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Legendary NWOBHM Band Satan Casts Their “Cruel Magic”

satan cruel magic

There used to be majesty in metal; the cornerstones that built the genre were loaded with it. Queen was majestic. Black Sabbath certainly was, especially the Dio years, and so was that other Ronnie James project Rainbow. Sad Wings of Destiny not so coincidentally copped the best parts of all of the aforementioned, and it is recognized as one of the genre’s crowning achievements. Moreover, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets prove this quality made it as far as thrash, and there are undoubtedly some atmospheric black metallers to whom the “majestic” adjective fits.

All it took for majesty to return to metal: a band named Satan, whose 1983 debut Court In Act ranks among the greatest of its year (which also saw Kill ‘Em All, Piece of Mind, and Holy Diver), to come back after several decades seeking success under less controversial monikers Blind Fury or Pariah. Satan then would reunite 30 years later with each and every member from that debut and make one of the greatest albums of 2013: Life Sentence.

If you count 2015’s follow-up to their comeback album, the upcoming release of the band’s newest work Cruel Magic means that Satan has had more studio albums since getting the band back together than it did during the glory days. They’ve also toured America enough in the new millennium to record Trail of Fire: Live in North America entirely stateside. Listen carefully to the tracks recorded in Philly: their second wind has been thrilling to witness, and it hasn’t stoped with Cruel Magic.

Everything starts with the guitar duo of Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins. When Court in Act was released, it was steeped in the classic tradition of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing, and that dynamic hasn’t changed. The duo trades off exquisite leads and headbang-inducing riffs as easy as mortals breathe. “Into the Mouth of Eternity” has about half a dozen separate parts: introduction, double-time riff, chugging when the vocals kick in, neo-psychedelic bridge, searing dual leads, return to the chug, thrashy conclusion – and by the time it’s over, the album is only five-and-a-half minutes in.

The title track boogies like Rocka Rolla came out on Roadrunner in the 1980s, “Legions Hellbound” sounds like Bruce Dickinson replaced Paul Dianno in time to make Killers, and “Ghosts of Monongah” is probably what Dave Mustaine would have liked early Megadeth to sound like if he wasn’t such a fuck-up. Metal music used to be all about soaring, histrionic guitars, and Satan doesn’t act like that should come back as much as nobody told them it ever went away.

Their talents as players are augmented by a solid rhythm section (bassist Graeme English and drummer Sean Taylor) that makes every song seem like a hair-raising, full-throttle motorcycle ride. The one time they don’t is album closer “Mortality,” a contemplative and comparatively jazzy number that seems an odd choice to end the record. Not out of place as much as in an unexpected place.

Brian Ross, who also sings in Blitzkrieg is the most important ingredient for the radiating splendor that is Cruel Magic. He has a powerful voice that hasn’t changed much even as he enters his mid-60s. “The Doomsday Clock” especially showcases his distinctive baritone. Classic metal needs a classic vocalist, and Ross more than fits the bill. The only thing more surprising than Satan’s reemergence has been how solid the band has been since coming back; Cruel Magic says we shouldn’t be surprised anymore.

Cruel Magic releases tomorrow via Metal Blade. Follow the band on Facebook here.

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