Before the thrash explosion of the 80s truly took off under the guidance of rising stars like Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax, there was its ugly predecessor, speed metal. Basically, traditional metal played faster, speed metal often approximated the sound of a record spinning at the wrong speed. It was a loose, unrefined and fun style often lacking the hard-edge of thrash. I was sad to see it all but die out by 1987, and Sweden’s Armory apparently feel the same way, so they painstakingly recreated the speed metal sound on their sophomore outing, The Search. What this means for the uninitiated is a whole lot of fast, furious and unhinged guitar heroics, frantic but tuneful harmonies and an iron backbone of traditional metal running through the pulsating, hyper-kinetic mass. Is that a good thing? That depends how you like your fast and furious seasoned and served.
Within seconds of the opening title track’s launch I was taken back to the glorious 80s where acts like Deathrow, Savage Grace and Cyclone walked the razor’s edge between speed and thrash. It’s brimming with exuberant energy and wild guitarwork and yet it retains a sort of epic traditional metal vibe at its core—especially from 3:30 onward. The riffs may rip and tear but they always endeavor to be catchy rather than heavy, and for the most part they succeed. There are hints of Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy alongside vaguely blackened tremolos and it all fits together just so. Cuts like “Hyperion” pump up the speed and I hear a lot of Deathrow circa Riders of Doom in their frenetic leads and aggressive posture. The early highlight is “Vault Seven,” which is just catchy as all get out with a big Holy Terror influence in the riffwork and structure. It’s a fist-pumping adrenaline monkey that will get in your hair, slap a tutu on you and ride you into town like a show horse.
Later cuts like “The Twin Suns of Solaris,” and especially über-hyper closer “Hisingen Warriors,” mesh speed with melody and light-speed harmonies galore as they blast down the service road to infernal overkill. During the course of the album older metal fans will hear flashes of Agent Steel and newer acts like Enforcer, but Armory has bigger balls with fewer of them stuck in a vice vocally. The album works as a whole and though there are no cuts that smack of filler, “Utomjordisk dominans” [Alien Dominance] comes closest.
At just under 41 minutes, The Search is near-optimal length, cutting out before speed fatigue really grabs hold. The songs are all in the three-to-five minutes range, which helps them attack and run effectively, and the ratio of hooks to runtime is quite satisfying. Production-wise the band nailed it, as this sounds like it was recorded in 1985, avoiding an overly clean or polished sheen.
The Search is all about the guitars and G. Sundin and N. Ingelman go for the throat from start to finish.1 They keep things speedy while incorporating a host of traditional metal influences and do so quite adeptly. The solos are off the hook and over the top and that makes the album feel alive, energetic and fun. P. Andersson2 is a solid vocalist and has a commanding mid-range, but when he tries to hit upper-register notes or screams he sounds forced and weak. Add to this issue some really awkward transitions on several songs and a general sense of one-trick pony-ism and you have a band still working out the kinks and the timing.
Speed metal was a brief moment in music history and it’s fun seeing young bands developing a retro fascination with it. Armory captures the sound and the feel of a lost era in metal and uses them to craft some killer songs with attitude and impact. Nothing new under the sun, but a sunny day is a sunny day, especially in a year so light on quality thrash. Crack a beer, bang your head and let speed have another brief moment in the sun.