Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Review: ICY STEEL (self-titled debut)

In the vast space and time continuum of Metal, through out centuries, epochs, ages, and dynasties, there are albums that just kick your 8 Cent ass so hard you bolt upright, grab a sword, slay some f*&king dragons, eat a motorcycle, or whatever. When that album and band turns out to be very obscure and unknown, you feel like you've just discovered a great hidden gem buried deep in the Mines Of Moria. It may not be perfect, but even its imperfection adds to its perfection, if you know what I mean! You feel lucky and privileged to have discovered the band, and you are filled with desire to spread the word that this is *NOT* just another insignificant album, lost in the oceanic wave of discs released each year. It is the proverbial Eight Cent diamond in the rough, the kind of discovery that collectors and true fans go ape sh*t over!

Such is the self-titled debut of Italian EPIC Metal band Icy Steel, which was released last year. I have heard a billion Metal albums in my day, but this one goes down into the Rudo Anvilmeister 8 Cent Metal Hall of Fame, enshrined in its own special spot in that vast museum of Metallic Art. Being from Italy, Icy Steel belong to the burgeoning EPIC Metal scene coming out of "The Boot" and Greece. I wrote an introductory piece on this scene a while ago on R8CM (which can be found here). While Icy Steel have a lot in common with these bands, all of which I love, they have something special that sets them apart. I've tried to figure out what is their "Ingredient XXX," the hidden voodoo that makes their debut album so great. I can't help but think it is their "restraint" that makes the big difference.

So holy f*&king sh*t, RESTRAINT??? Give me 8 Cents! How in the world can restraint be a virtue in a Metallic genre that emphasizes OVER THE TOP (OTT) bombastic glory??? Well, all things are relative, and in proportion, my dear readers. Since this is EPIC F*&KING METAL, of course, it is by nature OTT and BOMBASTIC, and those are really good things! But the constructive criticism I have for this new scene, is that sometimes it goes just a tad overboard, especially the vocals. They seem "over ripe." So in your face, so over done, and sometimes so off-key, it makes you split in half (and believe me, I love excess!)! For example, take the vocals of Sacred Blood, a wonderful band that I really like. At times the vocals detract from the overall quality of otherwise an excellent band and a very good debut album. Icy Steel' s singer, Stefano Galeano does goes flat on occasion, but generally has much better command of his strong vox, and also uses a softer voice for more nuance.

You see, I like nuance. And I like tension. If you do it right, restraint can yield lots of tension, the tension of knowing things could explode all over the place, and you keep kinda expecting it to, but it doesn't, and keeps you engaged and on the edge. Then when it does explode, its like an orgasm! That is what Icy Steel does, particularly in their guitar playing (props to Stefano Galeano & Alberto Eretta). Melody is very important in Icy Steel. The melodies seem a 100,000 years old, and they probably are. There isn't too much original in their music, but that isn't the point. It is finding the perfect mix of classic EPIC Metal ingredients, simmered slowly in a broth of 8 Cents, with the stew acquiring incredible taste and boadacious body as it cooks.

Icy Steel's album is very much rooted in the classic Traditional and EPIC Metal from the 1980's. What is funny and odd, aside from their obvious nods to Judas Priest (definitely utilizing some well-placed Halfordian yelps), the twin Maiden guitar sound, and the obligitato reverence of Manilla Road, what comes to mind is some *VERY* obscure 80's Metal bands, like Oxenkiller, Exxplorer, the mighty GRIFFIN, and a tiny bit of Fates Warning's "Night On Brocken." Icy Steel utilize those ingredients, along with melody and restraint, in a very POWERFUL way to reach maximum IMPACT of Strong Songs by Strong Men!!! Say Yeah!

This is mighty stuff. There are 9 epics, as well as the prerequisite short intro song, that conjure up a time past when Men were Men, and Metal was Metal. The guitar playing is pretty f*&king exquisite, especially for some guys who are not the most technical players, or the fastest, but play with an infinite amount of heart. It is very, very moving... Moving me close to tears on many an occasion (oh!). There are dual leads, there are solo leads, there is powerful riffing, all of it of an incredible righteous nature. What a joy! What an orgasm! The vocals as I said are powerful, but not over ripe and stinky like a mushy pear. I love the vocal harmonies used in most songs, and there are some really cool chant like things in the classic track "Corrupted King." These chants sound almost Gregorian in nature, and certainly appeal to my old Catholic indentured servitude (Give Me a Holy 8 Cents!).

If this self-titled gem has a flaw, it is that sometimes the playing sounds too tentative. In some places, the band needs to gel a little better, with a more natural sound-like-you-are-playing-live vibe. Let's not confuse"tentative" with"restraint." They are very different things. Restraint is holding something back. Tentative sounds like something is holding you back. For one thing, the drums are pretty passive, and well... tentative. They could be more dynamic. If the whole thing "swung" a little more, this album would be even that much better (and by swing, I don't mean Benny Goodman!).

Another really 8 Cent thing about the album is that the lyrics and vocals are in English, and it is so incredibly obvious that Icy Steel and singer Stefano Galeano are far from fluent in it. The singing is very phonetic at times, and the pro-nun-ci-a-tion and syl-lab-ic accents are all over the place. Plus, some of the lyrics are way out there. It almost reminds of 80's French DEMO-FO monsters Mutha Corpse (new musics are rising out of the earths!). For example in "Corrupted King":

"There once was a noble commander,
to become blood has poured him
He has won over two hundred wars,
but his destiny changed is,
when his name became God..."

So I say, "GIVE ME 8 CENTS!" This does not bother me at all. In fact, it makes the whole album more endearing to me. I love all the Metal guys who go out there and try to learn English, and some times fracture it so bad it comes out better than if it was right! Meanwhile most of us stupid, fat, lazy, Americans only have a half-assed knowledge of our own language, and that is it! So hats off to you, Icy Steel, for trying. However, I do know that this kind of misuse of language will put off some of the more refined and cultured listeners out there.

So all in all, the tentative nature of the playing and the language issue smacks of a band making their first album. To be honest, I am not complaining, just trying to tell it as it is. I expect even better things on their next opus, which they have started work on. They also have a new drummer, so we'll see how that goes. The bottom line is, this is a classic P-I-E-C-E of Metal, worthy of anybody tracking down and purchasing, even if that might be a quest to the Mines of Moria, because it ain't that easy to find. However, I recently got a copy from The End Records in the States, so go for it!!!

Here at "Rudo's Eight Cent Marvels," I will write about big bands, because I love a lot of big bands. But I especially love to write about obscure, "little" bands, who are anything but little. Icy Steel's debut is MONSTROUS in terms of quality of gr8 songs, gr8 playing, and the Sacred Sacrament of 8 Cents! Buy it!!!

For more on Icy Steel, check out their Myspace page here, and listen to four of the ten tracks. You won't regret it!

Give Me 8 Cents,

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