting of the 4 of them, decked out in full Halloween regalia and surrounded by the flames of Hades and a gigantic skull of death. Sounds cool, right? Well, it would be if the painter had proportioned the band members' bodies properly. But he didn't, so they look like midgets. Now, I have nothing against little people, but they don't look very metal. As for substantive criticism, several songs are unconvincing, with the ponderous, lumbering "The queen of hades" being the prime culprit. Positioned at track 4, that song sucks all of the momentum out of the proceedings. Also, this self-branding of Solemnity as "Masters of Heavy Horror Metal" has become a distraction. The red monk and Abraham Lincoln costumes are fine (I guess), but do we really need 3 separate sound effectish tracks and a theatrical black metal voice on "Impaler" to heighten the horror mood? I would say not.

Solemnity should justifiably be proud for weathering the storm of the last couple of years. To rise from the ashes and release a very good true metal CD at the end of it all is a remarkable feat. For their perseverance, they have my respect. I still think the aforementioned flaws hold this CD a step or 2 below their first 2 recordings, but 'Shockwave of steel' is a worthwhile outing by a fine band. With a stable line-up and no business distractions, Solemnity can be fully expected to resume their ascent of the metal hierarchy next time around.




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