Creating a concept album is a tricky business. Getting the story convincing and interesting, while at the same time keeping the songs strong enough to work also independently needs usually a whole lot more work than composing a ‘normal’ album. In the field of heavy metal, the puzzle of successfully getting a concept piece together has been tackled over the years by many bands, resulting in a wide range of more or less succesful efforts. The music fans have been graced with some truly excellent conceptual releases, such as Queensryche’s classic masterpiece Operation Mindcrime or various brilliant albums by bands like Savatage or King Diamond that have taken the conceptual path as their guiding force. On the other hand there are numerous sad examples of concept stories that fall victim to their own grandiose aims, making the story difficult to follow and the individual songs becoming incomprehensible listings of weird character names and cliche ridden storylines that result in a total musical mess.
The most anticipated and promising upcoming conceptual metal release at the moment is undoubtedly Judas Priest’s Nostradamus album, but as we’re waiting for that to hit the stores, let’s have a look at another worthy addition to the line of these ‘metal novels’ – US band Cage’s 2007 release entitled ‘Hell Destroyer’.
As far as the subject is concerned, Cage definitely hasn’t taken the easiest road while creating the story of ‘Hell Destroyer’. The idea of the death and ultimately resurrection of the Devil himself, taking the listener on a time journey starting from the crucifixion of Christ and proceeding through various events to the future of mankind is a huge story to handle. Decision to build the album around a story of this scale, involves a lot of work and a big risk to get everything very confusing. Especially as the story was originally planned as a double album, but eventually squeezed into just one.
Luckily, the story of ‘Hell Destroyer’ is well thought-of, and as a formidable lyricist, vocalist Sean Peck manages to keep the story firmly together through the breathtaking journey of 20 songs. And though the basic setting and characters of the story have been used a thousand times before, Peck has managed to add personal touches and twists to the plot. Thus the story becomes considerably richer and lures the listener straight in. For example the idea of using the DNA from the famed shroud of Turin for cloning purposes, is real food for thought… as, regardless of anyone’s religious views, with the possibilities of today’s science and all the conflicts around different religions, the idea summons some scary pictures to mind. The similar, ingenious at best, ideas are scattered around the album, although the story has also more straightforward moments in it.
With the story well written, how about the music? Cage announces their big influence being Judas Priest, and with the scorching twin guitars, high pitch vocals and certain similarities in lyrical themes the comparison is easy. But though there’s a whole lot of Painkiller present in Cage’s sound, the band manages to add a good amount of their own ideas to the mix, sounding like Cage instead of a band trying to emulate someone else.
The keyword to describe ‘Hell Destroyer’ is ‘furious’. After a short menacing intro, the album’s title track ignites with Peck’s ear-shattering scream that is soon overcome with powerful riffs by guitarists Dave Garcia and Anthony McGinnis. Instantly hooking stuff for any fan of this brand of metal. And if the title track won’t do it, the following number ‘I Am The King’ is bound to get those heads banging. With some more sharp dual guitars and a chorus to die for, ‘I Am The King’ is perhaps the most addictive track on the album and I wouldn’t be surprised if this one will become a big live favourite on Cage gigs. Mosh-pit material to the max!
The rest of the album follows the path set by the opening songs. A couple of notable picks from the story could be impressive ‘Bohemian Grove’ that sounds like the best song King Diamond never did. Or ‘Rise of The Beast’ that uses deep guttural backing vocals to bring it more saturation. Mind you, on the previous Cage album ‘Darker Than Black’ the growls sounded a bit forced, but ‘Rise Of The Beast’ sees the use of them maturing into a very fitting effect.
At points briefly interrupted by spoken connective pieces, the whole ‘Hell Destroyer’ album is packed with ferocious songs one after another, charging forward with full power. And though this is one of the very strengths of the album, it’s also one of the few things that might’ve needed a slight fine tuning. Clocking around an hour and 20 minutes, the high-speed velocity of the album leaves very little time for the listener to draw breath. And though this is no fault as such, maybe a song or two with a bit slower tempo would’ve further enhanced the power of the fast songs. Matter of taste, of course, but personally I would’ve welcomed a drop of speed to a gloomy ballad or at least a more mid-tempo track somewhere during the latter part of the record. Just to bring some variation to the whole package.
But overall, ‘Hell Destroyer’ is a very good slab of blazing hot heavy metal with powerful songs and a well executed story. The singing of Sean Peck has gotten better still, and the guy won’t pale in comparison with the more well-known metal screamers, setting the tone of his voice perfectly to the overall sinister theme of the album. The priest-like guitars, from riffs to solos and dual leads of Garcia and McGinnis are impressive, and as drummer Mikey Neil and bassplayer Mike Giordano handle their posts flawlessly there isn’t anything to complain.
With ‘Hell Destroyer’ Cage rises to the top floor of the US classical/power metal scene, at least for the time being surpassing struggling giants such as Iced Earth and easily claiming victory over a whole bunch of lesser-known acts. What the future holds, remains to be seen, but currently there’s a strong wind on Cage’s sails.
2. Hell Destroyer
3. I Am The King
4. The Circle Of Light
6. Born In Blood
9. Rise Of The Beast
10. Cremation Of Care
11. Bohemian Grove
12. Final Proclamation
13. From Death To Legend
14. Legion Of Demons
16. Fall Of The Angels
17. Fire And Metal
18. Beyond The Apocalypse
19. The Lords Of Chaos
20. Metal Devil
21. King Diamond (bonus track)