HEAVY SENTENCE – Bang to Rights (2021)REVIEW

If we could comfortably say that nowadays heavy metal doesn’t have a chance in Hell unless they’ve gotten the timbre and tone down to a science in any case, then we can consider Manchester-based club Heavy Sentence the product of rawest, keenest fellowes who’re obsessed with ancient alchemical fusion. Well-studied in classic early-to-mid 70’s heavy rock and late 70’s punk in service of their ’79-’82 take on NWOBHM and its most underground crews, the quintet reek of both pub-blasting authenticity and clarity of hindsight, adding muscle to the gallivanting and stamping of classic British steel so that they’re not feigning naivete for the sake of a ‘retro’ deal. Growling nails and setting their gig to a tuneful proto-speed metal attack finds ’em firing off a sweet salvo of kickers on this debut, ‘Bang to Rights‘, which lands sentimental enough in its motions but also kinda ugly, kinda mean and juiced up with the cocky strut of platinum-grade early 80’s heavy metal.

At this point I could write the book on folks who’d geared up on extreme metal in their youth as a gateway drug that went big and eventually started an traditional heavy metal band that leaned to the “opposite” of extreme, hold on let me write that down — Infusing their knack for impact with the songcraft of this heavy rock inspired breed of classic heavy metal to great, and sometimes disastrous effect. In this case the folks involved (members of Wode, Wóddréa Mylenstede Aggressive Perfector, Eliminator, et al.) deliver their intent flawlessly or, rather with the right sort of grit that the attuned listener won’t mistake Heavy Sentence for anything but a traditional heavy metal band of the British ilk. The early days of the band lead-off a few years before 2017 when they’d released the ‘Protector / Darkest Hour‘ 7″ which’d felt like a particularly gnarly single from Neat Records at the time, maybe even a bit meaner than that with its wild artwork, ‘Overkill’ growl and early Iron Maiden zing to the guitar work, there are modern examples of this sound but to my ears it hits just like Warfare‘s ‘Pure Filth’ but maybe a bit less anthemic. From there another single, ‘Edge of the Knife / Heavy Vengeance‘, followed in 2018 and here we’d see the pre-‘Chinatown’ Thin Lizzy touch of the guitarists on the first song and their love for punk-sourced NWOBHM on “Heavy Vengeance”; To this day this is my favorite song from the band. These releases were popular to say the least, eventually getting compiled on tape and gaining ground ’til guitarist Mike Woods (Exxxecutioner) passed away in 2019, whom as far as I know had already recorded some parts of this record, this, paired with the anno MMXX blight upon all humankind likely postponed ‘Bang to Rights’ ’til 2021. Dire times call for great songs and in this way we’ve gotten a fine album from the band, certainly one worthy of the firebrand singles they’d put out prior.

Though you can expect Heavy Sentence to have cleaned up their act a bit into a presentable ear-catching listen that doesn’t mean they’ve left the gravel out of their mix and vocalist G. Howells brings his whiskey grinder of a throat in sharper, clearer form here on record. I’d actually found it rough and strained to start, standing out like a sore… uh, throat, and probably because they’d set a few layers of effects on his voice on the singles which I’d grown accustomed to. This is more stripped down, no longer dark-outlined by reverb and this allows Howells to show more of his range and push the performance over the top. The presence that Heavy Sentence put out there ain’t exactly like metalpunk nor is it pure fantasy NWOBHM either, the feel of the record lands outside of time but you’ll still get that “bigger than the bar they’re in” vibe one can glean from prime records by Quartz, Legend, and certain Tank releases — Simple heavy metal/rock songs take creative and personalized turns that are above and beyond the usual “band to enjoy a beer to.” They’re putting out big early Maiden energy first and up front and that’d be the best “sell” on why this record isn’t just a fun banger, but a well written and proper heavy metal album taking a big fuckin’ bite of NWOBHM influence and their own current state of mind and matter. You’ll get it hooked right up to your veins with energetic opener “Medusa” and the lead-in to catchy strangler “Cold Veins” but they’ve got several corners to turn and ground to cover before all ten songs have their say.

Beyond that point we’re served alternating scores of the sort of heavy metal that cannot, and should not, see beyond the sheer density of importance placed on the punkish side of Motörhead and the drunken hard-hearted side of Thin Lizzy. Sure, that’d more or less be Tank in most cases but here it means a switch flips from song to song between perseverant heavy metal attitude exposition towards sentimental songs that’re a few drinks deep into a show. For my own taste the best admixture of forms comes with the adventure metal found on “Age of Fire” sort of reigning in the Lizzy influence towards the peak Moore years before going full-blown with it on this new version of “Edge of the Knife” afterwards, surely the highlight of the full listen that’ll catch most ears. “Heavy Sentence” offers another meaningful highlight, ushering a very slight bit of early 80’s Priest (to my ears anyhow) in the guitar work and offering their rightful anthem therein. The last couple of songs are the deep cuts I’d been picking through this album’s guts for all along with some speed/epic heavy metal strides taken on “Possession” and the ‘Angel Witch’ meets ‘Power of the Hunter’ closing peak of “Broken Hearts”, probably my favorite song of the lot. There isn’t any grand statement or depth to add to what speaks for itself here as a solid, easy to pick up classic heavy metal album. The vocals have character you’ll remember, the guitar work is smoking something fierce and even thought there are ten songs here the running order never feels crowded or too self-same. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Bang to Rights
LABEL(S):Dying Victims Productions
RELEASE DATE:May 28th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Heavy Metal

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