War Dogs – Die By My Sword Review

This week’s review was a great lesson in audio mixing. Way back in olden times when I was training to be an audio engineer, we were taught to mix down to the lowest and first common denominator. Back then, that was car speakers. Everyone bought cassettes in those days, and where’s the first place you play a new tape? Your car, of course. So the mix has to sound great there first, before it sounds great on JBL studio monitors. For me, the car1 is still usually the first place I hear an entire album, and Die By My Sword, the debut LP from Spain’s War Dogs, scared the heck out of my ears on my drive to work. All I could hear were tepid drums and really loud vocals. In fact, Alberto Rodriguez’ voice, which I happen to like, obliterated the mix. I was worried that what was obviously some solid old-school metal was going to be ruined by a lame mix.

Luckily, once back in the comfort of my house Die By My Sword asserted itself as an admirable addition to the NWOBHM/American metal catalog. On both my main system2 and my computer3, guitars were right back where they should be and the vocals were nicely on top, rather than obnoxiously so. Now we can get down to brass tacks, which in the case of War Dogs is a tasty combination of old Iron Maiden, Manilla Road, and maybe a hint of Visigoth. The first pair of songs, “Die By My Sword” and “Castle of Pain,” launch out of the gate with Maidenesque aplomb, with Rodriguez singing heroically about swords and castles. Guitar solos tear through speakers left and right, and while the solos do not remind one of Iron Maiden, their frequency certainly does, as each song features a number of leads.

War Dogs keep the formula simple throughout Die By My Sword. They open the songs with energetic riffing, and the verses almost always feature harmony vocals on the final line, which is a fine tribute to The Way Things Were. We usually get a couple of noodly guitar solos, inspired to no small degree by Manilla Road’s Mark Shelton (R.I.P.), along with another lead break for good measure at the end of most songs. The band are at their best when the speed is cranked up as well. “Wings of Fire” is a blistering track with a killer riff and sweet arrangement, and “Ready to Strike” strikes with potent thrashiness. War Dogs are a tight act, with a laser-precise rhythm section and a couple of exceptional guitar players. Rodriguez sings in a lower register than Mark Shelton did, but the influence is obvious.

I dislike the fact that I was forced to tweak the settings on my car stereo to make Die By My Sword sound good, when it was fine on other speakers, but it’s early in the year and I’m in a forgiving mood. The mix engineers can’t account for all speaker permutations. And while the songs presented here are all tight and entertaining, they also mostly tend to sound the same, varying only in tempo. War Dogs have crafted a very fine debut here, but some song dynamics and varied arrangements would serve them well on their next outing. The occasional clean guitar melody, an acoustic intro, some mellow-heavy-mellow arrangements, etc, would all bring the band’s work to the next level.

That being said, Die By My Sword is a fine modern homage to the NWOBHM and Manilla Road – so much so for the latter that the band wrote a tribute to Shelton, entitled “The Shark,” and had current Manilla Road vocalist Bryan Patrick guest on it, resulting in a rather odd chorus that I can’t get out of my head. War Dogs show that they’ve got the chops musically and vocally to succeed, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for their next album, with relatively high hopes.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Fighter Records
Websites: fighter-records.bandcamp.com/album/die-by-my-sword | facebook.com/WarDogsHeavyMetal
Releases Worldwide: January 9th, 2020

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Behind-the-scenes trivia for you all in this review: my car system is an 11-speaker B&O setup.
  2. A combination of Mission and PSB speakers thru an Onkyo amp.
  3. KRK Rokit 5 powered speakers.
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