Neal Kay, for those who don’t know, is widely credited with discovering and championing Iron Maiden way back in the day. Well, if that wasn’t service enough to the metal world, now he has helped bring us Northern Ireland’s classic metal masters Stormzone and their new album Death Dealer. This is no small accomplishment because, quite simply, this album is an absolute masterpiece of classic metal and full to the brim with top quality metal anthems. Stormzone is a band deeply entrenched in the early NWOBHM style and composed of musicians like vocalist John “Harv” Harbinson, with ties to bands of that era (Sweet Savage, Fastway). All the trappings of the British metal invasion are here and fans of that sound and seminal masters like of Saxon and Grim Reaper will immediately hear it in the sound and attitude exhibited on Death Dealer.
Stormzone sets the mood quickly with the title track, a muscular, battlefield tough rocker that showcases their stripped down, no nonsense instrumentation and the outstanding vintage metal vocals of Harv. This is the kind of song made to pump you up and perfect to roar down the highway blasting at top volume. The guitar work from Keith Harris and Chris Polin recalls the dueling guitar work of Judas Priest at their best and really keeps the show moving and shaking as Harv spins his tales of war, battles, heroism and loss. Harv bases his vocals mostly around a mid-range, tough guy delivery style not too dissimilar from Blaze Bayley, but he can hit the higher notes when the songs call for it. Time and time again, his phrasing and vocal choices further elevate already superior songs to a superb level while adding that extra layer of coolness and punch. Lyrically, Death Dealer borrows heavily from the old Manowar albums with odes to courage, bravery, warrior spirit and all such Angry Metal Guy Approved Topics, but none of it comes across as overly corny or cheesy.
Song after song on Death Dealer showcase a writing and performing prowess that has to impress since all twelve songs are addictive, hook-laden metal monsters. Over the 70 plus minutes of Death Dealer, things never get boring or stale and you get treated to one huge vocal or guitar hook after another. Although this is great from start to finish, extra special gems include the title track, “Secret Gateway,” “Immortals,” “The Legend Carries On,” and “Greatest Sacrifice.”
The mighty Neal Kay himself assisted with the production and he has carved a sound that is completely bare bones and devoid of any trace of modern elements or studio wizardry. This is a minimalist work of metal genius. Sound-wise, Death Dealer seems to purposely mimic the production found on metal albums recorded in 1980-1984 and sports that odd, tinny but cool sound Carl Canedy frequently gave albums he produced around that time (think Overkill’s Feel the Fire or Anthrax’s Spreading the Disease).
Death Dealer is top quality metal from beginning to end with everything coming together exactly right. Importantly, you don’t have to be a fan of the retro metal movement to appreciate what these guys have accomplished here. This is an album for any fan of the metal genre and is a strong candidate for best metal album of the year. This gets the highest possible rating and recommendation. Don’t miss this release for verily it doth rock. Thanks again Neal!!