Company: Heavy Artillery
Genre: NWOBHM, Traditional
Less emphasis on speed and energy and more on simple, classic metal songcraft
Swedish traditional metallists Enforcer knocked the metal community (or a small, fortunate segment thereof) on its collective arse with their 2008 full-length debut, Into the Night. With power metal having long settled into a comfortable formula and other tradition-based rock and metal subgenres becoming too imitative and simply safe, that album was a refreshing break from business as usual, combining classic Priest and Maiden-derived European-style metal songcraft with the meter-mashing speed and energy levels of early thrash and, er, speed metal. After witnessing the band (plus Canadian kindred spirits Cauldron and others) tear it up in a tiny New England barroom on the tour in support of that album, I was keen to hear what the band would do next.
For those who welcomed the constructively destructive cranium blow that was Into the Night, the band's brand new follow-up effort Diamonds will likely be a bit of a surprise. One thing that made Into the Night stand out was the ludicrously fast pace maintained throughout most of its nine songs. Thus, some may find it puzzling to hear that Diamonds, for the most part, lowers the intensity level (to human levels, basically), with less emphasis on speed and energy and more on simple, classic metal songcraft.
Vocalist extraordinaire Olaf Wikstrand's banshee wail is every bit as awesome as it was on Into the Night, and in fact manages to become both more piercing and simultaneously more melodic in places. Meanwhile, the guitars of Adam Zaars and Joseph Tholl have gotten even more rustic and old-fashioned sounding, as if they have been recording with even older amps than before, their riffs and solos also becoming considerably less manic in the process. So gone for the most part are the balls-out, pedal-through-the-floor speedsters like the debut's "Speed Queen" and "Mistress from Hell." In their place are less intense but still enjoyable nuggets like "Roll the Dice," "High Roller" and the destructive party vibe of opening cut "Midnight Vice," which surprisingly manage to recall the naïve but exciting and fun vibe you garnered from long-forgotten British and European acts such as Dark Star, Torch, Trance, the diabolic Oz and maybe even Ethel the Frog.
Honestly, the reduced intensity and cleaned-up guitar tones had me a bit underwhelmed after the relentless axe attack of the band's debut. But as I sit and listen to it, I begin to find the kinder, gentler Enforcer an almost equally welcome proposition, marveling at the band's newfound ability to put a fresh topspin on yesteryear's underground classics as well as the speedier, thrashier fare that clearly inspired their debut. Now, if they could somehow combine the vibes of these two albums next time around (basically injecting the Diamonds sound with a shot of Into the Night-style energy), that could make for one killer metal feast.
Company: Heavy Artillery
Genre: Traditional, Power
A fantastic output
Wow, these true metal acts are really getting into the thick of it now. Most recently this year I've had the fortune of jamming new releases from Cauldron, White Wizzard and Skull Fist. Last week I was turning up Steelwing's "Lord Of The Wasteland" and Phantom X's "This Is War". What a great era to be a metal fan!
One of the "pegged" future stars is Sweden's Enforcer, a talented five-piece that recalls NWOBHM, the time frame when twin guitar ruled the tundra and every denim jacket was adorned with Maiden, Saxon and Priest patches. "Diamonds" is the band's sophomore effort and really sees the men capturing that New Wave sound with more velocity and sheer studio perfection. The record was produced by Rikard Lofgren, an up-and-coming producer who has worked with Sparzanza and Deathstars in his Leon Music studio. Lofgren really gives the release a "Martin Birch" job, evening the guitars and providing an adequate battery that really thumps and has some up-front bass. It is this production job that sees Enforcer capitalize on their sound, really starting to put together more even songs and structures. Lofgren worked with the band on debut "Into The Night", a record that really focused on a traditional-meets-thrash vibe that didn't work for me personally. The album met with much critical acclaim and I think the feedback helped the group become more serious this go around.
Fans of Iron Maiden's production will surely like Enforcer, but the band compares to the underground acts of the early 80s. "Diamonds" reminds me of the Ostrogoth-Grim Reaper-Wildfire-Oz sound, a good bit of NWOBHM as well as the less talked about New Wave of Belgian heavy metal. Vocalist Olof Wikstrand lets it fly on opener "Midnight Vice", a straight forward romp with plenty of axe-antics that is rich in 80s's atmosphere, layered vocals and a charging gallop. Wikstrand can hit some highs but has a nice mid-level range that appeals to me. He uses that voice to punctuate "Running In Menace", a German power metal sound that is rich with hook ala Accept and Scorpions. The group even gets a bit thrashy on "Katana", recalling moments of the debut with an improved formula.
Overall this is just a fantastic output and sees Enforcer living up to expectations. I would still like to see the group become more mature with their songwriting. I think having "Roll The Dice" and "High Roller" on the same disc indicates some writing improvement is in order. Put Enforcer right along side Cauldron and Skull Fist as the leaders of this genre for now.