If ever there was a tale of greatness that comes with age, it might just be Satan’s 2018 release Cruel Magic, a collection of tracks so monumental they pretty much blow their back catalogue out of the water, even though their back catalogue blows a lot of bands out of the water anyway. Yes, it is to my shame that I never really took much notice of this band over the years – they were too far away from the punk end of metal I was involved with, and I can;t help but think the name did them a disservice – but hear me out, perhaps it gives me the chance to be objective about the discography. Yes, you might have loved Court In The Act when it came out in 1983, and nowadays it might remind you of when you were young, but was it a collection of back to back songs so great they could have been released as singles? Was it really that good?
Come on, this album is a band at the absolute TOP of their game, and yes, singles – Cruel Magic sounds like a singles collection album you picked up on vinyl in the 80s, like a kind of best of. Are there any duffers? Not really. Who Among Us could be the strongest track on any other bands fifth or sixth album, but the bar is so high here that it is the only chink in the armour one could perhaps find, and it’s still a good song!
2015’s Atom by Atom was really good, but not as good as this, a technical feast slathered with melodic hooks. Composition wise, what you hear is a kind of avant-garde thrash power metal, accurately played, with fast, angular, remote chord sequences that provide the same sort of tonal skeletal structure that 80s band like the Cardiacs offered us, only Satan are not annoying like they were. Alex Harvey maybe? Voivod, to a degree? It’s definitely theatrical without being too self indulgent or wimpish – this is executed like a boss! The musicianship is inspirational in every department – Sean Taylor’s solid, measured drum performances, Graham English’s intelligent powerhouse bass lines underpinning the twin guitar work of Russ Tippins and Steve Ramsey, and the operatic tones of Brian Ross. Anyone who has seen them live will have to admit that, bonkers as the guy may appear, he’s also very likeable, and boy can he sing!
The production makes the most of the songwriting arrangements and is both clinical and revealing. The drum sound is so good it almost makes me weep – either that is a superb reverb plugin, or they were recorded in a large and expensive wooden room.
My only concern with this album is this – how are they going to follow it up? On the tour early this year, Brian Ross said they were already working on a new album. If they manage to keep this quality, then we might wonder if they really have made a pact with the devil? ( I should point out that despite the name, this band is definitely not very satanic ).
The release comes in a bewildering array of packages – I plumped for the digipak CD, because I’m old enough to remember how annoying vinyl is.
Favourite tracks are The Doomsday Clock, Ghosts of Monongagh ( what a chorus ), Death Knell For a King, Into The Mouth of Eternity, Legions Unbound, Cruel Magic…
If the video above strikes you as it did I – then make sure you send some money their way and get yourself a copy of Cruel Magic.