Steel Assassin is a mighty obscure act by anyone’s reckoning. They were knocking around all throughout the 80s and 90s but could never get a proper album released. Then, quite out of the blue, they released War of the Eight Saints in 2007 and totally blew me away with their ballsy, aggressive take on American power metal and NWOBHM. It was one of the best albums of that year, but didn’t get as much attention as it deserved. It featured a sound mixing Helstar, Jag Panzer and Armored Saint with loads of Iron Maiden influence, and shunned the frilly, girlie trappings of Euro-power metal. After a long lay off, Steel Assassin comes back (again, seemingly out of the blue) with WWII: Metal of Honor, and in the process, borrows a page from Sabaton and hurls a war-themed album at us. It’s more balls-to-the-walls traditional metal in the same mode as War of the Eight Saints, with tons of testosterone, piss and vinegar. While it falls short of the grandeur of their last outing, this is a very good record with a few truly enormous songs.
Things get off to a monumental start with “God Save London,” which treats the horrors of Germany’s bombing campaign of London with the proper amount of rage and sobriety. It’s a powerhouse number with huge vocals and a very doomy, dark chorus accompanied by air raid sirens. The riffing is very much of the Maiden school and the overall delivery is excellent. Even better is the flat-out stormer “Blitzkrieg Demons,” which packs more punch than any four Sabaton songs. Thick, heavy riffing is joined by rough-hewn vocals and galloping bass lines Steve Harris would lovingly approve of. The chorus has nifty double-tracked vocals and things eventually speed up into a chaotic, near-Motorhead level of choppy, bass-rockin intensity. Keeping the high quality going, “The Iron Saint” brings more Maiden-esque riffing and gallop and a nicely hooky, melodic chorus. At around 3:30, it seems to end, but then goes into an extended soloing section which is quite well done and engaging. Other standouts include the slower grind of “Four Stars of Hell,” the uber dramatic, epic length “Normandy Angels” and the out-of-place but catchy Rush cover, “Red Sector A.”
While things are fairly consistent, the first four songs are of such high quality, the rest of the album can’t match them, and there’s a drop off as things rumble along. Songs like “The Wolfpack” and “Guadalcanal” are solid and enjoyable, but fall short of the high bar set early on. Of the bunch, only “Bastogne” drops down to average level due to the absence of a decent chorus (though the riffing is quiet good).
This is a very guitar-driven type of music and Kevin Curry and Mike Mooney bring the heat with a bunch of extra heavy versions of NWOBHM riffs. They also excel at those “pure metal” types of solos that make you stand up and raise the horns. Not to be outdone, Phil Grasso does his very best to be the American Steve Harris, and his bass gallops are all over this thing. John Falzone is the band’s secret weapon, with a big, powerful vocal style that walks the line between the rough edge of John Bush and the high-pitched theatrics of golden era Bruce Dickinson and Harry Conklin (Jag Panzer). He provides the war themed material with enough grit and toughness to make it believable, but can still get all dramatic and lofty too.
The production is sharp and brings the guitars and bass forward as the classic Maiden albums did. It’s great fun hearing the interplay between them, and it’s always nice to actually hear the bass on a metal album. The mix is a bit raw and “anti modern,” which is wise choice, since an album filled with battle metal shouldn’t have a candy-coated, super polished sound.
Any fan of classic metal and bands like Pharaoh should definitely hunt this (and War of the Eight Saints) down. It has that vintage style, but packs enough modern power and heaviness to keep from sounding too retro. Sabaton better bring their big guns if they plan to match firepower with this thing. Now, strap on your helmets and hit the damn beach!