Heavy metal used to be so simple. Before we had all the progressive and experimental acts of today, before post-metal and djent, before mathcore and drone metal, before technical death metal and atmospheric black metal, hell, before metal ever had any subgenres, there was just plain old Heavy Metal. There were hordes of bands operating under the same formula:
- Pick a premise, usually something you would see in an action, fantasy, science fiction, or horror movie and write some lyrics about it (The Ripper, Neon Knights, The Prisoner)
- If you can’t think of anything cool like that, write about rebel culture like motorcycles, leather jackets, or The Highway (Accept, Saxon, Motorhead) or get pseudo-emotional and give your listeners some advice about life (Dio) or just make some shit up about some shit that sounds cool (Breaker, Metal on Metal)
- Write a few verses, hitting some key points to make sure the listener knows what you’re talking about. It can unfold in a story (Number of the Beast) or be dramatically static (Breaking The Law)
- The chorus/hook needs to blatantly state what you’re talking about in a catchy way (Like “DENIM AND LEATHER!” or “ACE OF SPADES!”. I bet you all sung those in your head.)
- Write a few riffs, add some leads, and there you have it. A heavy metal song.
I don’t point all this out to bemoan metal’s current state in an attempt to #MakeMetalGreatAgain. Nor am I trying to shit on those old bands for a lack of creativity. I love metal. I’m a metalhead. All of this is important to understanding the recent surge in old school sounding bands. As a fan of power metal who is consistently disappointed with recent releases in the genre, I find myself listening to this new wave of bands a lot because they 1) add youth back into a genre full of 60+ year olds and 2) they have sweet hooks, good riffs, good solos, high vocals, and don’t sound like a CGI rainbow dragon dick.
Because this formula is fairly easy to follow, what makes a band stand out, whether it’s an 80s band or a recent band, is how well the small bits inside the formula work (creative riffs, good vocals, catchy hooks, etc.) and what twist they add to the formula. So how does Gravebreaker do on their newest album, Sacrifice?
Pretty awesome! Gravebreaker plays a very German sounding heavy/speed metal in the vein of Running Wild, Rage, and early Helloween. The album sounds convincingly classic with its lightly overdriven guitar tone and vintage production. It’ll make you double check the year it came out. Like a good heavy metal album should, Sacrifice presents ten short, entertaining portraits of Satanic horror, witches, urban crime, ninjas, and the like that are incredibly fun, catchy, and enjoyable. It succeeds in executing the formula well with lots of good hooks like in “Overdrive” and “Violent City” as well as nimble and lively guitar playing like on “Spellbound.” In addition to hitting the classic sweet spot, Gravebreaker adds some keyboards on a few tracks that really set them apart from most bands in this style. While a simple addition, it really gives you a nice break from “riff-riff-hook-riff-lead” and breaks the potential monotony. I especially like the keyboard work on “At The Gates Of Hell.”
This album is not without its weaknesses, though. I think Gravebreaker front-loads the album with all the best songs at the beginning. Around the sixth or seventh track I’m starting to feel the momentum sag a bit. Perhaps this is actually a deep easter egg tribute to 80’s metal bands, or perhaps they just wanted to grab the listener’s attention right away. Regardless, the album finishes strong with the last two tracks, and the songs that are not as strong are still creative and satisfying, so I can’t complain too much. Another small thing I was hoping for and didn’t get on this album is a few high-ass Peavy-style screams. Maybe they can add some on the next album? Or maybe I could send them some of mine?
Overall, this album is a solid addition to anyone interested in the recent resurgence of classic traditional metal. It packs a lot into a short album and, despite a few small flaws, keeps the listener engaged with a healthy mix of hero-worship and originality. Go buy it.
Favorite tracks: “Overdrive”, “At The Gates Of Hell”, and “Spellbound”