, October 5th, 2011 12:43
In a perfect world, music would not only be a level playing field, but the groundsmen who lovingly tended that field would get paid the exact same wage as the players who kicked it full of divots of a weekend. There would be no bitterness or suspicion or snobbery or Chinese whispers, and bands like Saviours would be written about solely on the merits of their songs, which paste together galloping herds of classic metal riffs and post-Lemmy throat expectorations. This isn't a perfect world, though. God knows I'm not a perfect listener: I have musical biases and blindspots and bursts of bigotry, just like any of you chumps, and sometimes a producer or label or combination of adjectives will stop me listening to something before it's even had a chance. Probably not the way it should be, but it's a filter system of sorts.
Also, seeing as this isn't a specialist metal website, there's a good chance you don't know who Saviours are, so writing about their fourth album as if they were Radiohead or someone would be a bit weird. Their backstory is vaguely unusual, and has caused a few if-it-ain't-metal-it-ain't-shit backpatch sorts to turn their noses up at them, but just because those guys often have killer taste in metal overall, it doesn't mean you have to listen to everything they say. Birthed seven years ago in Oakland, at their inception three-quarters of the band (one member has since left) had just broke up Yaphet Kotto, who played the kind of strung-out emotional hardcore that the late 90s and early millennium had a glut of. Drummer Scott Batiste was also in The Pattern, a punky garage band who did a good but forgotten album on Wichita; bassist Cyrus Comiskey has a longish CV, my favourite bit being (thank you, Discogs) his vocal part on a Gravy Train!!!! song about a threesome. So although the brand of metal they play sounds pretty purist, Saviours are demonstrably not metal purists. Sometimes this makes people think they're getting conned or something.
If you insist your bands boast a lifetime of unwavering dedication to the genre they now toil in, this album isn't for you; also, you're an idiot. Like a lot of the best classic metal practitioners of the last few years, you can identify the punk rock DNA under their skin. It's prudent to avoid a 'punk rockers playing metal sound like this' line of observation, I think – you can easily imagine Motörhead being roped into it, despite not really being punks at all – but there's something about the untethered squall of the guitars on 'The Eye Obscene', track one on Death's Procession, that recalls Turbonegro at their most grandstanding. 'Crete'n' locks on to the same boozy Diamond Headisms as Portland's Christian Mistress did on their Agony & Opium mini-LP last year, praise indeed seeing as it was possibly the best metal release of 2010. 'God's End', the fastest album cut, is getting into early speed metal territory, especially the energetic solo about four minutes in.
As was the case on Accelerated Living, Saviours' often storming 2009 album, their essential default mode is Seventies classic metal with the thickness of modern production. Which merely means better studio gear and the luxury to tweak elements judiciously, rather than a self-defeating tower of Pro Tooled artifice. This is a combo that's worked a charm for some of their most obvious peers – Mastodon, High On Fire, The Gates Of Slumber and The Sword, who like Saviours are signed to the Kemado label and who have had to work several times as hard as Saviours to get metalheads' respect. Thin Lizzy are a looming, shadow-casting influence, as was also the case on Accelerated Living; this time out, it may be still more pronounced. The guitars on 'To The Grave Possessed' and 'Fire Of Old' are hugely indebted to Lizzy's Brian Robertson/Scott Gorham duality. Certain specifics, like the placement in the mix, might have a fair amount to do with producer Phil Manley: he's a member of the similarly indulgo-metal Fucking Champs, albeit a recent addition, and the often Eighties-bombastic Trans Am.
Let's not get it twisted: Saviours don't represent the absolute pinnacle of a genre, or even a specific pocket of one, as things stand in 2011. Most of the bands mentioned in a comparative sense here are superior, on their best day, to Saviours, although Death's Procession is better than the new Mastodon album, and at least sounds better than the last High On Fire joint (huh huh, he said joint). That still leaves plenty of room for goodwill, so long as they uphold some basic tenets of classic metal. Sing about ancient history/sci-fi guff/metaphysical frets about death; have a sense of humour by all means, but sing like it's as serious as a family funeral service; tour like Black Flag to the power of Hannibal and aim for the same degree of killerness in your riffs as you'd expect from your metal heroes. Happy to report that Saviours tick all those boxes.