Chicago’s Scars of Armageddon has been drifting around the US power metal underground for a few years and have been on my radar since just prior to 2013’s debut, Never Sleep Again. The only noteworthy point about that album was its abysmally laughable lyricism and how strangely it contrasted against the band’s respectable musical chops. After glimpsing the video for single “Lockdown,” I was given to expect similar behavior from the new album, but the musicianship was tight enough to give me pause and wonder if there might be a gem coming my way.
Scars of Armageddon has an interesting fusion of sounds to its credit. The band’s style of power metal straddles the line between USPM and Euro-power, with occasional blips of melodic death metal influence, particularly in the rhythm section. All of this, along with a lack of keys, gives them a Germanic cant. Instrumentally, I’m reminded of Cypher Seer, Kiuas, and modern Iced Earth. Vocalist David Kraus lends an interesting timbre to the sound of his voice. Despite the relative aggression of both the band’s music and lyrics, his voice reminds me of Andrea Marchisio of erstwhile Italian power metallers Desdemona, less the Italian accent. His voice is strong and clean, his pitch solid, and his vibrato very proficient but not overused. In short, he’s a good singer, and his pairing with his band’s sound is sort of strange, especially when delivering the lyrics he sometimes has to.
As a rule, execution is fast and frenetic with a few exceptions – namely, the awkward middle of “Endless Horizon” and the throwaway ballad “Turns To Gray.” Single “Lockdown” has some excellent moments, and it and “Elf Revolution”1 put proudly on display the band’s mastery of shifting tempo and rhythms to create surprisingly interesting and intensely vigorous metal without making things too jarring. Despite whatever else this album may do right or wrong, “A Good Day To Die” is explosive and neck-snapping, and is immediately my pick for best song of the album. The selective and punishing use of rapid double bass and the furious guitar is just terrific on this song, and I would go so far as to call it my favorite US-sourced power metal song since Disforia’s “Dream Eater.” As a rule, the guitar on Dead End is top notch all around – heavy rhythm work, scorching leads, and very tasteful and well-matched solos, one of them provided by David Shankle (David Shankle Group, ex-Manowar).
My primary problems with this release are its lack of consistency and, again, its lyrics. The latter, while improved, are still often drunken Alexi Laiho-levels of poor, and pretty disappointing when paired with the group’s clearly capable musicianship. Obviously, your mileage may vary on this point, but as far as I’m concerned (and long-time readers of my reviews will know this by now), if you have nothing coherent or useful to say with your lyrics, go instrumental. In terms of consistency, I feel that the tail end of the album is a little strung out (“What Lurks Beneath,” “Fatal Impact”), and/or disappointingly simplistic (“Scars Of Armageddon”). Kraus offers some vocal variation as the album progresses, and while his screams are satisfactory, the harsh vocals (I’m unsure if these are his or another member’s) are fairly poor, almost to the point of being comical.
On the whole, I find Dead End to be a very substantial step up for Scars of Armageddon, and almost thoroughly enjoyable, especially if I can manage to turn my brain off (difficult). Fans of heavy, aggressive power metal (see bands mentioned above) should lap this right up, especially if you appreciate clean, accomplished singing to accompany. Based upon the results of this latest studio effort, I genuinely think that if this band matures in its imagery, lyricism, and outlook, it could become a real force to be reckoned with in the US underground.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Releases Worldwide: December 15th, 2017