The only peace that could ever last, when all Gods have been slain or exiled, has ended in the eyes of the warrior. His meat-skulled and mulling thoughts drive him home to unearth burial sites and fashion blades to forge the only reasonable answer to the threat of an insane god’s rebirth — A blade that would pierce the dark arisen God and bleed him of existence. A tale of bloodlust, vainglory, vengeance, sex, self-empowerment and fearsome steel comes to life via United States epic heavy metal act Eternal Champion on this their second full-length. Undoubtedly among the most energizing and polished traditional heavy metal releases of this darkest year, the patient hand in craft of ‘Ravening Iron‘ is felt with considerable immediacy as its slick-hooked stomp and wailing rush unleashes yet another worthiest entry unto heavy metal tradition for a new generation.
Formed by popular producer/engineer and musician Arthur Rizk (War Hungry, Sumerlands) and vocalist, blacksmith, and author Jason Tarpey (Iron Age, Cyclopean Records) in 2012 as a ‘no pressure’ exploration of their love for epic heavy metal and 80’s United States power metal adjacent, Eternal Champion only appears as an inevitable joint today in hindsight. As their friends in the hardcore punk/crossover realm found considerable results (and in some cases, success) in forming traditional doom metal bands it was probably only a matter of time until rising capabilities would meet the push to act. The great magick of being surrounded by do it yourself artists and punk music is the cultivation of the idea that no artistic venture is out of reach and most often earns one the guts to blaze one’s own trail. The idea for a band in this style seems to have warmed up hottest during 2010 via Iron Age tours with various doom metal acts, soon after we see the gears turning in this direction circa 2011 as the ‘Saga Demos‘ and some guest spots on Vestal Claret‘s ‘Bloodbath‘ suggested a swing towards sword n’ sorcery would be warranted via Tarpey‘s vocals.
That said, the first Eternal Champion record (‘The Armor of Ire‘, 2016) alongside the demos and split that preceded it were penned and largely performed by Rizk with guitar performances handled between three guitarists, including Power Trip‘s Blake Ibanez and Jon Powers whom also features in Sumerlands alongside Rizk. It’d been a remarkably well-formed and professional debut from musicians who’d gained considerable popularity in the interim years. ‘The Armor of Ire’ was undoubtedly a hype justifying event, releasing a couple of weeks before Sumerlands‘ similarly heralded debut on Relapse leading to its eight or so pressings since. It’d felt like the real deal thanks to an ideal running order including dungeon synth (see also: ‘Terminus Est‘, 2019), balladry, slow heavy metal stomps and glorious (auld) power metal jogging all the fixings for a general update to classic 80’s United States power metal sounds. For my own taste the record’s innards couldn’t quite live up to the promise of its opener “I Am the Hammer”, the point of disconnect being the need for more distinct vocal arrangements.
‘Ravening Iron’ corrects a very slightly too-ambitious start to Eternal Champion‘s discography by focusing on their absolute strengths, the mid-paced power/heavy metal pieces that work best live by allowing their energetic frontman to focus and generate presence. Besides, if festival-goers are going to sing along they might as well all be anthems. Think of this as the impatient epic heavy metal fan’s realistic experience: You pick up a Thunder Rider or Manilla Road album and probably skip over the ballads until you know better. To be fair those ballads might’ve been better off going a bit more ‘Nightfall’ in the first place but eh, tradition was and is tradition. Tarpey‘s voice isn’t any more “right” for a ballad than Eric Adams‘ was on ‘Hail to England’, tonally having more in common with Omen‘s J.D. Kimball and taking phrasal cues from the imperfect mastery of Phil Swanson and Mark Shelton to great effect without utilizing a nasal head voice. He is the focus and the charisma of ‘Ravening Iron’, a boldest and well developed on-record presence that trounces a lot of the traditional heavy metal that’d arisen by influence of ‘The Armor of Ire’ since. Would I place the greater timbre and pomp of ‘Ravening Iron’ up there with records like ‘Warning of Danger’, ‘Burning Star’ and such just yet? There is little need for cross-generational comparisons at this point. Today it’d be fair the set Eternal Champion arm-to-arm with two of the best “epic” heavy metal minded maestros of the last several years: Gatekeeper and Visigoth, whilst keeping in mind each band is entirely different I would at least suggest these bands are all on the level from every angle.
