If all the metal genres got together at a day spa for grooming and pampering, Trve Metal would have the hairiest back in the place and require the most wax and patience. Sure, brutal death and slam are more Neanderthal and low brow, but the trve world revolves around bravado-drenched, chest beating tales of swords, sorcery and sandals to such an extent that it brings out the inner barbarian pelt in even the most introverted, basement-dwelling LARPers. Virginia’s Twisted Tower Dire always mined the depths of this Hyborian ethos, searching for their Arkenstone of inspiration. Their sound sits someplace between NWoBHM titans like Iron Maiden, and more modern entities like Visigoth and Pharaoh, and over the decades they’ve proven themselves skilled purveyors of uber catch tales of heroics and hydras. I’ve enjoyed all their releases, and was quite taken with 2011s heavily hooky-laden Make it Dark. Its taken the band 7 long years to mount the followup campaign to that opus, but Wars in the Unknown is finally here and ready for battle. And just look at the gloriously van-ready cover art! With so many were-rats depicted, you just know good things await inside, right?
Yes they do, as opening gauntlet to the head, “The Thundering” decisively demonstrates. This is the Twisted Tower Dire I missed – energetic and olde school, mixing a slick classic metal approach with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. Dual guitar harmonies fly everywhere as the drums gallop and pound like the footsteps of a ravaging horde, and over the top of the maelstrom rides Jonny Aune’s classic vocals about battle, booty and artillery batteries. “True North” and “The Beast I Fear” could sit on a Visigoth album and not seem out-of-place, full as they are of traditional metal tropes and ropes. The crown jewel in the Twisted Tower throne room is “Light the Swords on Fire.” This is the most entertaining song I’ve heard this year, sounding like a drunken collaboration between Manowar and The Misfits. It’s got a righteous war gallop and richly rowdy charm, and when Aune intones, “When you’re burning away, we’re cutting you up anyway” in a jaunty, carefree tone, you’ll be 120% ready to join your local Burning Sword chapter. Album closer “These Ghosts Can Never Leave” is another catchy hit, borrowing a page from King Diamond as Aune lets it all hang out vocally in impressive fashion.
As the album rumbles along you get treated to a succession of amusing, high-energy cuts that sound like they fell out of a wormhole connected to the 80s. Most tracks leverage Maiden-esque guitar harmonies along with Manowar-like war drumming, and leave Mr. Aune to narrate who is impaling and defiling who and due to what oath of wengeance. No song approaches the manic hysteria of “Light the Swords on Fire,” but ditties like “Riding the Fortress” (huh?) and especially the riff-tastic “Eons Beyond” will have you in melee mode, ready to joust for your mutton supper.
While this is a fun, enjoyable album from start to finish, the overall level of song smithing is a bit below that heard on Make It Dark. There are standout cuts, but also a few less impactful ditties like “Tear You Apart” and “And the Sharks Came Then.” Nothing falls into the dreaded Pit of Filler though, nor requires skipping. At a super trim and sexy 41 minutes, the album delivers the trve goods and wraps before you know it, leading to heightened desires for replay. The entire disc is slathered with thick, creamy guitar harmonies, and the dueling axe attack of Scott Waldro and Dave Boyd embody all that is good in trve/retro metal. They serve up the powerdriving, propulsive riffs this kind of music needs, and decorate the proceedings with Maiden-esque harmonies aplenty. Marc Stauffer pounds away behind the kit like he’s setting the tempo for a slave galley’s row team, and Jonny Aune’s clear, crisp vocals are the icing on the war hammer. He impressed on Make it Dark as well as his Walpyrgus project, and he kills it here as well.
Twisted Tower Dire are one of the most consistently entertaining acts in the trve metal pantheon, and Wars in the Unknown is another slab o’ fighting tunes for the ages. It’s nearly as good as its predecessor, and definitely worthy of repeat spins when the retro warrior within demands expression. Between this and the new Tyr, the neighborhood of Steel is on pillage alert as neighbors fear of deprivations most cruel. Bring on the hot pitch and prepare for back waxery with flaming swords of Fi-YAH!