Retro is the most marketable term for old junk we’ve ever come up with. The nostalgia driven desire to reproduce the splendor of 20 years ago, regardless of what year it is, pretty much started as soon as “20 years ago” no longer meant World War II, and it has only increased in magnitude and ubiquity since then. Now that the only flying cars in the new millennium turn out to be the ones too close to the explosions, the desire to look back through rose-tinted glasses is more evident than ever before. The 70s and 80s are the most prominent targets of such atavism, because who can remember the constant threat of nuclear annihilation anyway? Enter Existance (sic), a French band claiming to “keep the spirit of 80s metal alive.” Time to whip out the ridiculous hairdos and studded leather bracelets everyone!
If I seem critical of the retro movement, that’s mostly true. While I see nothing wrong with using what worked in the past, I see no value in ignoring what strides we have made since then. Music and other art forms get more leniency, but a complete disregard for three decades of progression leads to stagnation, already the biggest problem for metal as a whole. Existance don’t have any such concerns. The more they manage to emulate the kings of traditional heavy metal, the happier they seem to be. The particular subset is a blend of Riot, Accept, and Judas Priest. Guitars and vocals share the spotlight at the front, the drums support both adequately and a bass also exists. Most of the songs are embellished with golden era Maiden-inspired guitar licks and solos, while the vocals opt for a clean take like Riot. Even the production sounds as 80s as Bon Jovi in zebra stripe pants, though it thankfully avoids the most muddled examples of the era and allows enough definition on all instruments.
With the influences worn so proudly on the sleeve, it’s the songwriting of Breaking the Rock that has to make or break the album. Opener “Heavy Metal Fury” delivers right out of the gate on that area. After an obligatory yet unnecessary atmospheric intro the track bursts forth, firing enthusiastically on all engines. It’s tightly written, features a great riff and the energy crackles start to finish. The title track closes the album with a jet engine chorus and a vibrant pace. Retro or not, these are great songs; unfortunately, Existance can’t fill the bookends with pages of the same quality.
“Honest” nails the thrashy rapid-fire guitar chug, but it drops the ball on the uninspired gang vocal chorus. The same goes for “We Are Restless:” shouting the name of the song a few times works when playing live, but it does them no favors in a studio setting, lacking in energy and inspiration and undercutting the decent riffs and solos. The band also kicks me directly in the pet peeve by making the center of the album a duo of love songs, and the only thing worse than a metal love song is an 80s metal love song1. They, too, lack the drive that make the opener and closer memorable, replacing it with soppiness and sappiness.
It would be selling the band short to call Breaking the Rock a complete failure, though. Existance are competent enough and the guitars can even be commended. When in search of a harmless throwback album you can do worse than this. It’s just too much paint-by-numbers, including any and all bad ideas from the era they seek to emulate, to be anything special. As a consequence, you won’t get more than a handful of spins out of this before craving one of their prominent inspirations in its stead. So if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear Painkiller calling me.