Salt Lake City’s Sonic Prophecy has at this point become a fixture in the US metal underground, plying their craft of beefy, vocal-driven, traditionally styled heavy/power metal that evokes Judas Priest, Iced Earth, Manowar, and others of the sort. In short, not my bag of metal, and I was largely unfamiliar save for a sampled song or two from Apocalyptic Promenade. But word on the streets has been positive for this lot, so Savage Gods now stands in judgement before easily-irritated power metal guy.
I’ll start as I often do: by training a laser beam upon the lead singer. In this case, it’s one Shane Provstgaard, a silty-voiced baritenor who struggles occasionally with some rather jagged edges, but never when it comes to belting out his material in a raucous, live-friendly fashion. Provstgaard’s general vocal approach is a little…pedestrian for me to appreciate artistically, but then, that goes for more than half of US frontmen. Granted, Sonic Prophecy’s approach is about the perfect setting for his unrefined yet confident delivery, and more driving tracks like “Iron Clad Heart” see the band firing smoothly on all cylinders, with little lacking from its formula of gut-punching heavy metal.
It is more than the band’s preference for simplicity that sees it shoot itself in the collective foot, though. Rather, some of the thematic and recording decisions on Savage Gods are either trite or outright bizarre. “Man and Machine” exemplifies both. Not only do we get what is perhaps one of the most overused titles/phrases in this corner of the genre, but the hi-hat ride during the chorus maddens me. This is usually a technique that I love and crave more of in metal, but on this recording it drives me up the wall. The hi-hat is jarring and abrasive in the mix, so much so that I hear it constantly and cringe no matter what song is playing or where I am in the house when I hear it. Weird, but maybe due to the mp3 format?
While I would largely classify Savage Gods as being a reasonably executed, artistically unambitious, and yet harmless album, Sonic Prophecy has a serious inverted weak point precisely where many of its cohorts excel: its choruses. Take the title track, “Man and Machine,” and “Walk through the Fire:” all songs which more or less repeat the song’s title throughout the chorus AS the chorus (due to my musical upbringing, I still think of this as Bachman-Turner Overdrive Syndrome), with minimal instrumental embellishment. In fact, the almost universally droll choruses throughout the album merely call more attention to the stagnant rhythm work, general lack of strong guitar leads, slow tempos, and overall bland character of most of the compositions. Furthermore, when comparing songs like “Savage Gods” and “Unholy Blood,” it’s easy to find repetitious melody work that crutches more-than-acceptably on chromaticism in an attempt to excuse its slogging gait.
Except for that hi-hat and some lazy lyrical work, there’s nothing to openly take offense to here, and there are even a couple of songs like “A Prayer Before Battle” and “Iron Clad Heart” that might stick around with you for a while. Unfortunately, Savage Gods is overpoweringly simplistic in most ways that count with this reviewer, and while Sonic Prophecy’s live delivery may be energetic, that vigor doesn’t translate into an impressive package. I would like to compare this work with Diviner’s Fallen Empires, a 2015 release that has long stuck with me despite its simplicity. The difference is hooks, big, chunky guitar work, and never crossing the line into being too self-derivative. I’ve said it before, and the state of the modern heavy metal industry being what it is, I’ll doubtlessly say it again: when you’re playing music so basic, you need a really good foundation to build around to remain memorable. Without standing out in any department, you’ll just be swept under the bridge by those who take their vocals, guitar lines, or thematic material more seriously