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Overture To Madness

Pure Steel (2015)
Rating: 8.5/10

Goodness, gracious me. Pure Steel label is literally lapping up every band that has made a return from its sweaty grave. Ohio’s Axemaster is the latest batch of once lost souls now given a home on the Pure Steel roster so as to unleash its latest fury upon the world of metal.

It seems like a century ago when I purchased their 1987 debut Blessing In The Skies, and have scratched my head ever since wondering just what happened to it? Anyway, for those of you who do not remember this fantastic band, then let me give you a brief history lesson.

Axemaster formed in 1985 and released their demo Slave To The Blade the following year, which was then followed in 1987 by the debut nine-tracker. Back then the line-up featured Christopher Michael on vocals / bass, Joe Sims on guitar and Brian Henderson on the sticks. Over the years, they would suffer several line-up changes in nigh on every department except for the guitar of Sims. In 1990 Axemaster released its sophomore chunk entitled Death Before Dishonor, but a year later changed their name to The Awakening and existed for another four years until their demise.

Now though, the axe is back so to speak. With Sims once again pulling the strings, it’s only right that Axemaster should be mentioned in the same breath as fellow revitalised stalwarts Ruthless and Trauma. Overture To Madness sees Sims and Henderson joined by two new faces. First up we have bassist Jim Curtis who was enlisted in 2011, while in 2013 vocalist Geoff McGraw joined the ranks.

Now, for those of you whom recall the old Axemaster stuff, you’ll be pleased to know that this new offering lives up to the past in most parts. Of course, there’ll always be something magical about those creaky 80s albums, but it’s only natural that this time round Axemaster has upped the production values. Sometimes, this of course does have a tendency to detract or give the sound an overall glossy shine – in turn creating an almost cold feel – although there’s enough strong material on here to suggest that despite the fact Axemaster wants to move with the times, they are also respecting their legion of original fans.

With this in mind, we plunge straight into the waters of this new album via the atmospheric strains of the opener ‘Entering Madness’, which is a short instrumental to lead us down the dark passage towards ‘Sanity’s Requiem’; a crushing juggernaut of a track which reminds me of Metallica as it comes chugging across the horizon.

Indeed, it sounds like it was born from fire around 1988 as the drums plod with ominous delight and McGraw’s deep vocal sneer comes to the fore. It’s a great way to start the new record, and it just gets better. ‘Forsaken’ is a raging classic again boasting a thrash edge, but it’s very much traditional power metal at its core and boasts a killer sinister riff. Meanwhile, ‘Dream Or Nightmare’ adds extra melody but features some brilliant guitar work from Sims; at first simmering with suspense, and then twisted and perverse as the track evolves.

If there’s one thing that so many of the revival bands suffer from, it’s the rather tepid nature in which their albums are produced, but with Axemaster’s latest offering – and the same goes with Trauma and Ruthless – the emphasis seems to be on the crushing guitar sound, which flows throughout this like a river of darkness. In a sense the rest of the band become bystanders, but they do add their own qualities to an album which is all killer and no filler – the most notable anthems being the gloomy metallic ballad ‘Peeling Skin’, the grim trudge of ‘Sinister’ with its doomy aspects and the lumbering oath that is ‘Dark Souls’.

Hats off again to old masters teaching new dogs new tricks, Axemaster realising there’s no point sitting on your laurels and hoping everyone will remember what has gone before. With that in mind, they’ve set out their stall and constructed a gargantuan, doom-laden, Goth-rich traditional metal platter to shake the bones of the old, the new and the dead.

Neil Arnold

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