With the release of Cruel Magic, the third full-length album since their 2011 comeback (fifth in total), Satan is officially more prolific now than in their NWOBHM heyday. While they may never release anything as influential as Court in the Act again, the speed metal enthusiasm and songwriting mastery displayed on Life Sentence and Atom by Atom put them on near equal footing in terms of quality. Cruel Magic keeps the momentum going, and stands out for its alternate take on the well-worn style.
Satan’s thrashy classic metal assaults have always had room for melody, but Cruel Magic is more noticeably melodic than the albums before it. The songs slow down more than usual as the title track rocks out a Rainbow-style romp, the occult mid-tempo slant on “Ophidian” is a dead ringer for Judas Priest’s “The Ripper,” and the closing “Mortality” makes for an exotic waltz. Even the faster songs get in on the fun as “Legions Hellbound” and “Who Among Us” find places to slow down while “Death Knell for a King” and “Ghosts of Monongah” throw in some catchy hooks.
An approach like this falls almost squarely on the vocalist’s shoulders, and it’s safe to say that Brian Ross delivers. His range is about the same as it’s always been, but the vocal lines’ dexterity keeps his baritone from sounding too restricted. He leads the pack when one would be content just to see him keep up. On the flip side, the guitars don’t quite have the usual jittery feel. Fortunately, the rhythms are packed with power and the leads show off loads of intricacy.
A phenomena like Satan’s post-reunion output should feel as routine as a train schedule, but it just never loses the novelty when the sheer quality is as high as it is on albums like Cruel Magic. The songwriting never results in the diminishing returns of their peers’ fiery comebacks and the band finds ways to keep the style fresh. True speed fanatics may want to try another one of the band’s recent outings, but any classic metal fan will find a lot to enjoy here.
“The Doomsday Clock”
“Death Knell for a King”
“Ghosts of Monongah”