Tension – Decay Review

Comfort food is at once deeply personal and broadly generalizable, speaking to our own nostalgia while also drawing on mass-produced mid-century culinary trends. Some of us prefer meatloaf, others mac and cheese. For my money, you can’t go wrong with a perfectly browned grilled cheese (pro-tip: grill both sides of the bread). When I came down with damnable Omicron recently, I needed all the comfort food and music I could get. Like comfort food, comfort music is almost guaranteed to contain a robust helping of processed cheese baked into recipes from a previous era, so I was thrilled when Dr. Metal Guy handed down the pixelated, Nosferatu-bedecked cover of Tension’s debut, Decay. Add in that Dying Victims Productions had put out two of my favorite trad/speed albums of 2021 in  Significant Point’s Into the Storm and Heavy Sentence’s Bang to Rights, and my excitement was reaching a literal fever pitch. Could Tension recapture the magic of those releases from early last year to kick off 2022?

To my delight, Tension play straight trad metal deeply steeped in NWoBHM. Iron Maiden may inspire the totality of Tension’s sound, but the band creatively mixes and matches elements of Maiden’s history in unexpected ways. Phil Meyer’s and Clemens Richter’s guitar interplay and solos are far more Murray/Gers than Murray/Smith on “Open the Gates.” This wasn’t the case on the band’s eponymous EP where “The Mark” lifted the main riff from “The Wicker Man.” Rather than the more common Dickinson route, vocalist Maik Huber draws far more on Paul Di’Anno’s punky delivery mixed with a healthy dose of Danzig croon, which works well with Huber’s limited vocal range. Conrad N.’s frenetic bass cements the Maiden influences as Tension’s real star, highlighted by the noodly bridges of “Hellflight” and “Cosmic Gaze.” Altogether, Tension wraps more developed melodic sensibilities within the presentation of an earlier, punkier Maiden.

Unfortunately, Tension plays it a tad too safe with Decay, with the album often lacking the passion of recent retro metal standouts like Tower’s Shock to the System and Heavy Sentence’s Bang to Rights. Neither Tower nor Heavy Sentence has the most technically gifted singer, but both Sarabeth Linden and Gareth Howells consistently let it rip and push the envelope of their abilities. Here, Huber only seems intermittently up to the task, teasing a desire to ramp up the histrionics on “Higher Power” and “Black Knights.” Elsewhere his delivery is flat, bordering on downright bored on the verses of “Hellflight.” Huber is most effective when he leans into Di’Anno’s undisciplined snarl, with the end of “Mistress” heavily evoking “Phantom of the Opera.” The vocal limitations are only highlighted by the questionable decision to bury fist-pumping gang vocals deep in the mix. With adrenaline goosing the tempo, “Black Knights,” “Age of the Stars,” and “Mooncrusher” will likely go down great live.

The lack of passion carries over into Tension’s songwriting more generally. “Open the Gates” and “Earth Crisis” fail to build any atmosphere with their lengthy white-noise intros. Meanwhile, the repetition of certain guitar licks and their relative sameness across tracks means that each song and the album as a whole feel considerably longer than they actually are. While 45 minutes is still in the sweet spot, the best NWoBHM homages seem to clock closer to the high 30s. Killing Editing one’s darlings is always hard, but it’s a skill I’m confident Tension will develop as the band matures.

Ultimately, Decay is the perfect comfort food: it hits the right spot when you really need it before quickly fading into memory. Tension remains an exciting name to watch in the crowded trad metal revival scene, but they’re not quite standouts yet. Hopefully, these Germans will find the confidence to embrace their own identity—warts and all—on a future follow-up.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Dying Victims Productions
Websites: tensionheavymetal.bandcamp.com |tensionheavymetal.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/tension
Releases Worldwide: January 28th, 2022

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