The nearly forty year legacy of Satan is supremely inspiring, innovative and tasteful in both retrospect and their current equally prolific state. Any break from the Satan name is filled with equally valuable and distinct work where the now six album stable of this Newcastle born NWOBHM band has tendrils in nearly forty more releases across the last four decades; From their ‘athletic rock’ alter ego Blind Fury to their hugely underrated thrash records as Pariah directly pouring into the folk metal sub-genre invention by way of Skyclad, and I’ve not even mentioned vocalist Brian Ross‘ contributions to most of Blitzkrieg‘s equally long running status. The pace and dedication to their craft hasn’t seemingly let up from their early twenties as they all begin to reach senior citizen status. It is a true legacy that seems aimed at the realist, the thinking man, and it persists with a love of metal and community before fame and fortune. There is no point of insincerity across scores of releases and Satan have managed this all while writing exceptionally memorable songs with their own unique sound. There is no anxiety even remotely felt for a new Satan release in 2018 because they’ve proven themselves so consistently throughout their career.
The band’s fifth album ‘Cruel Magic’ not only comes as the third immaculate full-length release from Satan since re-invoking the name in 2011 but it appears roughly a year and a half after the grand return of Skyclad with ‘Forward into the Past’. Whereas ‘Life Sentence’ (2013) and ‘Atom by Atom’ (2015) appeared to pull from the same neural connections that spawned ‘Court in the Act’ (1983) it seems as if ‘Cruel Magic’ carries an equal torch for their three LP and one EP run with vocalist Michael Jackson from ’85-’89 without necessarily pulling in the full-bore thrash influence of that era; This makes for a more melodic record that keeps vocalist Ross on his toes throughout and allows for a few more minutes of Satan‘s own sort of balladry.
Without a doubt this has been said before but, the guitar duo of Russ Tippins and Steve Ramsey has long been on the same level as unholy unions like Denner/Shermann and the pre-Gers Murray/Smith magic. Satan have cultivated not only a unique guitar sound for decades but adapted admirably to the changing tides of metal’s fidelity and extremity over the years. There is a textural granularity to that guitar tone you’ll understand best when hearing the main riffs from the title track; Tippins/Ramsey dial in that tone with a style that is satisfyingly percussive and intricate beyond most comparable acts. That dual guitar twang is indelibly marked as Satan‘s own and offers instant recognizable tone. Wailing, but not-overly indulgent, leads inform and occasionally punctuate most songs on ‘Cruel Magic’ but the serpentine rhythm guitar work are the equal star of the show next to Ross‘ melodic narrative tantrums.
What differentiates ‘Cruel Magic’ from the previous two albums, then? A few small tweaks and some heightened fidelity provide a dynamic boost to their already well-established return but this record thrives most in terms of varietal songwriting. What begins with a bang and a shuffle eventually settles into peaks and valleys of speed metal and what I’d consider clever heavy metal balladry. Though it deflates as it ends ‘Cruel Magic’ is nonetheless a ride that meets the old standards Satan have never compromised, in fact I’m inclined to say they’ve improved with each record since 2013. In the late 2010’s the sort of early 80’s British heavy metal Satan grew up playing is not only back ‘in fashion’ but incredibly popular across the globe, thus the band thrives amidst peers young and equally old. At no point has their resuscitation spoken to a revival of NWOBHM specifically but rather a modern interpretation of classic heavy/speed metal that is distinct enough to avoid retro cliche or tired pandering.
My own tendency to categorize, compare, and contrast lead me down a few senseless rabbit holes while extrapolating my feelings for ‘Cruel Magic’. Yes, it sounds like Satan and it surely is one of their best records but is nostalgia and nepotism informing my enthusiasm too much? No, I simply recognize a finely aged wine when I taste one. When I was trying to buy ‘Into the Future’ on vinyl in 2004 Satan was a “poor man’s Iron Maiden” according to the greater internet metal swine whereas by 2014 they were suddenly the most underrated, unsung heroes of NWOBHM’s still existent pantheon. In seeing the underground bubble up in similar fashion as Solstice and Manilla Road returned to greater glory I could draw two conclusions: Time heals collective bad taste and crimes committed by hype and oversaturation leave no true scars. Oddly enough this album arrives in an era even more over-saturated than the early 80’s boon that Satan arrived in initially but this time as a tried and true brand easily floating to the top of the year, at least within my own small sphere.
In returning with a third ‘comeback era’ release equally valuable as their heralded cult 80’s releases Satan appear effortless and inspired as ever. ‘Cruel Magic’ serves as a grand henge among countless others standing as monument to their four decade legacy. Their distinct sound has never been as immaculately polished, no small achievement for a band ahead of their time even in 1983. Satan have brought clarity to the greatest strengths of 80’s heavy metal power with intelligent and bold songwriting that leads with sincere personality rather than mimicry, pomp or gimmickry. Admittedly I am a fanatic of this style and the band’s larger sphere of influence so my score reflects this. While your mileage will vary ‘Cruel Magic’ is no less essential listening and exists well above the high standards for heavy metal in 2018.
Spitting at the hand that feeds. 5.0/5.0
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