The Gauntlet – Dark Steel and Fire Review

Who could have foreseen that I would grab an album with “steel” in the title before our Mighty Ape could get his banana-stained whore hands on it?1 Perhaps it was due to the absence of “swords” that I now hold in my sausage fingers the debut record from New Jersey’s The Gauntlet. After years of splits with Nihil Verum Nisi Mors’ undiscovered roster, Ace Meggido is set loose to bring destruction to the masses. Straddling a crotch rocket with dagger-knife-thingee in hand, lone-knight-Batman-capey-guy Meggido shreds treads in a way I did not expect. Look deep into that artwork. Let it do whatever the hell it is that it’s trying to do to you. Discover its mystery; obtain its secrets. Have you determined from what genre The Gauntlet hails? I didn’t. Nowhere in that ridiculous album cover do I see Dark Steel and Fire being Bathorycore. But, by god, it is. Furthermore, oh wait… I just saw the band pic. Nevermind, just scroll down to the score.

Now that we’ve determined what’s in store, let’s evaluate the similarities and differences between Bathory and The Gauntlet. The mighty Blood Fire Death heavily influences Dark Steel and Fire. But, while Quorthon broke down Valhalla’s walls to drink from the cask of godly mead, The Gauntlet experiments, and tinkers with the sound. While Dark Steel and Fire has plenty of epic qualities, Meggido combines his Bathory love with black thrash and black ‘n’ roll. The result is a lovechild of seed and semen from the loins of Bathory and acts like Midnight. A creative child, this is, with passion and energy that keeps you on your toes and never bores your mind.

“Where Heroes Go to Die” kicks things off in old-school fashion. With a title like that and its mighty intro, you’d swear you were listening to a song written by Quorthon. This track even possesses like-minded vocals and guitar tone. It’s a crushing opener that climbs higher and higher as it progresses, only breaking to move on to the next piece. But Dark Steel and Fire doesn’t stop here. With each song, The Gauntlet increases its influence, becoming more than a thrashier version of its Swedish predecessor. This unpredictable record becomes darker, sadder, and more epic. The title track, for instance, easily could have been a B-side on Blood Fire Death. And the back-to-back closers could have existed on said album. “Those Who Will Not Return” perfectly pairs with Blood Fire Death’s “For All Those Who Died”—both in song title and heart-wrenching passion. But, while this song is magically delicious, the closing number, “Armoured Hearts,” is simply breathtaking. Those gorgeous clean guitars, the pained vocals, and the driving charge keep me coming back again and again.

Before you get to this epic end, you traverse through various punishing numbers. The best of the lot are the back-to-back mid-album pleasers “The Signal to Attack” and “Winds Without Mercy.” The first is a mid-paced monster with razor-sharp teeth. After a bass-thumping chorus, the song transitions to a galloping thrash lick that sounds like horses going to battle. “Winds Without Mercy” bounds out the gates with the intensity of Midnight before it swirls around in Darkthrone territories. Then, when you least expect it, you’re pulled from the horse with a surprising and well-executed Testamenty riff. The better of the two songs, “Winds Without Mercy” trudges up a black-stoned mountain to its powerful climax of pummeling riffage and Bathory-esque soloing.

The tone, the character, and the passion of Dark Steel and Fire makes for a wonderful addition to the Bathcore industry. Nowhere along the way does it feel forced or restrained. While the title track wanders too much and “The Final Guard” falls flat at the end, this debut record shows a lot of promise for this up-and-coming band. If you listened to me at the beginning and actually scrolled down to the score, you’ll also find that this beauty is wildly dynamic. Even with its filthy guitar tone and pounding drums, you can hear every nuance of the performance. What a way to start the year. So, if you like battle and bikes, climb on the stick, and let’s go to war.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 11 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: Eternal Death Records
Releases Worldwide: January 13th, 2023

Show 1 footnote

  1. I actually had it first but had to release it from my hairy grip due to other promos I had to cover. – Steel
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