For the past few years, Cage had been one of those surprising gaps in my power metal collection. I had heard great things about them, but my attempts to get into their two previous albums Science of Annihilation and Supremacy of Steel did not go nearly as well as I expected based on all the praise I had seen for the band, so I made no further efforts to check out their music. Until now, that is. Whatever that something was that I found missing from their previous two albums, it’s there in full force for their upcoming seventh full length release Ancient Evil, which has proven to be both my favorite US power metal album since Pharaoh’s 2012 release Bury the Light, and one of my biggest surprises of 2015.
One thing that immediately sets Ancient Evil apart is that it’s a concept album that takes the form of a really cheesy horror story, apparently based on a novel written by vocalist Sean Peck. As a big fan of concept albums, this immediately caught my attention, and while I certainly wouldn’t say it’s the only reason I enjoy the album as much I do, I definitely think they pulled it off very well. The lyrics are engaging throughout, and the 5-voiceover tracks that advance the plot are all nicely done, while the occasional use of narration during the songs never becomes a distraction. One nice touch is that the band brought in vocalist Blaze Bayley to voice the main character on these tracks, and he did a surprisingly great job.
As for the actual music, this is easily the most enjoyable Cage album I’ve heard so far. For those unfamiliar with the band, they play an extremely aggressive brand of US power metal, with guitarists Dave Garcia and Casey Trask leading the way with excellent thrashy riffs and great solo work throughout. At times the guitar work on this album has a very dark tone, which adds to the horror atmosphere they were going for. This is especially evident on lead single “The Procedure” and following track “The Appetite”. Even compared to other bands in their field, Cage tends to represent the absolute most extreme side of power metal, and this album is certainly no exception. On the flip side, I find this album more accessible than their previous two, in large part due to some surprisingly strong choruses and a larger focus on melodies, especially on instant highlight “The Expedition”, where the vocals during the chorus are simply incredible. Another area where I feel this album is stronger than expected is in the very powerful and crisp production, which allows the riffs to come through stronger than on the much muddier sounding previous album, where I found the production to be especially lacking. Here, none of the raw aggression has been scarified, but everything just sounds much clearer.
Even when I struggled with their previous releases, one thing I always appreciated about Cage was the amazing vocal work of Sean Peck. He is without a doubt one of the best in his field. His high pitched wails are among the best I’ve ever heard, and he has a very powerful voice and aggressive style that fits the music perfectly, but on this album especially I find he does an amazing job toning it down just a bit on the more melodic parts, and he even uses a deeper voice at times to enhance some of the creepier sections. All around, an excellent performance from him, as always.
This album takes very little time to get going. The opening voiceover does a great job of introducing the concept and setting the tone, while the fast paced title track would serve as a great introduction to the band for anyone who hasn’t heard them before, as it’s pretty much a perfect demonstration of what they’re all about. The following track “Behind the Walls of Newgate” is more subdued, but it does an excellent job of showing their more melodic side, as well as the darker side of this album. Perhaps my favourite track on the album is “Blinded by Rage”, yet another heavier track, which starts off at a more controlled pace, before absolutely exploding during the last two minutes, where everything speeds up and goes into overdrive, resulting in easily my favorite two minutes of the album. This leads into one of the more memorable voiceover parts, and then the momentum carries on with “The Expedition”, one of the faster tracks on the album and probably the catchiest and most melodic as well. I find the second half of the album to be a bit more focused on the narrative than on individual tracks, though this works fine as everything flows together well, and there aren’t any less than great songs on the album. My favorite songs in this latter section are “Symphony of Sin” and the much slower but very memorable “Tomorrow Never Came”, which gives way to a delightfully cheesy ending in the brief closing voiceover.
I expected very little from Ancient Evil, so in the end I was pleasantly surprised when it become one of my favorite US power metal albums I’ve heard, as well as one of the best concept albums I’ve heard in recent years. If my experience is any indication, it should serve as great entry point for newcomers, especially those looking for a more brutal, more aggressive brand of power metal, and I’m sure longtime fans of Cage will be pleased with it.
(originally written for myglobalmind: http://myglobalmind.com/2015/09/30/cage-ancient-evil-review/)