Although I tend to dabble in extreme metal more often, make no mistake, I do love the traditional stuff. I have fond memories of my brother and I pouring over the lyrics to Iron Maiden‘s “The Trooper” until we could recite them flawlessly — a skill we both still keenly possess. Seven Sisters, a band thusly named for the area of North London they hail from, share my love of the classic craft, as evident on their second full-length, The Cauldron and the Cross. Helpings of Angel Witch and Paul Di’Anno’s brief flirtation with everyone’s favorite ferrous frau have generously been applied here, with a few speed metal bursts thrown in for good measure. Bands paying homage to the golden years aren’t exactly rare these days, but Seven Sisters actually appear more anachronism than revivalist, wielding some tastefully legitimate riffery.
Misty-eyed odes to glory gained freely spill from the champion’s chalice, held aloft by each of these tenets of prime metal. Guitarists, Graeme Farmer and Kyle McNeill, clearly learned their craft by paying a strict ear to the emotional scales of one Dave Murray, summarizing the band’s NWOBHM character and never afraid to ply Maiden‘s penchant for duel harmonies. While chest-thumping legendarium is certainly the material’s thematic de rigueur, the songwriting talent on display is what absolutely pushes the band beyond the usual superfluous Swordporn… Great choruses, fluid transitions, and shredding lead-work serve to realize The Cauldron‘s musical ability, galvanizing the band’s retro roots beyond mere novelty.
If there were any doubt as to the album’s intentions, the dueling solos that instigate opener, “The Premonition”, should clue you in. One of the record’s most vorpal cuts, it maintains pace with searing melodic rhythms and an evocative chorus. What these Sisters Seven seen to focus on more, however, is a grab for the emotional machismo that sees dice-throwing nerds the world over swearing chest-beating fealty to whatever austere king they hold dear. “Blood and Fire” marches through the pagan seasons with an irrepressible riff and wistful chorus, accentuated with a harmonized bridge. Unfortunately, the band is a little too fond of this sound and the album employs only a few variations on the theme. Although “Parting the Mists” makes perfect use of that home fires burning man-melancholy, the insistent elegiac nature of much of the track listing stretches a little thin, a discrepancy only made clearer by McNeill’s workman-like vocals. His voice is adequate at best and some of his vocal lines are just clumsy, but it’s a testament to the material that, as the album continues, he does become more palatable; it still can’t be denied that the band would benefit greatly from a more traditionally able frontman.
We all harbor a guilty power-ballad predilection stashed somewhere about our brutal person, but “Oathbreaker” is not it. It reminds me of Helloween or Gamma Ray — two bands I, by and large, do not enjoy — sans the hysterical fever pitch. Fortunately, the frantic gallops make a welcome return on “A Land in Darkness” with McNeill sounding his best over a killer chorus. A tasteful DR 9 master balances the retro sound to the point if you told me The Cauldron and the Cross was released in 1983, I’d have no problem believing you. While the drums are a little flat, the production characterizes the album’s aesthetic, adding lashings of drama to the title suite that deftly closes the record.
This album was my first experience of Seven Sisters, but having listened to their debut for context, I can happily report it to be a notable improvement and another fine addition to a heath, blasted with the soul-fires of classic metal bands, decades lost. I can’t, with any clear conscience, recommend this over Satan’s Hallow, but if the need to quest for honor, valor, pride and the immortality of your very name happens upon you, then a more than appropriate soundtrack lies in reach, lingering somewhere between The Cauldron and the Cross.