White Skull - The ring of the ancients 4/5

Reviewed: 2-29-08


1. Ninth night
2. Guardians
3. Head hunters
4. The ring of the ancients
5. Half moon path
6. From the mist
7. Ogam (Mystic writings on the stone)
8. After the battle
9. King with the silver hand
10. Valhalla
11. Marching to Alesia
12. Tuatha de danaan

I was ready to dismiss the 7th full-length CD from this Italian metal band as another competent power metal act with somewhat unusual vocals, which wasn’t essential to add to my collection. While the former part of that characterization is still pretty accurate, the more I listened to it, the more I was drawn into the songs that quickly hooked into my brain. The band brings these elements together very solidly, and its mild divergences from the more typical acts freshens it up a bit and leaves you with a very satisfying metal opus.

White Skull stands out a bit from most of their power metal brethren due to the vocals. They are neither the ultra-high-pitched melodic power metal stand-bys, nor the weaker nasal version of some of the lesser singers (especially from some of the 2nd tier Italian bands), but rather a gruff, growling version, still ultimately melodic, but with a lot more edge than you would normally hear. Threading some elements of Udo and Boltendahl with the more catchy underpinnings of the power metal genre, the end result works pretty darn well.

After really taking the time to listen to the CD, the fact is the melodic metal of the instruments really works well, nothing ground breaking, but sharp leads, good hooks, some nice intricacy balancing out the harder riffs, and overall a very solid production, that leads to a very satisfying metal experience which is completely faithful to a pure heavy metal sound, and yet has just enough of freshness to keep it from being boring, taking advantage of the combination of catchy choruses with the snarling bite of the vocals. “Marching to Alesia” is an example of a great, driving, punchy chorus that also has a certain martial majesty. Take a listen to the surprisingly sweet melodic solo in “Head hunters”, while “Half moon” starts with a Megadeth “Dawn patrol” feeling before kicking into more traditional metal, and I admit, it doesn’t hurt that the band chooses to do a cover of the Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath track “Valhalla” on this CD.

The band's recent CDs have all conveyed some type of historical and cultural theme, hitting on Rome, the vikings, and the inquisition. 'Ring of the ancients' delves into celtic myths and traditions, which offers something that totally meshes with what we love about heavy metal, but which, with exceptions to Slough Feg and the occasional other band, is much fresher and less overused at this point.

Gustavo "Gus" Gabarrò, who sings on this CD and its 2 predecessors, was the 2nd vocalist, replacing Federica de Boni, who also had that harsh edge to her vocals. 'The ring of the ancients' presumably marks Gus’ last work with the band, since he has since been replaced with another female vocalist, Elisa "Over" de Palma, who is currently with the band. There is a great opportunity to check out her vocals and the band itself for free, as the band’s official website currently offers (for a free download) 3 of the songs from this CD, with her vocals replacing Gus'. Whether you have the CD or not, it's recommended you check those out.

For fans enjoying some essentially straightforward heavy metal, with solid crunch and bite, a bit of power metal catch, and a snarl to the vocals, this is a recommended CD.




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