Greyhawk’s latest full length release Keepers of the Flame reminded me that metal can be fun. In a world filled with pandemics, social injustice and “trumped” up politricks it feels like things can be pretty dark and dismal these days. I have recently been listening to and reviewing heavier fare: Bell Witch, Noctu, and Havok to name a few. It becomes easy to start taking it all too seriously (life, music, the whole thing). I think heavy metal takes itself seriously (as I believe it should), but with such heavy subject matter in such weighty, depressing times it’s easy to get bogged down and fall into a bit of a glossed over haze. This is when I stumbled upon Greyhawk’s latest release. The album is a reminder that metal can have a smile on its face. Keepers of the Flame rocks, bounces and shreds. Greyhawk does take its approach seriously and doesn’t come across as fluff, illegitimate, or parody, it is just lighter and a bit more feel good than my listening choices and the environment have allowed and dictated as of late.
Typically Power Metal that boasts a flavor of 1980’s vintage is not what I’m ordering from the sommelier. Looking at the cover art and promotional pictures of the band, this was not an album I was looking forward to listening to and digesting. In fact, at face value, without hearing a note, I thought I would take much pleasure in reviewing it negatively. I expected a campy over the top, 80’s sound. Somehow, Greyhawk has credibility. Watching the video for “Frozen Star” (link below) for the first time I saw a guitarist in a Hawaiian shirt, a lead singer toting some kind of wizard staff and his head adorned with a leather crown; not to mention the drummer who looks like the featureless, generic, baseline human character at every video game’s character creation screen. I was skeptical. It seemed like Greyhawk should be parody- goofy and silly. Their sound and look is a bit odd maybe. They seem like they might be a bunch of Dungeons and Dragons players who voted to clamor out of the basement and make a band in their free time. Somehow they manage to pull it all off with dignity and a certain legitimacy. Here’s why it works, they believe it, they believe in the music they are making, and I’ll be damned if they didn’t make me believe it too.
Greyhawk took soaring guitar technicality, and fiery, agile vocals from NWOBHM’s Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Virtue; a dash of synthy and thick electronic sound from Post Punk/New Wave and an iconic driving riff set from Whitesnake and early Def Leppard bottled it, threw it in the cellar for 30 some years, pulled the cork and are now filling goblets all throughout the feast halls.
“Don’t Wait for the Wizard” grabs the listener with its opening “2 Minutes to Midnight” influenced riff, dances around with some thrashy guitar/drum infused hair whipping moments and exits with an anthemic chanting. It’s a fun catchy song, but I’m not sure I subscribe to some of the lyrics, “don’t wait for the wizard, for the wizard is you” comes to mind. The words starts to drift across the line of being a bit too cheesy for me. It is still a good song though.
The guitars on Keepers of the Flame are tight and well executed. After listening to the guitar solo on “Halls of Insanity” and the instrumental guitar centric “R.X.R.O.”, it is clear that the guitarist’s technicality trumps his creativity. He is an acrobat on the strings that comes across as bright and lively, however there are times when it sounds like he’s playing dexterity exercises on scales not overly creative expressions. It is not a particularly stirring style of playing but fits in with the band.
The first few minutes of the album’s more ballady contribution “The Rising Sign”, reaches back into the 80’s to resurrect a New Wave, and an almost Pop Rock sound. It draws surprising inspiration from bands like Simple Minds, The Cure, and even early U2. Eventually the song shifts and unfolds a bit and lays down some “hair metal” guitar features that still give a heaviness to it. Take those aforementioned, bands, throw in some old Whitesnake, and add mystically charged Power Metal lyrics that have continuity with the rest of the album, blend it, and you have “The Rising Sign”. It shouldn’t work, but it works.
Of course to play devils advocate, someone looking for dense, depressing or emotion evoking music may not find that here. Greyhawk’s music is well crafted, it is just lighter in tone and execution. Sometimes it’s good to read Dante’s Inferno, and sometimes it’s good to read Harry Potter.
Thanks Greyhawk, you brought a smile to my face and kindled the fire in my hearth, you warmed up my world for 44 minutes. You made me remember heavy metal can be fun. Thanks, I believe.
Released on June 16th via Fighter Records.
- Gates of Time
- Frozen Star
- Drop the Hammer
- Halls of Insanity
- The Rising Sign
- Don’t Wait for the Wizard
- Black Peak
- Masters of the Sky
- Ophidian Throne
- Keepers of the Flame