I have fond memories of poring over classic spooky stories like Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” or “The Tell-Tale Heart” at my grandmother’s house and being repulsed and fascinated with the characters, settings, and actions. I got hooked and read Poe’s short stories over and over. Metal is too gore-obsessed to reliably deliver the classic spooks, save for King Diamond… but he hasn’t put anything out since 2007. Who will deliver good old-fashioned spooky stories through the medium of metal?!

Them will! Their music is a satisfying mixture of power, speed, and bit of thrash metal. I hear some Iced Earth, Powerwolf, Blind Guardian, some Iron Maiden, strains of post-Peace Sells Megadeth, and of course King Diamond. The vocals are an obvious draw; KK Fossor has a powerful mid-range, great falsettos, and a good growl. Combined, it’s theatrical, bombastic, and engaging. Hearing the story unfold adds to the fun, as every song moves the plot forward and I found myself rooting for Fossor against the villainous witchfinder Peter Thompson. Opening with “Circuitous” after “Residuum” sets the scene, the speedy power (or powerful speed?) metal gets its hooks in quick. Fossor’s big opening falsetto brings “Angel of Death” to mind, just not as good (but what is?). The verse is hooky as the above-average chorus, the pre-chorus is the best thing DragonForce never wrote, and the chorus is unforgettable.

What’s fun about Them is that they give an aura of being a band that could be someone’s favorite. There’s a whole mythos (the Fossor tale), they provide songs that are accessible to most types of metal fan, and are uniformly great, remaining both part of the story and in a tier of quality most modern speed or power metal bands would kill for. There’s something undeniably fun about Them. They’re a band with personality. This personality makes Them more fun to like, more fun to root for, and Manor of the Se7en Gables something to reach for when you want to hear Them, not just high-quality speed/power metal. Remember “Divide/Devour” from Iced Earth’s middling The Crucible of Man – Something Wicked Part 2? “Seven Gables Burning” is basically that but better and without the bloated concept record surrounding it. The hint of Queen in the chorus harmonies of “Malificium” works as well here as when Blind Guardian does it. The chorus of “Witchfinder” is downright anthemic and sounds like Ghost would if Ghost wasn’t a largely bland retro-rock band.

I could go on, but I’ll spare you. Se7en Gables sounds polished, but the upshot of this is that Mike LePond’s always great bass work is easily audible for every note, and the traditional big guitar leads shine brightly and take center stage. Like a stage production, everything you’re meant to see is shown to you under the stage lights, conspicuously visible and projected with professionalism. An extremely pleasant surprise, which is not insignificant when it comes to creating year-end lists.

Tracks to Spook Yourself With: “Circuitous,” “Witchfinder,” “As the Sage Burns”