Crumbling archives continue to be levelled into digitized and woefully misinterpreted cultural relics as we drift further and further away from our own ability to contextualize history by way of the rapid outpace of technology. Paid barriers to academia might exist solely for the sake of keeping meddling hands off in some misguided minds yet the side-effect of an increasingly stupid planet speaks much louder as generations resolve to build meaning upon shadows, or, merely land a best guess along the way. Just as the Roman syncretism of appropriated cultures and religions lead to several ‘Gods of a hundred faces‘ around the world, such as Mercury‘s duplicitous symbolism as Mercurius in various form, so does popular music’s generationally selective understanding of historic speed metal culture continue to mutate in tow. This is less an accost and more a touting of the richness of perspective available to modern man’s global-sourced mutant ideation of ancient forms such as that of Gothenburg, Sweden-based melodic heavy/speed metal quintet Armory whom willfully cross wires between mid-to-late 80’s power-thrash metal theatrics, modern ideations of speed metal guitar techniques, and now a bit of progressive heavy rock-minded sci-fi fantasy concept gumption on their third full-length album ‘Mercurion‘. Though their titular starship reads as a blazoned nom de patronage of the gods on its travels afar, it may just as well serve as a psychopomp leading them to the next realm with some manner of notable mutation in mind.
Formed in 2012 with very few line-up interruptions since, Armory might appear to have somewhat predictably hit upon their best musical ‘self’ after digging away at modern-yet-throwback speed/heavy metal for ten years, at least if we are enjoying the grimy sing-along power-thrashing of ‘Mercurion‘ in a bubble. A quick rip through their first two records suggests they’d more-or-less hit their stride just beyond their second demo (‘S.M.I.‘, 2015). Though it does seem as if they’d been tempering their over the top power metal sized but hard-thrashing sound, heavily influenced by Agent Steel, Helstar, and a fairly obvious host of German speed metal acts, over the course of two full-lengths for High Roller Records (‘World Peace… Cosmic War‘, 2016 / ‘The Search‘, 2018) it’d been for the sake of skilling themselves up, working up to the point that they could pull off something as big as those influences should suggest. A certain ‘epic’ sense of storytelling is the ideal in mind beyond that point, wherein the truth of it seems to be that a sort of post-’85 power/speed metal sound with a strong-galloped melodic component couldn’t have come without reigning in their most raw habits and aiming for a more dramatically stated concept album, hence ‘Mercurion‘.
This means some of the ‘Sirens‘ era Savatage expressions from vocalist Petrus Andersson, which I’d never felt were that pronounced, are under better control on ‘Mercurion‘. With that said I’d just as soon suggest he tends to be the one most ambitiously pushing the limits of their sound throughout the full listen, or, at least contends as a worthy conductor. The lyrics most often find Armory confronting the distortions available to the human mind when isolated or faced with the fear of the unknown, essentially reflecting the ways a long journey anywhere should change or effect a person. This is fairly standard science fiction narrative and isn’t too deep or referential, mostly in service to ‘sing-along then thrash’ sort of pieces making good use of the vocalist’s vibrato with a fair number of shredding tangents interspersed. Beyond a sort of usual standard met the full listen nonetheless comes together into a strangely tuneful record, that which isn’t at fully aiming for the normative brutality of speed metal proper yet stands capable of landing quite a few strong retro-speed punches as they reel through their tale.
The pronounced melodic heavy metal aspect of ‘Mercurion‘ does initially overtake the major focus of this record yet not in a way that will perturb traditional heavy/speed metal fandom whom are certainly used to the blurred recollection of previously strict high-rate stylistic evolution found in the 80’s. Though it will read as a gross generalization to some degree, it’d seem Armory’s songwriting aims a bit closer to the standards set by mid-2000’s revisionist groups like Enforcer when seeking out melodic inspiration, an anthemic style of vocal layering and chorus reveal which has absorbed well enough into the running-on-fumes New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal zeitgeist at this point. There’ll be no reasonable comparison to anything directly from the ‘old school’ here on my part, since the tone and the melodic phrasing of this record is so distinctly set in modern revisionism on the most key songs (“Journey Into Infinity”, “The Hunters From Beyond”, “Wormhole Escape”). Otherwise, I suppose initial listens recalled the strange era of late 80’s and early 90’s power-speed metal latecomers, those who’d not quite found their footing in the bombast of power metal and hadn’t updated technique beyond ‘Walls of Jericho‘ ’til a new era of Priest had fully arisen, such as Jewel‘s bizarre (for its time) yet memorable ‘Revolution in Heaven‘. It isn’t exactly ‘Battalions of Fear‘ in terms of balancing catchy songwriting and heavier riffing but that spirit, or general dynamic and performative sense, is certainly there to some degree.
There are yet a few interesting surprises found within the full listen beyond the obvious highlights. “Music From the Spheres” is sort of Armory at thier most dramatic and in the inner zone of this whole creation and the mid-song break into Hammond-esque organ accompanied soloing has a distinct sort of progressive rock flair to it that I’d found intensely interesting compared to much of the full listen. The sort of distorted hits around ~3:50 minutes into the song almost felt like they’d stumbled upon another world of progressive speed metal and chose to blaze past it for the sake of not becoming too distracted. “Deep Space Encounter” was a highlight for my own taste if only because it’d lived up to this ‘A Distant Thunder‘-esque expectation I’d had heading into ‘Mercurion‘, its theatric presentation benefitting from setting aside the singalong charging-forth side of the band and yielding strongest results. This is directly contrasted with the follow-up of “Void Prison”, a shorter power-thrasher that attempts to condense its narrative far too much and reads a bit busied, albeit appropriately despairing.
Though they have presented an ambitious expanse well worth building upon within the variously memorable thrills of ‘Mercurion‘ I’m not sure if Armory‘s big-eyed progressive speed metal ideas best match the inherent overstatement of their NWOTHM adjacent throwback sound. When we are served introspective space-faring adventures with a sound and style tuned to a decently sized suburban garage show, or a decent pub, the projection into the great beyond lands a bit incomplete for my taste. That said they’re clearly already onto something fairly unique here which deserves a bit of pushing forth, iterative or otherwise. A moderately high recommendation.
|LABEL(S):||Dying Victims Productions|
|RELEASE DATE:||April 22nd, 2022|
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