I made the error of listening to Solitary Sabred’s new album at work. Half-way through opener “Disciples of the Sword” I was being restrained by security: apparently it’s “against office policy” to strip to your underwear, lather yourself in baby oil, adopt the power stance and wave a poster-tube around your head pretending it’s a sword (why I keep baby oil at the office is my business, OK?). After negotiating my release and handing in all lipid-based products to management, I returned to Redemption through Force and, with great willpower and a solid neck restraint, listened to the whole thing without further disturbance. I am pleased to report it was entirely worth estranging all my colleagues for.
The intro lets you know exactly what kind of insanely epic metal you are about to be treated to: starting with a slow, simple acoustic guitar passage accompanied by synth strings and a fantastically hammed-up voiceover about the 12th century siege of Jerusalem, the song turns heavy 50 seconds in, adds battle sounds (of course), then introduces you to the mighty pipes of Petros “Asgardlord” Leptos. “Cripes, that’s a very high note he’s hit there” I thought, just as he went even higher. “Disciples of the Sword” kicks straight in afterwards and, well, you already know all you need to about that.
Following on from this rousing opening, “Stigmata of Pain” slows things down and increases the heaviness – think Doomsword fronted by Eric Adams. “Redeemer” is part Manowar, part Judas Priest, with Leptos’ vocals channeling the best aspects of Adams and Rob Halford, plus a pinch of Tim Baker’s (Cirith Ungol) unhinged delivery. “Burn Magic, Black Magic” adds a bit of Iced Earth to the mix, while “Sarah Lancaster (the Witch’s Breed)” ups the Manilla Road content. Penultimate track “Revelation” is the highlight of the album, crashing in at full speed with total vocal insanity before catching you off-guard with a surprisingly stirring, yet still heavy section featuring a fantastic vocal melody that will be ripe for sing-alongs in the live arena.
This all works so well because the band has done a marvelous job of integrating all these influences into their own distinctive approach to power metal. The songs are quite diverse – each track has its own character, but still very much belongs with the others, and this helps keep the album exciting for every one of its forty-three magnificent minutes. Leptos’ vocals make a significant contribution to this variety. He knows exactly when to use each facet of his voice, not overdoing the crazed rasping or Halfordian screeches, but balancing them with his powerful mid-range to complement each song.
I have two small criticisms of this otherwise fine metalwork. Firstly, an album this epic deserves epic guitar solos; those we’re offered are functional rather than spectacular. Secondly, the record has been afflicted with the curse of low dynamic range. The guitar sound is suitably aggressive and the drums are fat and full, but the bass gets a bit lost and it’s all pretty condensed. This is most noticeable on the intro, when the incredible initial vocal is robbed of some of its power that a greater dynamic range would have afforded.
Still, these are quite minor points when the music is this majestic. Solitary Sabred have delivered what might be the best power metal album of 2014, showing the rest of the pack exactly how to make an epic metal record that sounds classic but distinctive, and without an overdose of cheese. No mean feat for an unsigned band from Cyprus. [And that cover rivals the one from the Battle Beast debut for sheer cheese whizardry. — Steel Druhm].