During my tenure at AMG Industries, I’ve made my opinion on super groups well known. For those who missed that memo (and shame on you), I’ve found that whenever various and sundry artists collaborate on some highfalutin side project, the results are often a mixed bag and prone to being weak and/or tepid. Even worse is when third or fourth tier artists get together to form pseudo-super groups. Angels of Babylon is one such minor league collective, featuring the likes of Kenny “Rhino” Earl (ex-Manowar, ex-Holy Hell), Steve Handel (Seventh Calling, Protest) and Diego Valdez (Skiltron, Helker). If you just thought “Who? Who? What? Who?’, I’m right there with you. While their debut included bass wiz Dave Ellefson (Megadeth), it was a pretty underwhelming slice of melodic, traditional metal. Thundergod is actually much better and has a few top-notch, infectious songs in the same vein as Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath, Wizard, long forgotten Warrior and Louder Than Hell period Manowar. All involved are competent musicians and when they gel, they sound mighty solid. Unfortunately, the pseudo-super group rule remains firmly in place and this album is what we in the industry call a “cherry picker” because it’s better to just grab the handful of killers and ditch the fillers. Read on for Steel Druhm’s helpful produce picking tips.
The opening title track is an ode to legendary Manowar drummer Scott Columbus (R.I.P.) and as such, it’s appropriately bombastic, speedy and ballsy. It reminds me of the Odin-era material from Wizard and the big, in-your-face riffing, thunderous drums and powerhouse, Manowar-esque vocals all combine for a rousing, energetic dose of true metal that will please the traditional metal hounds. Things get even better for the epic, battle-ready “Sondrio” which will force your fist in the air and cause you to gesture dramatically during the manly refrain of “through the mountains, through the mountains Sondrio!” This one is an earworm and it took me a goodly amount of time to stop replaying it and advance to the remainder of the album.
Also of high quality is the mid-tempo, symphonic and über dramatic rumble of “White Star Line” which adroitly balances charm and cheese for a fun romp through metal clichés. “True Brothers” is the kind of homage to metal and male bonding that Manowar made a career from and it’s just catchy enough to overcome the hokey factor and become a minor machismo-drenched drinking anthem. “Redemption” changes things up and approaches a variant of epic doom not unlike what Argus and Sinister Realm specialize in and Valdez crushes it with a HUGE vocal performance filled with emotion and power. Lastly, “Bullet” is a pumping, Painkiller-esque track with tons of aggression and it works even though it reminds me of the Ripper era of Judas Priest (which I really want to forget).
Then there are the songs where things go amiss. While “Queen Warrior” isn’t exactly bad and has a decent chorus, it’s so cheesy that I can’t quite take it seriously. Other tunes like “What Have You Become” and “The Enemy” are simply generic, forgettable metal numbers. The rest drift in that phantom zone between good and bad depending on one’s tastes.
The big surprise here is Diego Valdez. Though he’s been in a million bands I’ve never heard of, the man is a great singer capable of power and finesse. He can sound convincing on the Manowarrior themed tracks, but also dial it way back when needed to convey quieter, less broadsword-y emotions and moods. He really puts a stamp on the material and even manages to partially redeem some of the lesser tracks. The guitar-work from Ethan Brosh (Burning Heat (is there another kind?)) is solid and enjoyable and the man has decent chops. As he did during his Manowar days, Rhino sounds like a speed metal version of Scott Colombus, pounding away with a savage, uni-directional intensity and though I wouldn’t call his style technical, it sure sounds angry and LOUD and therefore, fookin metal. The keyboards add a nice element to the songs, and though I don’t know who is responsible, kudos are in order.
Overall, a typically mixed sack of apples from a studio project band. If you love melodic “true metal,” then at least check out the good stuff, because it’s pretty damn good. I hope this line up sticks together to try for a more consistent album next time, because they have the ability to kick a fair amount of ass when the mood strikes them. Score half a win for the guys in the third tier!