POSSESSED STEEL – Aedris (2020)REVIEW

The ‘Gods’ men will into mind with selfless purpose or, by sheer interpretive folly rarely coerce more than aggrandized mirror-bent and war mongering grand manipulators from shallow wells. The more any ultimate good or evil is characterized, greyed or pulled from the mediocrity of human experience the less pure their efficacy in distribution of philosophy or parable becomes. Lifecodes and zero sum religions certainly crumble out of relevance over time because of this binary necessity yet high fantasy storytelling remains a sophisticated folk tradition among the “unsophisticated” us wherein tales of darkness and light refract all manner of colorfully blurred and inordinately complex fables. A “chosen” kin to save the world, an evil triumvirate of ‘Gods’ that need slaying, a horn-hewn sword forged just for that purpose and yes, even a mini-boss or two on the way to the big battle — Simple and similar as any outline might appear, the right sort of world building in the hands of a good fantasy fiction writer can act as an indelible fingerprint unique to their legacy. It couldn’t be a stretch for any heavy metal fan to see the same phenomena expressed within the high fantasy tradition of epic heavy metal (and… p-p-p-power metal) realms where escalating narrative standards and necessarily complete conceptual craft might involve self-authored D&D campaigns, board games, graphic novels, novellas and such to ensure immersion. Toronto, Ontario-based epic heavy metal quartet Possessed Steel pull from deceptively simple forms and a classic narrative arc in creation of their debut full-length ‘Aedris’, treading within prime tradition with admirable reverence whilst showcasing their own enthused and brightly polished knack for stirring epic heavy metal.

The power & the glory brought them back to life, to sing of gods and masters shattered by enchanted blades, in the sense that Possessed Steel formed in 2010 and folded in 2014 not long after releasing their self-titled EP (‘Possessed Steel‘, 2014) which was essentially a demo that’d focused on a Slough Feg and perhaps early Brocas Helm influenced sound, exuberant jigging trad metal that was over-the-top in a charming way. The project would reform just over a year later in 2015 with a new line-up that’d apparently gelled immediately, eventually leading up to their second EP (‘Order of the Moon‘, 2017); This is where we see the integration of Canada’s current and still booming modern heavy rock/traditional heavy metal output of late informing the tone of the record, easing on the excitable nature of the band while still very much resembling a classic North American 80’s power metal band in spirit. These documents are important provenance but no real preparation for the elegance of ‘Aedris’, a back-straining leap into an impassioned and oft sombre narrative arc that will almost definitely provide twists and turns that even the most seasoned heavy metal shithead won’t see coming.

“Spellblade” will be the right fixation to start, anthemic and expressive in its pursuit of sword legend and our prophesied hero. This is intentionally empowering music not only because our introduction is shimmery, vocally adept high fantasy heavy/power metal in spirit but because the narrator, guitarist/vocalist Talon Sullivan, insists we embody his first person declarations. He/we are going to save the world of Agathorn, it is our birthright and duty and absolutely nobody else can do it. Alright, well if you’re not a nerd for that sort of thing then the folkish stride of the first two pieces will offer some clear basal influence from the perfect storm of ‘New Dark Age‘-era Solstice in terms of rhythm and also Sullivan‘s vocal cadence when the more lively epics (“Spellblade”, “Frost Lich”, “Bogs of Agathorn”) kick in via a tone that is closer to Simon Matravers‘ vocal timbre than Morris Ingrams‘ less somber delivery as they’d move away from a heavier, more patient Candlemass influenced era. Set beside epic doom metal bands like Cromlech, who likely share some key influences, it becomes clear vocals are a major focus for Possessed Steel‘s mission statement and the major intention is to spin a yarn, tell a tale. This is absolutely encouraging as we can discern that the major characters and plot points involve a blade of some sort, war, great battles, and our hero Aedris‘ place in this magick world of Agathon. Until I’ve an actual lyric sheet in front of me I can’t wheel too deeply into the guts of the record but ‘Aedris’ doesn’t appear to be an entirely linear concept album yet it is undoubtedly telling a continuous story via a continuity of references to important names, locations and events within most pieces. The vocal performance from Sullivan is key embodiment of this fantasy world as Possessed Steel find the right balance between tunefulness, impressive tonal range, and narrative clarity. This tips the experience towards the Visigoth spectrum of classic heavy/power metal when the mood calls for jogging pace and any sort of harmonization. I’ve gotten the sense that the act of exploring and experiencing epic heavy metal is more than just key influence here, that there is some faith invested in the lineage and serious love for more than just the highlights of the niche.

“Keeper of the Woods” is probably the first or, most pronounced dive into a black metal rasp on the album when it arrives unexpectedly and perhaps subtly enough that it could be missed before the confrontational final verse on the song. I personally find this the coolest shit ever, a small punch of character that works quite well in some of my favorite recent heavy metal bands like Molten Chains and Sacral Night as well as always hot doom metal bands like Cardinal’s Folly or Wheel; The promise of ‘evil’ epic heavy metal which isn’t Mercyful Fate worship (or just uh, Immortal with clean vocals) is entirely keen in these hands — Not for any particular love of black metal (read: rasped) vocals but, for the sake of the slightest meshing of those two worlds being long overdue a reworking in the hands of an epic heavy metal band capable of rigging the right structural trussing for it to appear with admirable fluency. Either way, I’m getting ahead of myself here, point being the extension of the vocal range into stylistic characterization is brilliant as it arrives with greater frequency. “Frost Lich” quickly takes this idea to a more direct personification as we hit the heart of the album. The “fuck yeah” part of my brain fires most frequently herein. These two darkest pieces (+ interlude) lead us toward a great battle as Side A ends and… that battle ensues as Side B begins.

Side A is more than enough of an argument for this album (and band for that matter) as this evocative and professional debut finds Possessed Steel strident and instantly memorable while sporting some considerable passion for epic heavy metal up front. That doesn’t mean Side B is any less impressive, in fact it is a vital second act. “Assault of Twilight Keep” sends us the battle metal riffing necessary to make this legendary event a stone-carved memory and “Free at Last” is the triumph beyond the clash, a moment of celebration taking a small hint from the earlier theatrics of Blind Guardian, or nearby, for an effective moment of reflection. “Skeleton King” again uses harsh vocals as a narrative device offering another major highlight as the rest of Side B fleshes out. This is a natural endpoint for my own sensibilities, nothing against “Nobunaga” as it is a fine tune but it’d have been better placed before “Bogs of Arathorn” in the running order to balance out the hills and valleys of each side; Not a major flaw by any means but it’d felt like a phantom limb initially, noting the “each song is a chapter” modus clarifies the episodic feeling of the track order.

Again I’ll iterate that ‘Aedris’ is music that (appears to) intend empowerment of the listener, to ride through escapism and arrive upon some meaningful self-divined application whatever it may be. Even if that amounts to little more than a good story and some killer riffs to skull on your end, you’ve at least been handed a considerable sword to wield whenever needed. I can’t necessarily imagine what they’ll do next as this debut is remarkably professional, never stumbling. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
Info:
ARTIST:POSSESSED STEEL
TITLE:Aedris
TYPE:LP
LABEL(S):Temple of Mystery Records
RELEASE DATE:November 30th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Epic Heavy Metal,
Power/Heavy Metal

Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:

Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.

$1.00