If you are a fan of heavy metal music, it’s certainly a great time to be alive. We are in the midst of an era where amazing new music is right at our digital fingertips, yet a lot of the genre’s progenitors are still young enough to at least get up there and perform. While many of these veteran acts rely heavily on their back catalogs to fortify their relevance, there are some for whom the flame of creativity simply keeps on burning. For Satan, whose history goes back to the very roots of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, improving with age is simply a matter of course.
They released their fifth full-length album under the name Satan (they released albums under the name Blind Fury as well as Pariah) on September 7. Entitled Cruel Magic, the album is their first for Metal Blade Records, and features the familiar lineup of legendary vocalist Brian Ross (Blitzkrieg), amazing guitarists Russ Tippins and Steve Ramsay (Skyclad), along with the dynamic Graeme English (Skyclad) on bass, and the smooth, fierce Sean Taylor behind the drum kit.
The album cover, in keeping with the theme of their last two studio albums since their 2011 reformation, once more evokes in themes of fantasy the very real degradation of civilization going on around us. As icons from the past, the perspective Satan presents is one at odds with the plastic, fake, and unsustainable direction mankind is heading in; it erupts out of their instruments in much the same way.
The material on Cruel Magic follows on from 2015’s glorious Atom By Atom and 2013’s Life Sentence before it, but with just a bit more abandon and sense of spontaneity. On the speedy "Death Knell For A King" refreshing harmonies and riffs for days evoke Killers-era Iron Maiden, and all that was happening around that time and place. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, as the men who comprise this band were largely front and center for that movement.
Clearly helping their own cause by cutting any filler out of their writing sessions, “Who Among Us,” being a deeper track on the album, is an absolutely master-class example of how a band writing music since the late 70’s can stun and amaze all these years later. Fans of the style will be swept away by the balladry of the intro, then flattened by the gusto of the guitars, English’s wicked bass runs, and the vigorous tempo that soon takes over. Ross’ voice sounds fantastic, with some sharp backup accompaniment for good measure. In the middle, some more Maiden-esque rhythm sections take over, until the song morphs into some simply brilliant twin-guitar harmonies and fantastic soloing. "Who wants the truth?" implores Ross at the 4:05 mark. Fans of the old-school demand it, and Satan delivers.
While “Who Among Us” might be my personal highlight, Cruel Magic is chock full of excellent moments across its 10 songs. “The Doomsday Clock” is a how-to lesson in NWOBHM 101. It never sounds tired, or like a re-tread. Something about the way Ross delivers some of the lines has a devil-may-care punk effect, combined with the pure energy of the soloing and the fast-picking going on with Ramsay and Tippins. Satan is enjoying themselves and really just playing the music written in their hearts since day one.
Its hard to find fault with Cruel Magic. If one tries, one could possibly make an argument that the first minute and a half of “Ophidian” almost gets a little dull. But don’t worry, the back half of the song is there to pick up and take some excellent lyrics, inject some great vocal harmonies, and a mid-paced chug to pull it together. Again, completely addictive soloing infects the song and the album in most pleasing fashion.
Its evident in the opener, right away. “Into The Mouth Of Eternity” rolls into the listener and drops a mighty gauntlet of pure heavy metal, driving a hard pace that nearly takes it into speed metal territory. The title track is a bit off-kilter, but again, quite heavy. And it has some cowbell! Somewhere Christopher Walken is smiling. Thematically about the ills of power upon the shoulders of humanity, the drawn-out chorus takes just a little bit of growing to settle in.
With Cruel Magic, 2018 just received an album that should be at or near the top of everyone’s list for album of the year. Satan, some 40 years on from their inception, has made an album that contains all your favorite elements in the traditional heavy metal style and offers them up in a way that will feel completely familiar to you, and yet take you down paths within this framework that you have not yet tread. And that, my friends, is its own (un)cruel magic.