Of all metal subgenres, heavy metal is the one with the honor of regularly being used as a synonym for metal at large. Considering it’s arguably the oldest of the bunch, this should come as little surprise, but one could also argue the case for doom metal, which no one outside of the scene ever heard about. Is it then due to age, exposure, or just my own warped view that heavy metal seems to be the most stagnant of metal subgenres? I won’t say nothing fresh ever arises from its corner (Sumerlands is a fine example) but by and large, heavy metal bands today all seem like pale imitations of the golden boys from the 1980’s. Death Keepers don’t do much to change that impression with debut Rock This World. A Dutch expression says “better to steal well than invent poorly,” but does that go for this Spanish denim-clad quintet?
Death Keepers stick to the “steal” half of the above equation religiously, cribbing mostly from Iron Maiden and sprinkling on a sniff of Dio. Opener “Rock ‘n Roll City” in particular is heavily inspired by Dio’s “Stand Up and Shout.” Vocalist Dey Rus even has a somewhat similar timbre to RJD, though not as much personality, range and power (but let’s be fair, few do.) The title track borrows generously from Accept’s “Balls to the Wall,” while “Love’s Within” has all the ingredients of a Judas Priest outtake. Mostly though, the album makes for a nice game of ‘which Maiden song inspired this track?’ “Death Keepers” dumbs down the intro to “Wasted Years” and molds the chorus on a “Gangland” structure. “Haven’s Heaven” crosses “”Public Enema Number One” with “Caught Somewhere in Time.” Invariably, spinning Death Keepers leaves me itching for some Iron Maiden, and that’s not the effect any band wants, even on their debut.
An album that has me playing this game has an obvious problem. Rock This World has a dearth of personality, save the attempts at identity theft, and it doesn’t endear the record one bit. The songs where this phenomenon does not take place are invariably dull and bland, like a mouthful of unsalted mashed potato. The most egregious offender on this front is the disastrous closer “Smooth Hit Love,” an almost 9 minute power ballad that was neither wanted nor advisable. All of this is on the songwriting, though, because there’s little fault in the performances. Sure, Rus has some language problems (“Fire Angel” becomes “Fire Angle” for instance) but his husky voice has some old school charm and technical shortcomings are few. The guitars are crisp and handled well, with particular flair for the solos, and the drums are solid. The bass is mostly swept under the rug, which is strange considering their affinity for famously bass-heavy Maiden, but other than that, the individual skill levels are fairly high. Having them trapped in a homage montage simply stinks.
At least I have few qualms about the production. The balance between retro sound and modern clarity is struck well. The instruments are balanced quite nicely, aside from the inexplicably undercooked bass. The vocals are top dog, but they don’t overwhelm the mix, and the master is dynamic enough to give the drums a nice and natural definition.
Rock This World leaves me torn. On the one hand, I don’t want to punish a band for the artistic choice to emulate 80’s heavy metal, as many do the same, some of them quite well. Performance-wise, Death Keepers are certainly among those, with crisp solos and passionate vocal work. But when I can regularly point not only to specific bands, but even specific songs that serve as inspiration for most of the tracks, it makes the album hard to recommend to anyone. Everyone learns by imitating the masters, but the eventual goal is to escape their shadow, not snuggle closer and stop there. For the sake of Death Keepers, who are still a debuting band after all, I hope they can forge an identity of their own and stop leaning on those of others, or they will never stop hearing the words “this sounds just like.”
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Fighter Records
Websites: deathkeepers1.bandcamp.com | deathkeepers.com | facebook.com/death.keepers
Releases Worldwide: January 22nd, 2018