Review: Zephaniah – Stories from the Book of Metal
Speed metal is a force to be reckoned with and it’s been that way for decades. Unfortunately, it’s a style much more preferred outside of the USA. Luckily, Zephaniah didn’t get the memo and released ‘Stories from the Book of Metal’.
Opening the album is the very manowar-esque ‘The Metal Prayer’. This instrumental track is driven by orchestral synths that would fit perfectly with an epic quest in the Elder Scrolls universe. After holding back on the metal for several minutes, the quickening of the double bass drum gives the signal that the song is about to kick into gear. A few seconds later, speedy, melodic and highly technical guitars, thunderous drums, and driving bass lines join, and at times overpower, the synths showing that Zephaniah is not a run of the mill high fantasy band, but one with serious skills.
The Metal Prayer ended with a powerful voiceover in similar fashion to many of Manowar’s epics giving the strong feeling that this would be an album dedicated to high fantasy. ‘Antietam’ shatters that expectation with a tune that is clearly about the infamous battle from the American Civil War and its terrible costs. Lyrical themes aside, Antietam marks the album’s debut of vocalist Logan Detwiler, who quickly shows talent with a clean but somewhat muted voice, though this is likely a production issue. Regardless, Detwiler certainly has the voice of a power metal singer and is well matched with his band, for the technicality of the guitar solos, atmosphere, and rhythm section of Antietam are tight and impressive.
Opening with a fret shredding lead guitar and heavy drums, ‘Avenger of Souls’ shows the promise of an anthem early on but a sudden pause to allow for vocal solo interrupts the flow of the song shortly after. These disruptive pauses wreck havoc throughout the song, for although the double bass is an integral part of modern heavy metal, muting all but the double bass for a few seconds after a certain verse more than once ruins the flow. Regardless, the instrumentation is flawless, especially the pair of guitar solos in the latter half of the track. If one thing can be said of Avenger of Souls, it’s that it features one of the best guitar solos on the entire album.
After two fast, hard hitting tracks a ballad is certainly welcome, and that is just what we get with ‘Deep Breath’. Driven by light piano, this melancholy tune dealing with the issue of keeping morale during the darkest hour of a battle, but it doesn’t stay light for long. Thunderous guitars soon take over and give Detwiler’s vocals an extra boost in power even as his vocal delivery echoes the angst and sadness of a tired warrior not yet ready to give up the fight. As with all previous tracks, Deep Breath features a skillful guitar solo that, while reserved in intensity, gives the song much strength making for an excellent anthem before the guitars and drums surrender once more to the piano featured at the beginning.
Like Deep Breath, ‘Fight for the King’ opens with a melancholy piano, but within seconds it suddenly and explosively kicks into a whirlwind of speed and heaviness. Nothing much more can be said for Fight for the King that hasn’t been said in regard to any of the previous songs. The speed and technicality is there, and the vocals are as satisfying as ever, but at this point the album is in need of something fresh to keep its upward momentum. This is achieved with ‘Fight for Love’, which begins with a bass line that is so catchy that it is sure to creep into your brain and never leave. Making the song even more appealing is that Detwiler pushes his vocals a little harder achieving much more power in his voice and striking higher notes. Even better, the bass plays a more prominent role, even going as far as to duel with the lead guitar at points. Lastly, Fight for Love is easily one of the fastest, heaviest and quite possibly the best track on the entire album giving a strong feeling that this could be the first single of the album.
As if Fight for Love was not epic enough, ‘Blackbeard’s Revenge’ gives listeners another late album anthem that, too, is likely to become a single. The heaviness and speed are well-balanced and acts as a prime example of what Zephaniah is capable of as a whole. In fact, the guitars are at their very best in this track, as are the vocals – the deep, throaty pirate voice, chanting and evil laugh were certainly a great touch. In fact, the diversity of Detwiler’s vocals was not only refreshingly, it makes one wonder why he was holding out for so long.
Following Blackbeard’s Revenge is another anthem, ‘The Lone Warrior’. Like all of its speedy predecessors The Lone Warrior keeps the adrenaline pumping as Detwiler tells the story of a lone warrior fighting against the odds. Once more, the rhythm section is on par and the bass takes a prominent stance rather than be drowned out by the heaviness of the guitars. The very same can be said of ‘Flame of the Dragon’, for after eight solid power metal tracks, one thing is for certain with Zephaniah – they are extremely fast with their shredding, their drummer has no mercy for his kit, and their lyricist has a mastery over his craft. If you enjoy fast paced metal with high fantasy and history mixed in then this is one band you need to check out! 9/10