SATAN – Earth Infernal (2022)REVIEW

It is written on my face and my eyes — I can’t get it out of my head, the waking dream of living low at the middling tumult of the end of the world, a fumbling sort of climax-void slow death which conjures unsatisfying delirium in mind. As I struggle with a static-buzzed remote connection to the downfall in wide-eyed view of the (generationally kinda awful) people being bulldozed by it I find myself far from alone in relishing in the forgotten finery of humanity’s best art as fading, plasticine imitations float past in ghostly, calorie-free gust. The “I told you so” humanity has been deserving beyond the sociopolitical heft of 80’s accelerant subculture revealing the skeleton of power to teenaged apocalyptic rebellion now begins to bleed around auld contusion. It is an forcefully ephemeral existence and an a uncertain meeting place wherein only by chance and the severe willpower of heavy metal’s most inspired anti-heroes does the artform still possess conviction, at all. In the case of Newcastle upon Tyne, England-borne heavy metal truth to power godhead Satan inspiration yet stabs, eh, into the future with doomed poetic vigor rather than waving any tired banner to the past on this finest sixth full-length album wherein they’ve not missed a beat and don’t have a moment to waste on “better days”. Just as every release from the band has, ‘Earth Infernal‘ speaks to an unjust and dissolving planet Earth on very real terms, sorting the follies of man with signature candor and excitingly tuneful, infectiously resonant heavy metal soul — A living, undauntingly defiant and intelligent light shed upon a grim, grimmest reality.

Though these fellowes founded Satan in 1979, a few years later than thier early 80’s NWOBHM contemporaries Iron Maiden and Angel Witch, their placement in history has slowly levelled with ’em in terms of critical regard and vital influence acknowledged. If you’re barking up my tree they are the critic’s choice, the body and the blood of the era that’d soon whirl satellite debris in various related projects (Blitzkrieg, Skyclad, Pariah) that’d always have something to say with all-serving purpose served by way of madness-inducing riffs, fine Priest and Lizzy influenced dual guitar attacks, and ridiculously memorable songcraft. Instead of attempting another draft in biography and testimony on the band you’d be best served to recall my review of their previous album (‘Cruel Magic‘, 2018) which details well enough why I continue to consider them one of the best, if not the very best, heavy metal groups of all time. So, you know where my thoughts are already leaning here in considering ‘Earth Infernal‘ one of the better records to come from a band who’ve never faltered in their craft and there’ll be no need to really pour it on here beyond highlighting the ideal rendering (via longtime engineer Dave Curle of First Avenue Recordings), memorable songwriting across the board, and appreciating the impressive duo of guitar technique and vocal/lyrical bravado complimenting each other in innate and still varietal ways.

“Ascendency” sets the scene ablaze and the sentiment thickly lain that it is in fact time for the ostrich-headed sand plumbers among us to admit they were wrong, that the world is quite literally burning in front of our eyes and that global tendency has already shifted its feet towards political scorched earth, callous misrule, and human social engineering into commodity. If I’m paraphrasing too hotly here, consider that the first song on ‘Court in the Act‘ laments the destruction of Europe following World War II and implies how few lessens were learned since; The larger narrative Satan have always worked with implores the listener tune into the unjust nature of a post-industrial society rife with runaway capitalism’s many catastrophic results, unevenly spread power having allowed time enough to stare into the void and plot their own ironic pariah-bred ‘uppances. If you’re not buying my ranting interpretations here we could at least see eye-to-eye in this suggestion that Satan‘s duo of guitarists Russ Tippens and Steve Ramsey had long ago founded a sort of proto-speed metallic vision of stoic yet dramatically stated heavy metal on their earliest releases which has been beautifully developed since. Instead of striking into wild dramatism on “Ascendency” they wheel and deal in their elastic, cleverest action up front in a sort of ranting, scene-invoking manner while making room for the irreplaceable tact and over-the-top enormity of vocalist Brian Ross‘ rising chorales and narrative tics which’ve been nothing short of mastery since he’d rejoined for ‘Life Sentence‘ (2013). We’ve got a chorus I’ll never forget, rousing percussive rhythm guitar wrangling, ignited soloing and a real rock and roll attitude informing their absolutely classic handicraft. It really should only take one fantastic song to pull anyone in the know right back into their graces and in my case I’d already bought the record before the equally memorable lilt of “Burning Portrait” and its chorus hit.

If you’d found ‘Cruel Magic‘ (2018) a bit heavier on arena-sized sentiments, slower and theatrically outsized, then no doubt ‘Earth Infernal‘ will feel like a cut back to a more direct, speedier sort of jib up front as they’ve got a lot to say and have intuitively aimed for prime potency with this one. It is a sort of same-difference comparison to make but I’d felt the action here rises to ‘Suspended Sentence‘ (1987) levels of enthuse once again. Though this thought manifests throughout the full listen I’d say “Poison Elegy” most clearly breaches said rift in time over on Side B yet the tightly wound “Twelve Infernal Lords”, the most-classic Satan statement of “A Sorrow Spent”, and the ear-burning worm of “From Second Sight” serve to compound the timeless voice of these fellowes at their most inspired. The marriage of texturally satisfying tonality of instrumentation and righteous (yet not so ruefully strident) lyrical sentiment is yet in a class of its own within the grand bulk of ‘Earth Infernal‘, featuring nothing but easily read and prime-effective songcraft sharing focus between performative presentation and tuneful points of clinch. While I will spare the reader further fondling of meaning as I admire all of these elements colliding into song, it is only for the sake of a true heavy metal band being measured by their ability to present songs which speak for themselves with such strength that I’m left with little more wont than to drop my head back onto my shoulders and drool. As I suggested earlier, a favorite band who’ve been class from day one ’til doomsday.

Sure thing, I’ve been keeping track of music long enough to recognize a nail in my skull when I’ve felt one and for the sixth time in a row Satan have beaten my mind to a brimming n’ bubbling mush with music I cannot hope to forget. If I’m to attempt objective nuance I’d still produce nothing short of highest praise to bleed of, especially with consideration for their consistently evocative visual presentation (cover from Eliran Kantor among various fine innards) and this most perfect spatial rendering of the band where the instruments are presented with natural pub-distanced and cathedral-sized spacing, giving room enough for the drums to kick about while still fetishizing the drang-and-wheeling of the guitars at equitant level with Ross‘ wailing wield. We’re not worthy, we’re just not. A highest possible recommendation.

Highest recommendation. (100/100)

Rating: 10 out of 10.
TITLE:Earth Infernal
LABEL(S):Metal Blade Records
RELEASE DATE:April 1st, 2022

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