For a lot of bands, the album title Life Sentence would be a clever moniker, a reference to the penal system with the potential for lots of imprisonment imagery, but it might not say anything significant about the band’s core identity. For Satan, Life Sentence effectively portrays every band member’s relationship to heavy metal. Satan were founded in Newcastle, U.K. In 1979 and were instrumental in establishing the movement that has come to be known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Though they languished in obscurity for much of their early career, their style, which exhibited aspects of very early thrash and speed metal, would go on to help define both genres.
As the retro-thrash movement has grown and interest in some of the earliest thrash metal and NWOBHM bands has grown, groups like Satan are finding a new and enthusiastic audience. After agreeing to a one-off reunion to play 2004’s Wacken metal festival in Germany, Satan officially returned to activity in 2011. After a string of festival dates, Satan have finally released their first new material in decades with Life Sentence.
Satan‘s history is a little convoluted, with numerous line-up and even name changes making things complicated. Their 1983 debut, Caught In The Act, and their third album, Suspended Sentence (1987) were released as Satan, while in between they released the album Out of Reach under the name Blind Fury in 1985. They later changed their name to Pariah, releasing two albums and folded in 1989, then got back together for one more album as Pariah in 1998 before returning to the netherworld. But, like a bad rash or an evil ex-boyfriend, Satan keep coming back, and thirty years after their first full-length album as Satan, they’ve returned to rightfully reclaim their throne.
So, what does Life Sentence sound like? Pretty damn close to perfect. With the weight of their history and cultural cache hanging over this reunion album, it would be very easy for Satan to have failed, to have lost the fire or succumbed to hubris. Instead, Life Sentence sounds as though it emerged from a time capsule, sealed away when Satan were originally at the height of their powers. I imagine that they had planned this all along and stored this album for decades, knowing the world would one day need them again, like a dormant superhero who returns when the world again needs saving [My kind of superhero! — Madam X].
The songs pour out, molten and smoldering one after the other. The riffs have a kind of monumental perfection, a divine simplicity that, once you hear them, you can’t imagine a world without them anymore. It’s a pleasure to listen to, fierce and fiery, unbelievably catchy and blood-igniting. It has a particular kind of energy that makes you want to get out and do something – it’s perfect for listening to on a long, stomping walk, and is sure to fill your imagination with epic battles and adventures. “Siege Mentality” is a study in mid-tempo thrash mastery; “Incantations” is a swirling, melodic vortex; and the doomier, more atmospheric and dark “Tears of Blood” is at once appropriately heavy and refreshing.
There are small moments of imperfection, of course. “Another Universe” starts out at a gloomy crawl before picking up in the middle, making the pacing at the end of the album a bit off. And, while not necessarily a flaw, Satan have chosen to use a modern production. While I think this leads to some excellent choices, like the glossy, almost silken quality to the vocals (which are overall a highlight of the album), some listeners might be put off by the lack of old-school grit. Aside from these quibbles, Life Sentence is an exceptional effort from a band that deserves the title genre-defining. One of the giants of the old world has returned. [All hail Satan! — Madam X].