There’re seven things in this world I cherish, seven people I don’t hate, and seven albums I’ll love to the grave. OK, the seven “things” are only one, the seven “people” are only two, and the seven albums I plan to die with are none of your fucking business1. “Seven” is a lucky number for dumbasses in Hollywood movies. But, for me, seven is a convenient middle-ground to questions from my boss, family, and “friends.” “How much longer is this gonna take?!” Seven minutes. “Christmas is starting! How far away are you?” Seven days. “How old is Abigail?” Seven. Wait! Nine?! Fuck. You get what I mean. Regardless of how idiotic a lucky number can be, “seven” might, indeed, be a lucky number for Germany’s Stormhammer. After2 years of mediocre albums, rotating vocalists, and meandering songwriting, the band’s seventh release (Seven Seals) might prove Grier wrong.
Seven Seals is now my third attempt to put Stormhammer‘s music into words. Because of this, I’ve gotten to know the band’s music quite well. Even having the chance to hear vocalist Jürgen Dachl improve upon his trade from 2015’s Echoes of a Lost Paradise to 2017’s Welcome to the End. But, as with all eras for this band, that’s over. Welcome new vocalist Matthias Kupka: the fifth in seven full-lengths. I’m not quite sure why this keeps happening but, as I’ve stated on previous reviews, the vocals are the best part of the band’s sound. It’s the lengthy tracks, the blundering, misdirected songwriting, and the unkempt tracklist cohesion that gets to me. And no vocalist can save that. Each release getting longer in length and each disc sounding like a “best of,” rather than a cohesive final product. A no-no in the world of power metal. But it’s time to roll the dice and see if three-and-four make lucky number seven.
As opener “Sleepwalker” grows into a catchy piece, you’ll notice the difference in Kupka’s vocals, compared to previous vocalists. I mean that in a good way. His combination of growls, gruffs, rasps, and cleans will floor any Stormhammer fan. Not that growls and gruffs are new to a Stormhammer vocalist, but the presence here is significant. The styles mingle together throughout the album, lending beauty and power to the opener, as well as the closer’s chorus and crushing riffs. “Your Nemesis” also uses alternating barks and rasps with its heavy chugs to offset the sap-happy cleans of the chorus. The combination of blistering pace and clean/harsh vox of “Your Nemesis” cannot escape without a reference to Unleash the Archers. And, like “Your Nemesis,” the title track, and “Under the Spell” use every element of Kupka’s voice to cement their cheddar-filled, Dream Evil-esque choruses with ground-stomping interludes and transitions. Not to mention the smooth riffs, dueling solo work, and melodic builds that give final choruses the power to close out a track.
Of all eleven tracks, “Downfall” and closer “Old Coals” are my favorite. The former has some fantastic Amon Amarth-like qualities in the harsher vocals and a chorus to die for.3 “Old Coals” also has a standout chorus—more in the vein of Blind Guardian—while the verses have a raw, clean, and stripped-down character to them. But it’s the unbelievable passion resonating through these two tracks that make them special. Still, there’re others that stand out for positive reasons. “Prevail” and “Under the Spell” are crowd-pleasers, aching for the main stage of a European festival. And, though the opening moments of “Taken by the Devil” sound like Bon Jovi, this song serves one significant purpose: as the ballad. “Deal with the Dead” also stands out for me because I’m a whore for everything Evergrey. ‘Nough said.
“Keep Me Safe” may have a mediocre, Sabaton-like vibe and the odd Something Wicked This Way Comes intro—mixed with the Sodom-like rasps—of “One More Way” may not suit everyone, but Seven Seals is a vast improvement to Echoes. Its fifty-two-minute runtime and five-minute track average are mind-boggling compared to Echoes and Welcome. Even with the couple of less-than-enthusiastic tracks mentioned, the diverse vocals and (finally) partnering songwriting have won me over. Seven Seals is fluid, simple, and memorable. There’re no innovations or life-changing power metal antics, yet my wimp metal senses are tingling and Stormhammer is responsible.