Satan - Life Sentence
Listenable Records
NWOBHM / Traditional Heavy Metal
10 songs (44' 06")
Release year: 2013
Listenable Records
Reviewed by Andy
Major event

What a great time for an 80s heavy metal band to reunite. Last year brought us Angel Witch's first modern full-length, after literally decades of live albums and EPs. This year 80s British proto-thrashers Satan, after just about the same length of time, return with their first modern full-length, Life Sentence. If anyone is wondering if these guys, the same lineup that gave us the classic Court in the Act in '83, have lost their chops...the answer is emphatically no. Their reunion album won't be considered as fierce as it would have in the pre-extreme-metal landscape of the early 80s, but their musicianship and capacity to write fast, thrashy NWOBHM songs hasn't dimished in the slightest.

In many ways Life Sentence is a time capsule. Some reunions see bands either trying to write modern-sounding tunes or trying to repeat their old successes with new production, resulting in a slick but wimpy production that lacks the raw power of their original music. Satan dodges that pitfall. The production is a lot better, giving all members of the band equal access to the listener's ears, but it only amplifies their sound, the same bulky yet tight package we encountered in the 80s. The whole album is simply swimming in fast, intricate riffs driven by the NWOBHM two-guitar attack, with guitarists Russ Tippins and Steve Ramsey trading overdriven crunching and wild soloing, and the midrange, clean vocals of Brian Ross, every once in a while letting out a falsetto scream, give a booming and commanding sound to the lyrics. Time to Die and Twenty Five Twenty Five, the first two tracks, have a sharp, staccato thrashiness to them, though I wasn't crazy about the chorus of Twenty Five Twenty Five. The vocals get a little too choir-like for me at that point, something that gets repeated through the album a few times, though that's definitely personal taste there and there's precedent for it in such an older band; if you liked the choruses on certain Blue Öyster Cult or (more recently) Ghost songs, you'll enjoy this too; if not, you might feel the same way as me.

The first two were heavy -- the next three are heavier still. Cenotaph uses a hammering beat that makes Ross's vocals play really well to the mid-range key of this song. The soloing is intricately harmonized in some points between both guitars, but it's during the main solo that the guitar is really allowed to scream. Siege Mentality, one of my favorites on the album, is back to a fast thrash pattern; the melody is good, but the guitars' fast-picked rhythm riff on the verse is what's truly exquisite. They have the picked part of the riff echo a bit with what sounds like some partial palm muting, resulting in a rough-hewn, raw feel to it. The only fault I found with this song was in the middle where the tune wandered a bit and the key changed, which was kind of jarring, but the solo, occurring right after that shift, quickly rescues the listener. Incantation uses more high-speed picking, but has a different sound to the song, more a pounding heavy-metal riff than thrash metal. Ross slows down his delivery and drags it out, adding his screams to each chorus, and a clever solo gets slipped into the background if you listen carefully on one of the verses. A similar pattern is followed for the middle songs on the album. Some have a thrash sound (such as Testimony and the title track), others more traditional metal (such as Personal Demons); however, in all cases, the album is relentlessly heavy, with no breaks for quiet introspection. The final one, Another Universe, sounds like it might be the one soft, clean song in the batch, but that's anything but the case about two and a half minutes in, when heaviness takes over again completely. This is a strong end to the album with a galloping riff on the chorus, but not as much soloing as in the previous songs.

It's been a long time since Court in the Act, and some listeners might wish that Satan had evolved a bit. But that's somewhat beside the point. This is a band that has been a cult object in the traditional heavy metal/NWOBHM world for decades now, and with Life Sentence, they've released an album with a very similar sound and style to their masterpiece, with a modern and powerful production, but apparently without any wholesale attempts at just copying their old material. There are almost no weak points to this ironclad and unapologetically traditional album, which is a real treat to listen to.

Killing Songs :
All of them
Andy quoted 90 / 100
Koeppe quoted 90 / 100
Other albums by Satan that we have reviewed:
Satan - Atom by Atom reviewed by Andy and quoted 90 / 100
Satan - Court in the Act reviewed by Adam and quoted CLASSIC
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