William F. Buckley described conservatives as “fellow[s] who stand athwart history yelling ‘stop!’” If the late Mr. Buckley was a fan of heavy metal and around today, he’d probably describe Screamer as fellows who stand athwart metal history, beer in one hand and Iron Maiden LP in the other, yelling “we like it back here, thanks!”1 The tides of progress in metal will never erode the bedrock of the genre, that special thing we call heavy metal. The mix of power, strength, hope, and joy inherent in this little slice of the metal pie will always appeal to many metalheads so long as the genre continues to exist. Fortunately for Screamer, there will always be a place for records like Highway of Heroes. Fortunately for us, this means bands like Screamer will continue to make them.
As the cover here looks like the coolest lunchbox you’ve never had, let’s open it up and see what’s in there. A big sandwich, lovingly prepared; nice! The bread is thick and weighty, as if it was British Steel in dough form. The meat has little fat—the animals it came from must have been good Killers who would hunt down their prey in a Dance of Death. The cheese was made of a strange milk—that of a Ram, perhaps? The lettuce adds a nice crunch and easy to Accept. My teeth come down on the tomato like a Hammerfall, and the flavor is good. The mayo has a different flavor—this isn’t Hellmann’s! I remember now that a new brand came out, it had a weird name, a woman’s name…what was it again? Oh right, Audrey Horne. Maybe she’s like Mrs. Butterworth, but for mayo? Time will tell.
Having stretched the sandwich bit well past its breaking point, let’s move to the tunes. Screamer is efficient here — 10 songs across 35 minutes is great time management. As the songs tend to follow the hard rock verse-chorus-verse structure, the emphasis is put on the hooks, riffs, and melodies, which suits Screamer well. “Rider of Death” rips through some trad-metal chugging before speeding the chugs up à la “Bark at the Moon”—the vocals are the main attraction here, and the chorus revolves around a striking harmony that sounds like a cross between Ozzy’s solo stuff and Audrey Horne. The guitars let loose in the coda for an early Maiden harmonic romp, capping off the song in a triumphant manner. When “Ride On” properly kicks things off, the chorus surprised me with a screechy, Halford-esque falsetto being used that’s so quintessentially metal that I can’t help but smile each time I hear it. “Shadow Hunter” effectively crosses a streamlined Visigoth with a streamlined Iron Maiden for some riotous, hard rockin’ Conan-core.
While the bass playing is far more Harris than Hill, Screamer doesn’t have the flair for the epic that Iron Maiden did—their go-to tracks are songs like “Prowler” and the like. This prevents bloat on the one hand, but keeps the band firmly locked into a series of singles that flow nicely but don’t necessarily have a meaningful order to them in their sequencing. The upshot of this is that it’s easier to remember moments à la carte than the record as whole, which reinforces the “collection of singles” feeling. “Caught in Lies” is an obvious last song—it’s the longest—but instead of doing a big, well-earned metal ending (like this, this, or this), it just fades out for a while and saps the energy the closer to such a tight, energetic record should have had, especially considering the melody they end on would have been perfect for such a thing.
None of these are major problems, of course. Highway of Heroes is a collection of nine accomplished songs (and an effective intro piece) that all follow a similar structure and achieve a similar result: happiness, enjoyment, contentment. Like Paragon from earlier this year, Screamer make palatable, hearty, earnest, and engaging metallic comfort food. No matter what type of mood you’re in, you can throw Highway of Heroes on and have a grand old time. The production allows the Harris-inspired bass playing with its fills and playful nature to shine through nicely, and the guitars lose absolutely no heft because of it. Drums are more Clive Burr than Nicko McBrain and are produced to exploit this. Highway of Heroes is a mighty good crop of songs, and those with an ear for old heavy metal can surely harvest plenty of enjoyment from it.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: The Sign Records
Websites: wearescreamer.bandcamp.com | wearescreamer.com | facebook.com/wearescreamer
Releases Worldwide: October 11th, 2019