It’s been a little over two years since Northern Ireland metal champions Stormzone released what was regarded by many critics and fans alike as arguably their best album to date, the titanic ‘Three Kings‘ – an opus which cemented their position as the region’s premier exponents of their art. Now, with newcomers Ironheart snapping at their heels with their own magnificent debut, SZ return to reclaim their title with their most ambitious album to date – a huge conceptual album based, as its title elucidates, around the seven deadly sins.
‘SS’ is based around the story of the latest incarnation of ‘The Dealer’ – a character who has featured, in various forms, on each of Stormzone’s previous albums, from acting as Cuchulainn’s guardian on ‘Zero To Rage’ to the title character of the abovementioned ‘Three Kings’ offering.
The ambition of the album is evident right from the very start, with the haunting violin and drum intro to ‘Bathsheba’, before the song rips into a roundhouse of volleying riffs and a powerhouse percussive beatdown from Davy Bates, whose enduring enthusiasm for what he does can be practically felt with every contact between stick and skin. With Graham McNulty’s bass rumbling away in the background, Steve Moore’s frenetic fretwork drives the song forward with the speed of Lance Armstrong fleeing a drugs test, while there are some neat eastern touches, especially in the rolling riff which dominates the rousing final section. Over the top of everything, John ‘Harv’ Harbinson delivers another soaring performance, his rich falsetto rising and falling in perfect harmony with the rise and fall of the body of the music.
‘Another Rainy Night’ is more of a traditional hard rocker, and is the first song to introduce the darker themes which underpin and envelop the album as a whole. With the haunting memory of the preceding track running through its lyric, Harv’s performance is suitably dense and traumatic, while Moore’s guitar twists with the fever of its nightmare subject matter. ‘Your Time Has Come’ punches as hard and effectively as Conor McGregor, and features another hugely impressive performance from ‘Basher’ Bates, whose provides not only a rock solid foundation but also surprising and simply effective little fills which match both McNulty’s equally concrete base runs and Moore’s harmonic asides.
‘The One That Got Away’ initially references Stormzone’s power metal heritage, but slowly evolves into another relatively traditional hard rocker, characterized by a suitably spiteful vocal from Harbinson and a punchy main riff (and final section) which ensure that it will work extremely well in the live arena. ‘I Know Your Pain’ sees the band descending once again into the dank depths of Dr Dealer’s worst nightmares, and again features a storming (sic) performance from Basher, and is the perfect precursor for the brooding yet towering title track, which dominates the middle of the album, while ‘You’re Not The Same’ stomps it’s way through your chest cavity – thanks in no part to an elegiac bass performance by McNulty – with a dark intent of the sort which has been hinted at throughout the album so far but is brought to full fruition. The dark theme remains through ‘Raise The Knife’ which, like a couple of the earlier tracks, has strong echoes of Queensrÿche at their most grandiose, but with a much more acidic edge than the clean-cut Americans could ever have imagined.
The album tumbles into its final third with the fiercesome ‘Abandoned Souls’, which rattles along at a sub-thrash pace but bubbles and broils with fatalistic venom. ‘Special Brew’ is another darkly atmospheric piece, with Harbinson’s vocals sweeping and gliding over the dense, rolling riff, which in turn is as cynically seductive as the subject matter. ‘Master Of Sorrow’ is classic Stormzone, with its use of contrasting slow and fast passages, building its momentum slowly, but adding that extra layer of broodiness which characterizes and summarizes the overall sense of intensity which permeates the opus as a whole. Closer ‘Born Of The Damned’ is another slow builder, with Harv’s vocal and Moore’s chugging riff dominating the first two choruses, while Basher and McNulty gradually are drawn in to deliver a suitably anthemic finale and another song which should establish itself as a lighter-waving, fist-punching live anthem before too long.
‘Seven Sins’ is an album which may initially confuse some diehard fans with its darker overtones, but eventually will wriggle its way deep into their hearts and souls. It hopefully will them over some new fans as well, especially those who, as the band themselves openly admit, may have seen them as being “too happy” in the particular brand of power metal which they purvey – and it most definitely will not make an impression with those who, like two members of Team PM arbitrarily dismissed it as “another Stormzone album, another tea coaster”… But, the beauty of this hoary old music business is that everyone is entitled to their opinion: and, in the opinion of this particular hoary old music writer, in ‘Seven Sins’ Stormzone have produced an album of ambition, scope and depth and one which shows a band mature enough to take on new challenges with aplomb and confidence (and still retain their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks!), while providing them with the platform on which to stage the next stage of their career.
Bathsheba / Another Rainy Night / Your Time Has Come / The One That Got Away / I Know Your Pain / Seven Sins / You’re Not The Same / Raise The Knife / Abandoned Souls / Special Brew / Master Of Sorrow / Born Of The Damned
Recommended listening: You’re Not The Same
‘Seven Sins’ is released via Metal Nation Records on August 3.
When the album is released, Stormzone will be a running a special competition on their website, offering the fans the chance to literally unlock four extremely special bonus songs. Clues are buried within the album’s artwork and must be answered in the correct order to obtain the free download: fail, and a special curse is unleashed instead.
Look out for PlanetMosh’s forthcoming interview with Stormzone singer John ‘Harv’ Harbinson and guitarist Steve Moore, when they will be giving us their very personal insight into the album and its concept, as well as talking about recent developments regarding the band’s personnel and their future plans. We also will be running a competition to win two tickets to the official ‘Seven Sins’ launch party – at Belfast’s historic Limelight 1 on Saturday September 5, as well as a signed copy of the album. All this is coming your way on the album’s official release date, August 3.