Front-loaded with energetic singles, each with hooks that carry their weight for weeks on end, the vitality of ‘Ravening Iron’ and its eight song run will grab most folks long before Side A finishes its stampede. “A Face in the Glare” is the exact right opener on an album of mid-paced anthemic heavy metal pieces for the sake of its strong opening riff and leads yet in the realm of underground epic heavy metal most any song on the tracklist would suffice. The title track offers the most distinctly power metal rush, “Skullseeker” is more of a Side B opener (in my mind) with its foot-bustin’ stomp and torrid lyrical details. After many, many spins it’d be Side B that won a bit more favor in the long run thanks to “Cowards Keep” (feat. Jake Rogers of Visigoth) and its strong early Hour of 13 vibe, as well as the second hit of power metal attack “Worms of the Earth”. The band have suggested certain pieces take influence from Morgana Lefay and early Fates Warning though you might only get a hint of ‘The Secret Doctrine’ on “Banners of Arhai” and certainly loads of ‘Night on Bröcken’ across the whole album if you’re well-versed in that one. To be honest I hear more late 80’s/early 90’s Rocky George in these rhythm guitar arrangements than any true metal classic, not that we’re getting eight versions of “Pledge Your Allegiance” but old ST fans might catch a whiff. It is clear that a few of the songs have benefitted from more direct collaboration between the two guitarists (Rizk/Powers) and plenty of time to work patiently away at memorable, standalone pieces directed by Tarpey‘s performances that all hold together well as an album. Nothing is missing, everything is bound tight and perfected and no doubt ‘Ravening Iron’ is the high standard of performance, songwriting and production at the moment.
A heavy metal album rather than a full-on concept album, ‘Ravening Iron’ features more than a few references to Tarpey’s latest novella The Godblade (DMR Books) where a bit of cosmic horror gilds the sword n’ sorcery of the fiction. I’d intended to wait until the book arrived in the mail to write about the album’s themes but the story events and characters referenced have already been discussed with some reasonable brevity in interviews. It’ll be so much more fun to discover these on your own, anyhow. Suffice to say it can only empower a band like Eternal Champion to have their own fictional world built into their themes. Some references to Lovecraft, Howard, and various high fantasy fiction writers persist on about half the songs on ‘Ravening Iron’, including a reworking of earlier demo track “War at the Edge of the End”. All power fantasies and legends have some measure of consequence yet we don’t often get this level of parable from traditional heavy metal of the sword n’ axe hacking variety; This keeps any of the narrative from being too flexed or retro-kitsch for its own good which, wouldn’t be such a terrible thing but I appreciate a heavy metal record that speaks to more than orc-crushing or whatever borrowed Tolkien or Moorcock prose. The feeling of an 80’s heavy metal album is certainly there and no doubt the influence from the classics (high fantasy books & records) is most obvious thanks to Ken Kelly‘s always impressive artwork which I believe illustrates a key character in Tarpey‘s novella.
‘Ravening Iron’ is a fully realized epic heavy/power metal experience with every detail noted and notably refined beyond Eternal Champion‘s considerable debut. Though the impatient nature of attention deficit consumerism guides so many great bands towards mediocre products these fellows instead indulge their craft with the thought and consideration it is due. The result is enriching, a recognizable ancient heavy metal spirit presented via a charming update to its rough-edged melodic language. A very high recommendation.
|RELEASE DATE:||November 20th, 2020|
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp [All Formats]|
Epic Heavy Metal
Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:
Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.