This is a strange metal saga, so bear with me. Satan’s Host formed way back in 1977 as a classic American metal band not far removed from Priest and Maiden. Though lurking in the shadows for years, they weren’t able to get anything released until 1985 when the band was joined by the ever mighty Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin of Jag Panzer fame. Their Metal From Hell debut attained a sort of cult status for its hijacking of Mercyful Fate‘s sound and the mystery of who was and wasn’t in the band (thus making them the original Ghost). They broke up immediately thereafter, only to reform in 2000 to record a follow-up that never saw the light of day due to Spinal Tap-esque drummer issues. Conklin walked and the band inexplicably shifted direction, releasing five albums of thrashy black metal. Unbeknownst by this deeply shamed Tyrant fan until a few weeks ago, Conklin came back for 2011s By the Hands of the Devil, which combined their more extreme direction with their traditional roots and power metal, and 2013s Virgin Sails continued the evolution.
And that convoluted history lesson brings us to their new double album, Pre-dating God Parts I and II. A double album you say? Why would such a marginal, chronically unstable act attempt such a thing? Well, obviously they just don’t trust fate to be kind, so they recorded everything they ever scribbled on a cocktail napkin or bathroom wall. But can such a metallic version of Use Your Illusion actually work?
Pre-dating God continues the band’s multi-faceted approach, mixing thrash, Mercyful Fate and Painkiller era Judas Priest, with nods to Jag Panzer and American metal acts like Helstar, but it’s way heavier with black metal influences creeping in and out. Though Tyrant has always been a metal wailer of the Dickinson, Tate school, he ups his game considerably for the more extreme material. And they don’t call him Tyrant for nothing. He may look like your dad or Assistant Regional Manager, but the man is a leather-lunged demon of the netherworlds. Opener “Hell’s Disciples” is typical of the modern Satan’s Host sound, with heavy, thrashy riffage providing the foundation upon which Tyrant wails and screams like a vengeful banshee. Progressive it ain’t, but for sheer metal giggles it definitely works.
This is the pattern throughout Part I and II ; lots of speedy, angry odes to excess, with Tyrant’s booming baritone and insane screams commanding center stage. He also lapses into King Diamond falsettos (“Embers of Will”) and borrows King’s sinister crooning (throughout “Valley of Blood” and “Soul Wrent”). “Fanning the Flames of Hell” features quirky riffing akin to Falconer or Tyr; they dabble in grinding proto-doom on “Soul Wrent” and adopt a classic metal style during “Lady n’ the Snake.” All work and entertain.
The best moments come when they dial back for more epic, Dio-esque brooders like the classy “After the End” and the oversized “Descending in the Shadow of Osiri.” Both allow Tyrant more room to breathe and paint with the broad brush that is his golden throat. The latter features touches of Iron Maiden and as Tyrant’s vocals slowly build toward the epic, it’s tough not to think of Dio during the Heaven and Hell / Mob Rules era.
While no song is bad, all suffer from chronic Metallica-itis and run two – three minutes too long. This has the same feeling as …and Justice for All, where songs make their point, then stick around drinking your milk and eating your sandwich meat. On the standard length album, this is a problem, but on a double album it becomes a blight.
The bigger issue however, is the same that haunted Metal From Hell. Not all songs are truly memorable or catchy. You’ll enjoy them while they play, but several don’t stick and you’ll be hard pressed to hum them as you powerwalk to Sunday mass.
Issues aside, Tyrant is a helluva unholy ringmaster, sounding like classic Tyrant, but also like Russ Anderson of Forbidden and a whole lot like King Diamond too. It’s amazing how well his voice has held up considering he’s been at this since the early 80s. His highs are as high as ever, and though he goes off-key here and there when hitting the stratosphere, it’s hard to criticize the man’s mammoth pipes. Founding guitarist Patrick Evil has a solid outing too, providing a mighty host of power thrash riffage and solos of the manic and tasteful variety. He does a lot of interesting things, even on the songs that don’t fully click.
At over 80 minutes (just shy of the average Dream Theater platter), Pre-dating God is mighty long-winded and tough to absorb in one sitting. It’s also pretty brickwalled, making for an even tougher listen. Overall, Part II is the stronger of the two albums, with more memorable moments, but Part I certainly has its merits.
It’s great to have Tyrant back commanding the mic, and while I wish he was still fronting the vastly superior Jag Panzer, this is a respectable fallback, likely to appeal to fans of Helstar, Iced Earth and Overkill. A strange, but interesting release by a very strange band.