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Sceptor - Rise to the Light

Sceptor
Rise to the Light
by Chris Hicklin at 18 October 2021, 3:15 PM

In 2009 a then unknown German/American collaboration named SCEPTOR unleashed their first offering on the world, a 7” single named “Introducing… SCEPTOR,” followed up in 2012 by the band’s first album “Take Command!”. Unfortunately, the band promptly broke up and remained unknown, until now that is. “Rise To the Light” represents the band’s second full length stab at conquering the world of Metal, and based on what is up for grabs here, it has a pretty decent chance of succeeding.

Tastefully introducing proceedings, we have a classic Metal tradition being observed, the instrumental intro. Arpeggiated clean and dual harmonized distorted guitars work together to create an atmospheric lead into the main body of the album. Think “Battery” and you won’t be too far off the mark.

First track proper “Crown of Nails” is a by-the-numbers way to kick off the album, but a strong track regardless. The band’s treatment of the bass is very promising, highlighting it on several occasions, rather than just stuffing it to the back of the stage like many traditional Metal acts do. But the album doesn’t really get interesting until “The Curse of Orlac”, which sounds deceptively orthodox at first, but when hitting the chorus suddenly transforms into a fascinating meld of groaning semi-dissonant guitars that heave in the background, and grungy harmonized vocals. It seems a little incongruous at first but works. They have combined Traditional Metal and Alt-Rock into something that sounds quite unique.

I will take a moment to talk about the vocals of Bob Mitchell (THE HOUNDS OF HASSELVANDER, Ex-ALCHEMY X, Ex- ATTACKER), which are quite interesting. They are not perfect, that should be said, but Mitchell has one of those voices that takes flaws and turns them into idiosyncrasies that add flavor and depth to the performance. The best (although more extreme) example I can think of is from a completely different end of the rock spectrum, take Greg Dulli, the AFGHAN WHIGS vocalist, who in my opinion can barely sing a note, and yet still manages to sound like exactly the voice the record needs. Mitchell can hit the notes better, but when he doesn’t, you don’t feel it matters.

Mitchell’s vocals are a key part of the success of the title track “Rise To The Light,” where his perfectly imperfect vocals swing from low growls to high pitched screams. Drum rolls give the track a slightly military feel during a break that leads into a controlled and restrained guitar solo. The track is bookended by clean bass and guitar segments that provide a nice juxtaposition to the driving Metal between.

On “Dissension” we depart momentarily from the very US-tinged style of Metal the album has displayed so far and dive headfirst into NWOBHM land, paying tribute to the instantly recognizable bass gallop of Steve Harris, but even here, the choruses switch to more of a US style, with a superb brutal Thrashy riff from Timo Nolden which reminds me a little of modern day Stephen Carpenter.  I very much enjoyed the opening of this track, which features an eerie keyboard intro, which you are only just beginning to digest and enjoy when the guitars unexpectedly kick in and take your head off. This band has a knack of combining different styles, not just on the album, but often on the same song.

Surely the heaviest track on the LP is “Beyond the Unknown” which explodes into life from the first beat. This track is a big headbanger, the rhythm section is on top form here as Flo Bodenheimer’s attacking drums mesh in perfect unison with the furious bass work of K. K. Basement, which may or may not be his real name, I am guessing not. Complete with a top-tier guitar solo by Torsten Lang, this is quintessential Metal.

Bass is front and centre again on “Armour Black” giving Basement his own intro, the guts of which are weaved throughout the track. He has a great molten sound to his instrument, and his playing is very smooth and tasteful. Something is not quite right here though, the bass and guitars are not sitting right together in places, almost like one is out of tune, which is obviously very unlikely. It mars an otherwise decent song.

Final song “Spartacus” is everything we have heard so far distilled into a single track, the song writing is ambitious, as is the performance. Time signature and wild tempo shifts come together to create a dynamic sound that sums up the whole album, as Mitchell cackles knowingly to himself in the background.

The album ends with two bonus tracks, which I will not include in my overall impression of the work as they may or may not be on every version of the release, so I will just limit myself to saying they are strong, particularly the dirge ridden “Shadows in The Maze”.

I don’t know what specifically caused the original demise of this band, or what prompted their return, but I am not complaining. They have crafted a fine album here, it’s more diverse than they seem to think, although only a few tracks have a very memorable melody. The vocals are strong, but perhaps a little more attention could be given to making the tunes stick with you. All participants are clearly very capable musicians, and the production is slick. This band should go from strength to strength, providing they can keep it together this time.

Songwriting: 7
Musicianship: 8
Memorability: 6
Production: 7

3 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Past Reflections
2. Crown of Nails
3. The Curse of Orlac
4. Rise to the Light
5. Dissension
6. Beyond the Unknown
7. Sovereign
8. Armour Black
9. Spartacus
10. Powerhouse (Bonustrack)
11. Shadows in the Maze (Bonustrack)
Lineup:
Bob Mitchell - vocals
Torsten Lang - lead guitars, backing vocals
Timo Nolden - rhythm guitars, backing vocals
K. K. Basement - bass, backing vocals
Flo Bodenheimer – drums
Record Label: Pure Steel Records
     


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