I don’t need to tell you what this is. Just look at that gorgeous Ken Kelly artwork, reminiscent of the best of Frank Franzetta (who was Kelly’s uncle, incidentally). You instantly know, before you hear a riff, that you’re into some epic-scale traditional metal. It’s something Eternal Champion have been holding the torch for since their inception, and new album Ravening Iron continues to set the template for what bands attempting to make this kind of music should be striving toward.
Despite a demo in 2013 and a split with Gatekeeper in 2015, it wasn’t until debut The Armor of Ire that Eternal Champion crept onto my radar. And even then it was more due to the public ascendence of Arthur Rizk, who simultaneously released his Sumerlands project and became the producer du jour for a lot of great records (most notably Power Trip’s stunning Nightmare Logic). But from a band perspective, Eternal Champion held the edge due to the fact that it feels like a band – you can’t discount how incredible the partnership between Rizk’s songwriting and the vocal powerhouse of Jason Tarpey is, as well as the the guitar combination of Blake Ibanez and Nujon Powers. There are albums that feel like the 80s, and albums that sound like the 80s. But The Armor of Ire does both, evoking a sincere sense of plan and time on tracks like the doom-laden march of “I Am The Hammer” and the revamped older track “The Last King of Pictdom.” The music synced perfectly with the swords and sorcerer imagery, and paired with the stellar album art delivered a perfect package too many bands try to emulate, only to fail. The question is, four years on would Eternal Champion bring the righteous rock again?
Most certainly. Kicking off with “A Face In The Glare” the first thing you notice is Ravening Iron‘s cleaner, crisper production of the guitar. It doesn’t sound modern, it just sounds cleaner, letting the soaring opening lead shine against the guitar as Tarpey lets out a Tom Warrior approved “Ugh!” before jumping into the song proper. It’s a perfect opening, inspiring copious head-banging and fist pumping while setting the tone for what’s to come, which is overall more rocking and less doom and gloom, without sacrificing the epic nature of the music.
But if you want that power, look no further than “Skullseeker” which is currently sitting as one of my favorite tracks of 2020. From the alarm-sounding whammy bar lead to the reverb heavy chant of “SkullSEEKER!!” on the chorus to the weird bridge that almost buries the beautiful guitar work (but can’t) it’s everything I wanted from this year’s earlier Sorcerer album but didn’t quite get. And then there’s that break that comes right before the main solo. “Skullseeker” literally has it all, with enough riffs to fill another band’s entire album.
And we’re only three tracks in. There’s a wicked gallop to “War At The Edge Of The World” that moves things quickly forward, harmonized leads and a soaring vocal performance that adds another edge to Eternal Champion’s arsenal of tricks. “Worms Of The Earth” continues the onslaught of neck-cracking while the closer “Banners Of Arhai” brings Ravening Iron to a suitably epic close.
This is how you do it. This is how you evoke the mighty spirit of the heavy metal of yesteryear and make it vital, strong and true. Raise a fist and march forth with this one.