In the rich annals of metal bands crossing over into unintentional parody, Sacred Steel looms large. The perpetually over-the-top cheese fueled trve metal warriors led by “unorthodox” vocalist Gerrit P. Mutz have been pounding on the doors of the Great Hall ov Great Metal demanding entrance since 1997 only to be met with a shrug and a “No Solicitation” sign. But ignore them at your peril, for they’re as relentless as they are comical. While I surely enjoy their mash up of Manowar and Grave Digger on a conceptual level and appreciate that song titles are strewn with words like “steel,” “iron” and “metal,” that isn’t enough to craft a trvly killer trve metal platter, and it’s with all the other requirements where Sacred Steel always seem to come out on the short end of the battle axe. There would always be a few rousing odes to swords and non-poserdom to prevent outbreaks of low-T, but writing consistent albums was never their bailiwick. Will the dubiously titled Heavy Metal Sacrifice finally solve the Riddle of Steel?
Things open with instrumental “Into Glory Ride,” an appropriately table-setting pre-pillage interlude to spin as you gird your loins, oil your sword and significant other and leather up your war horse. The lead-in title track is classic Sacred Steel – exuberant, aggressive, overdone but somehow undercooked. It’s mindless fun though and the thrashy riffage and genuine enthusiasm by Mr. Mutz almost make up for his tendency to trigger seizures with his high-octane nasal whining. These kinds of speedy odes to Manometal are where the band is at their best, and it’s when they slow things down, as on “The Sign of the Skull,” that they come to grief. It’s just a simplistic, plodding number and Mutz is left to carry the day with his “soaring” warbles and shaky vibrato. This is not a recipe for success.
Luckily it’s followed by “Hail the Godz of War,” which shamelessly lifts the opening riff from Agent Steel‘s “Bleed for the Godz” (likely in tribute, given the matching “godz”), and actually turns in a rousing, Agent-esque performance with Mutz doing his best approximation of the immortal Jon Cyriis (tho in a much more mortal way, obviously). “Vulture Priest” is also a lark, featuring just enough hooky riffs and quirky twists to overcome the vocal issues. And against type, the quasi-hits keep coming as “Children of the Sky” rocks a very effective, uncharacteristically slick chorus which sticks immediately, and they even drop in some blackened rasps for added thrills. And then there’s my new personal anthem, “Let There Be Steel,” which, like its namesake, is silly, bombastic, long-winded, but loveable all the same. The chorus is unfiltered loincloth, but it’s undeniably fun, and the weird, bluesy interlude at 3:25 is highly unusual for a blunt instrument like Sacred Steel and surprisingly good.
Sure, there are lesser cuts like the aforementioned “The Sign of the Skull” and “Beyond the Gates of Nineveh,” which sounds like a rejected Misfits cut from the Michael Graves era, but overall this is a higher grade of cheddar than I’ve come to expect from these music defilers. At 48 minutes, it doesn’t feel overlong and the production is more than adequate, though Mr. Mutz probably shouldn’t be so prominent in the mix.
And speaking of their frontman, he’s not your typical love-or-hate kind of vocalist. He’s more of a tolerate-or-hate proposition, as few will love what he brings to the oaken table ov oak. He sounds like a hybrid of Katon de Pena (Hirax) and Jon Cyriis (Agent Steel) but lacks the talent and charisma of both. That leaves him with an extremely grating, one-note nasal wail that will kill your lawn faster than Roundup™. He’s managed to imbue the band with infamy even as he holds them back from bigger and better things, but he lives for this music and he’s become a kind of minor metal legend in his own right. The rest of the crew is respectable and guitarists Jenn Sonnenberg and Jonas Khalil can write some fairly killer riffs, and with a better vocalist they wouldn’t be all that far behind acts like Visigoth in the trve metal sweepstakes.
Ultimately Heavy Metal Sacrifice is the metal equivalent of the old dude who stands on the corner, whistles at the female passerbys and occasionally smacks one on the ass. It’s crude, socially unacceptable but essentially harmless and even a little amusing1. Sacred Steel will never be considered a great band but they stick to their guns and every 5th moon cycle it results in a “guilty pleasure” album like this. Steel ov Approval hesitantly granted. They still have to leave the Great Hall though.