Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Metal Law - Lawbreaker

Metal Law have a name which is so clever and so approachable from a traditional metal fan standpoint that it's not surprising in anyway at all that they are from Germany and basically appeal only to people in Germany. They are just one of a bunch of bands which have accepted that the whole traditional metal / power metal genre is worth investing time into only if you live in or near Germany. There is something intrinsic in the band's style which appeal directly to German metal fans. I remember playing a few fests in Germany and every single person was basically there to hopefully hear something that sounded like Manowar, Judas Priest or Iron Maiden. It's no surprise that Metal Law, in their song Metal Law, on their album Lawbreaker (an obvious homage to Priest's Breaking The Law) name drop references like small skinny suburban white kids knock back cans of PBR and Coors Lite. It's a scene within a scene which exists for itself and supports itself and now and then someone from another country likes a band or something. If there is one thing Germans know, it's how to spot a mediocre traditional metal band and enjoy them without shame. I wish I could do the same.

The album cover is basically all you need to see to know precisely what the album is going to sound like. Let's run down the checklist! Dungeons? Check! Metal Law must have some elements of epic, early US Power metal prevalent. They may even have grandiose complicated twin guitar leads like Attacker's Battle at Helms Deep which the cover reminds me of if you switched the giant insect wasp creature with the most stereotypical metalhead dude ever. Chains? Double Check! Not only is the metal dude, we'll call him Jasper, chained to the wall, but his guitar has even been chained up, just to be safe it doesn't get away. If each brick in the walls could be wrapped in chain, they would be. Jowita is such a talented artist, it's so bizarre how bands ask her for incredibly cliche and easy artwork to make instead of coming up with awesome original ideas. I mean, Lawbreaker could have had album art of so many awesome things like giant metallic authoritarian cyborgs crushing Bieber fans or the severed bodies of criminals being eaten by mechanical amoebic creations... Metal Law instead go with James Hetfield in handcuffs in a dungeon.

Metal Law effectively sound more like Manowar than any other band they so eagerly throw mention at. The epic movement and flow of the songs screams out tracks like Revelation (Death's Angel) or "Sign of the Hammer" or any number off tracks off those first five legendary albums. Interestingly enough, Metal Law are best when they are embracing that style. "Heroes Never Die" gets my pick for best track and it happens to be the most Manowar-y of the songs here. While other tracks are happy to stare directly in Manowar's direction, "Heroes..." looks over at Manowar, hangs out with Manowar, gets drunk with Manowar, then pretends it's Joey DeMaio on Halloween dressing up like Ross the Boss. The opening acoustic intro reminds of "Defender" with Karsten Degling singing straight into your heart. His vocal melodies on this are the strongest on the album as well. The pace of the song is spot on, it builds slowly into the climax chorus. "Lawbreaker," the title track, is also cool with its pseudo-progressive metal intro before it become another Iron Maiden pulled punch.

The album has a few duds though. "Right to Rock", "Between Dark and Light" and "The Caravan" do little for me. They get lost amongst the other tracks on the album and lack any real character. "The Caravan" has some character but its the same character that would killed off first in a bad horror movie. It's the obnoxious kind of character that tells old jokes no one liked to begin with. By the time The Caravan rolls around, I've heard the song five times already on this album alone. It's not particularly bad but it's just one mediocre track too much. "Right to Rock" and "Between Dark and Light" are between good and bad somewhere but I can't justify them being on the album when tracks like "Crusaders..." and "Heroes..." are so good. "Right to Rock" just doesn't have enough punch or heaviness or epicness or distinctiveness to follow "Crusaders..." even if the leads are interesting. I think the drums in this track are what bothers me but I can't put a finger on it.

Honestly though, there is a lot to like about Metal Law's music. It's got a lot of heart and it's produced just right to sound acceptable by cautious metal listeners but not so produced as to frighten away veterans looking for that rough-edged underground hit. As are most of the Metal on Metal releases, this one also happens to be way over-mastered but even with that issue, the guitar tone is still that of an honest hardworking everyday metal band. Leads are vivid and crisply played and are the definite highlight of the album. Karsten and Thomas Parchem are obviously talented guitarists when it comes to leads and intricate guitar phrases but too often I feel they overplay and snuff out some of the rhythmic parts. For example, "Between Light and Dark" has them playing leads over the bridge vocals which detracts from the impact of the following chorus. I wish that instead of simply dub leads over riffs, they spent more time on the actual rhythm riffs themselves. Most are straight forward and forgettable. Even the intro to "Crusaders of Light" is ploddy after the tense and excellent build up in the intro track. The song ends really strong though, which is one of the band's strengths - once they get into the heart of a track, they keep it interesting and varied and interesting. Their other strength - they really write very good overall songs. If Metal Law can become just a little more unique and original, they have a good chance of appealing to US Heavy Metal fans as well as their German base.

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