Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Death Dealer - War Master (2013)

Any time you get a bunch of musicians together from various bands into a new project, the word "Supergroup" tends to be thrown around somewhat frequently.  When that happens, expectations naturally soar, and if the final product isn't everything fans hope for, it's usually branded as a terrible album, often unfairly.  Fans don't like being disappointed when the metal gods don't deliver the goods, after all.  Death Dealer is one band in danger of being tagged this way because of their pedigree.  When you have Sean Peck (CAGE), Ross the Boss (Manowar, or did I even need to tell you that?), Stu Marshall (Dungeon, among others), Rhino (more bands than you can shake a stick at), and Mike Davis (Lizzy Borden & Ozzy!), people will naturally begin to think the music the group makes should be the best thing since sliced bread.

Thankfully, with Death Dealer, the pedigree comes through and gives us what is at least a workmanlike effort, if not something more.  As one might expect, given the bands these players have been involved in, this is a speedy and reasonably "epic" power metal album that doesn't stray too far from what you would expect.  In this case, it echoes Sean Peck's main focus, CAGE, and is in quite the same vein.  That shouldn't dissuade non-CAGE fans from checking this out, however.  There's enough quality here that power metal fans in general will get a kick out of the album.

Guitar work by Ross the Boss & Stu Marshall is generally excellent, with a tone that nicely marries equal parts crunch and clarity.  It's a bit strange hearing Ross in this context, because Manowar's music was generally a bit slower and more deliberate in nature, so at times, it doesn't feel as if he's even on the record.  I must admit, however, that I'm unfamiliar with his work outside of Manowar, so this could just be my perception.  But overall, you get what you'd expect here, with a combination of speedy solos, chugging riffs, and a sufficient degree of muscle in the guitar sound.  Bass playing by Mike Davis is good throughout, audible enough to know he's not just part of the backdrop, but not so much that it distracts from the centerpiece guitar work.  Mike doesn't do anything flashy, but the playing pretty much follows the songs and provides enough underlying weight to do the job.  Rhino's drumming is on-point throughout, with plenty of well executed double-bass, precision timing for snare & cymbal hits, and nice fills and transitions here and there.  There's nothing new here, but what he does fits the music and sounds good over the course of the album.

Vocally, Sean Peck could perhaps be the weak link of the album, but that is a minor complaint.  Sean has that "reach for the sky" thing going on vocally, much like Tim "Ripper" Owens during his time with Judas Priest and Iced Earth.  I've read reviews of "Jugulator" where Tim was accused of going for the high notes too often, and always at the time when it would be both most logical to do so, as well as most contextually annoying.  I never felt like that was the case with "Jugulator", and I enjoyed his performance on that record.  With "War Master", there are definitely spots where Sean struggles to reach the note he's aiming for, so he ends up being slightly flat.  It's not all the time, as sometimes he's on target, but there are instances where he should either have done additional takes, or opted for a different note or key.  I also feel like when he's transitioning between notes and is scaling upward, there are times when he sounds flat or off-key in transition.  That could just be the grit in his voice being too ever-present, or just my perception, but it is a slight distraction.  Non-vocalists may not notice these subtle things, but for those that do, it could be a minor hit against the release.  Lyrically, the album slogs through the usual power metal topics of fantasy, war, unity in metal, and so forth.  The lyrics do occasionally verge on overly clich├ęd and rote, but in context, they make sense and can be forgiven.

Having spun this some 30 times in the last couple weeks, I can say that I have roughly the same impression of it I had as about 20 or 25 plays ago.  That being, this is an enjoyable, if derivative journey into modern power metal with a decidedly American PM slant.  Again, shades of CAGE are present, but this is its own entity.  More distracting than the similarity to CAGE is the fact that with tracks like "Hammer Down" having too much a Hammerfall lyrical vibe, "Children of Flames" sounding like Sean is channeling David Wayne during the quieter vocal moments, or Sean's aforementioned propensity for "Ripper" like wailing, there's nothing wholly original or that you haven't heard before.  The same could be said for a lot of power metal, but when the songwriting doesn't hold interest through 100% of the album, or there's not enough of a hook to keep one listening (other than the general quality of performances), it's a hard sell in terms of choosing this over, say, the next CAGE album or any number of other power metal releases coming out each day.

Kudos to these guys for making an album that has an American Power Metal vibe to it, and unabashedly so.  I just don't think this is in the same league as many of the bands they'll likely be compared to, which is a shame, because there's a lot of talent on display here.  If Death Dealer does another album, my recommendation would be that Sean utilize a greater overall range and not always go for the high notes, as well as developing the songs just a bit more so they're more memorable.  By the time I reach "Heads Spikes Walls" I'm beginning to check out because the last 2 tracks aren't as interesting as what came before.  And though I've had the choruses for "Death Dealer", "Warmaster" and "Curse of the Heretic" stuck in my head for a couple weeks, I know that's more of hearing Sean's wailing with a bit of vocal hook going on, and the actual chorus melody isn't stuck there with it.  If the melodies were strong enough, I'd be hearing the entire chorus or verse section, and that's what I'm missing from the album.  That doesn't mean I'm not having fun listening to this stuff, because I certainly am.  I just wish the end result was a bit stronger overall.  Recommended for power metal nuts who can't get enough, or are looking for something with a bit more of an American power metal bent to it.


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