So there Steel Druhm was, sitting with a promo entitled Steel by the unknown Finns called Battle Beast. A quick perusal of the song titles made it clear they graduated Summa Cum LOUDLY from the Manowar School of Song Namery, as the numerous mentions of “metal,” “steel” and “iron” attest. The cover features a lion man fighting a robot as drawn by a ten year old at metal summer camp. Despite my renowned power metal geekdom, I felt a sense of dread and apprehension as I pressed play. Well damn it all if this thing isn’t full of surprises. Steel is a raging slab of frenetic, over-the-top 80’s metal worship that ladles out heaping helpings of thick cheese sauce and demands that you take seconds. Raging twin guitars, heroic solos, uber dramatic song structures and the vocals, Dear God the vocals!! The singer has a huge set of lungs and an even bigger set of balls which are frequently stuck in a vice! From gravelly, rasping shouts, air raid siren screams and superior singing, he can do it all and its so damn metal it kills my neighbor’s lawn. Imagine my shock to find out there are no balls to put in the vice because the HE is actually a SHE! That’s right, Nitte Valo is a true metal queen and she’s flat out brilliant on this album. However, unless you love the classic sounds of 80’s metal (think Grim Reaper, old Grave Digger, Accept) mixed with a smattering of power metal, this will leave you running for the door but quick. It revels in all the cliches and idiocy of that era and these folks certainly aren’t trying to be the next Opeth. You still with me? OK, stay with me.
With opener “Enter the Metal World,” you get big, fist pumping 80’s metal riffs and Ms. Valo quickly introduces herself with authority by hitting some crazy high notes and being bad ass in every way a singer can be. So impressive is her performance that she makes the ultra cheesy Gamma Ray meets Manowar chorus actually work instead of triggering gales of laughter. There’s even that cool ohhh-ohhhhh-ohhh chanting in the background as Valo tears things up like Godzilla. As good as this song is, its just an appetizer for the metal gems that await. “Armageddon Clan” is one of the best classic metal songs I’ve heard in forever and its been in non-stop rotation for a week. Valo’s vocals are double tracked for the chorus with one clean and one super raspy/harsh like on old Grave Digger albums and it works to perfection. “The Band of the Hawk” and “Iron Hand” go for a more epic approach which works well and tracks like “Justice and Metal,” “Die-Hard Warrior” and “Victory” are the most sincere, brilliant yet cheeseball tunes since the Lost Horizon days (Valo even channels the mighty Daniel Heinman at times). Even the power ballad “Savage and Saint” is rendered positively molten by the ear-shredding vocals in the back half of the song. Ten out of the ten songs here will kick your fanny and call you granny. Its a win from start to finish.
Ms. Valo is obviously the focal point and secret weapon as she employs every vocal trick in the book with aplomb and savage grace. Her voice comes closest to Jan Thore Grefstad (Saint Daemon/Ex-Highland Glory) but she also has similarities to Heinman and Chris Boltendahl (Grave Digger). In a nutshell, she’s a metal titan. The guitars by Juuso Soinio and Anton Kabanen also lift the material up with consistently solid, catchy riffing and foot-on-amp soloing. Even the freaking keyboards are fun! I don’t think I ever wrote that before. Rounding it out is a production far better than the album cover would have you expecting. Everything is crisp and clear but a bit raw in that good metally way.
Its been awhile since I had this much fun listening to an album. It goes from deadly serious to painfully cliche but its impossible to turn off. You can rock out, sit in awe of the vocals and laugh at the occasional cartoonishness but you’ll be having tons of fun and you WILL be hooked. This is a great debut that puts these guys way ahead of the other retro 80’s acts like Enforcer, Steelwing, etc. etc. I love this and I think I love Ms. Valo too. Call me!