The old saying “don't judge a book by its cover” applies in just about every situation... even if that book happens to be the Necronomicon. Based on their goofy image and song titles, it first occurred to me that Satan's Wrath must be pulling a comic riff on black metal stereotypes, but as it turns out, that's just an attention-grabbing cover for their true intentions: summoning the dark essence of '80s-era extreme metal, recalling an era before the genre had splintered into dozens of subgroups, when bands like Slayer, Venom, Possessed and Bathory ruled the roost and a band's visual gimmick was mostly limited to sick album art and a few goat-skull props.
Formed just last year, Satan's Wrath is fronted by the ominous-looking Tas Danazoglou (former bassist for supreme UK doom metal unit Electric Wizard), who plays pretty much everything but the guitars on the band's debut album, while those axes are handled ably by Stamos K. Despite the multi-tracking required to round out the sound of a four or five-piece band (complete with some sweet harmonies), the duo's studio sound has a jam-session feel, reinforcing the band's obvious love for the no-frills production of their thrash forefathers. While the production is obviously clean and modern, Tas manages to fatten and warm up the tone with some mighty, rumbling bass licks that also serve as a rock-solid rhythmic foundation, helping to instill a more vintage mood.
They're also not afraid to indulge in some Mercyful Fate-style horror theatrics, as the cheesy but fun mood-setting intro “Leonard Rising: Night of the Whip” demonstrates before getting down to thrashy business in the following cut “Between Belial and Satan.” There's an obvious nod to black metal pioneers Venom in the ominous “One Thousand Goats in Sodom,” but while it's packed with macabre menace, it comes off a bit forced. The title “Hail Tritone, Hail Lucifer” is a reference to a trio of musical notes which in olden days was believed to be inherently evil (if that were true, The Simpsons would be Satan's favorite show; those three opening notes are a perfect tritone), something which bands like Black Sabbath used to classic effect. That said, this duo isn't doing a Sabbath lift here, but it's definitely one of the scariest tracks on the album, taking elements of doom metal and adding a burst of manic momentum.
The homage to '70s-era metal comes instead in the band's theme song “Satan's Wrath,” which digs even deeper into metal's classic vaults, revealing the influence of veteran acts like Deep Purple with sustained chords and a more traditional hard-rock structure, with occasional bluesy touches. The hooky riffs of the instrumental title track (which definitely puts the “gallop” into “Galloping Blasphemy”) lead into “Death Possessed,” which is well-named, given that the song draws heavily on the style of Bay Area death metal pioneers Possessed, not to mention a lethal dose of Slayer. “Death to Life” sports the album's most infectious riffage (especially at the mind-blowing climax), and “Slaves of the Inverted Cross” is a rare moment of clean guitar playing that is in equal parts moody and fearsome.
I'm not sure if their blatantly attention-grabbing public image will work for or against them (they not-so-subtly describe their music as “Unholy sacraments of evil made by dwellers of the twilight” and “horrors that will make priests vomit in agony”), but I'm hoping listeners will look past the theatrical posturing, because this duo's skills as a blackened retro-thrash unit are impressive indeed. For a suitably sick sample, taste the first single “Between Belial and Satan” below...