There are plenty of classic heavy metal bands that everyone knows about. Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, Morbid Angel, what have you. They’re out there, they shaped the genre and its many offshoots, and they’re often considered some of the most influential and important bands of all time. Just go to a metal show in any sub-genre, and there’s a good chance you’ll see a T-shirt from one of these bands in the crowd.
Then there are those bands that, for some reason, fly under the radar. Their excellency cannot be denied, and though they may not have spawned the same amount of followers and fame as have the big names, they have giant pockets of rabid devotees who swear by them, and for good reason. For instance, why didn’t Manilla Road capture more hearts in their prime? They had amazing chops, wrote great songs, and seemed to land in a timeframe perfectly suited for them. You could say the same for Pentagram, a band many people revere, though perhaps chalking up the personal demons that battled Bobby Liebling for years can be explained for why they aren’t bigger.
Another of those bands is The Lord Weird Slough Feg, who originated in Central Pennsylvania before moving to San Francisco and took their bizarre moniker from a British comic book series “Slaine.” The band is now known simply as Slough Feg, and they released their excellent “The Animal Spirits” in 2010 on Profound Lore, but their history goes back pretty far. And sadly, it seems most modern metal fans aren’t terribly aware of them, at least here in the States, and that is a shame. They combine classic heavy metal, folk tendencies, and exemplary songwriting and playing into their style, and Mike Scalzi’s unique, personality-rich vocals hammer their tales home and make them one of the most interesting, compelling bands of their time and one nobody seemed to know about.
Perhaps the relative anonymity of this band can be taken care of due to a re-release of their earlier work, when they maintained “The Lord Weird” in their moniker and recorded for Dragonheart Records. Starting with their second album “Twilight of the Idols” and stretching to their fourth release “Traveller,” Metal Blade has a box set perfect for those who have tried to get their hands on these records for years (me!) and for those who aren’t terribly familiar with this brilliant group but love classic heavy metal. These make for adventurous listening and a nice reminder for how epic and emotional heavy metal truly can be when it’s done right. If you love Maiden, Judas Priest, Jethro Tull, or bands of that ilk, you need to get your hands on this collection.
“Twilight of the Idols” was released in 1998 at a time when horribly down-tuned, hair-brained nu-metal was dominating the world. These guys were as far away from that as you could be, finding inspiration in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and it’s cool to go back and hear how raw they were at the time. Scalzi’s voice had not quite matured yet, so he’s a little raspy and challenged when the high notes come, but the record showed the promise ahead and was quite glorious musically. From the bagpipes-rich opener “Funeral March,” to the incredible gallop of “Highlander,” to the Pirate folk treatment of “Brave Connor Mac” (also a “Highlander” reference, naturally) to rustic metallic of “The Wickerman” onto the band’s own title track, it’s raucous explosion that’s a barroom blast to hear and showed furious potential to what was ahead for the band.
That promise would pay off huge two years later with “Down Among the Deadmen,” where the band finally hit on all cylinders and sounded like a total machine. This also was the album that brought the great John Cobbett aboard (you know him as the leader of Hammers of Misfortune, another favorite of this site) and continued to establish the band as one of classic metal’s great revivalists. The 13 songs should cause an adrenaline surge for those who love classic metal sounds and tales, and if opener “Sky Chariots” doesn’t knock you on your ass, then you’re hopeless. Add to that other killer cuts such as “Warriors Dawn,” an amazingly well-sung song that sounds a lot like modern Iron Maiden mixed with Irish folk; the blistering trio of attached songs “Heavy Metal Monk,” “Fergus Mac Roich,” and “Cauldron of Blood,” and the fairytale-on-fire nature of “Traders and Gunboats” that all boast some of the band’s best material of their entire run. It’s such a great record that, had it been released in 1985 when this sound was far more accepted, this would be known as an all-time classic. Eh, it is anyway, even if people don’t realize it yet.
“Traveller” followed in 2003, and it also capitalized on the band’s rousing musicianship as well as their knack for telling great stories. The album is based on the 1977 sci-fi role-playing game of the same name, and those familiar with said game surely will get a huge kick of how this thing progresses. I, for one, am not well-versed in the game, but it didn’t prevent me from enjoying the hell out of this album. They hit so many high notes on this record that it’s impossible to name them all, but some of the ones that come to mind first are the fiery opening, interconnected trio of “The Spinward Marches,” “High Passage/Low Passage,” and “Asteroid Belts”; the NWOBHM-flavored “Professor’s Theme”; the Southern rock + Queen-like harmonies of “Vargr Theme/Confrontation”; all the way to stunning closer “Addendum Galactus.” From this record, the band would move into Cruz del Sur, where they’d stay until 2009’s “Ape Uprising!”
The Lord Weird Slough Feg are one of the greatest hidden treasures in the heavy metal world, and luckily Metal Blade are bringing their brilliant early work into clearer focus. This is one of the truest, most adventurous heavy metal bands of the last 15 years, and no one sounds quite like them. These are must-have albums if you’re walking around calling yourself a heavy metal fan, and these treasures never have been easier to attain.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.sloughfeg.com/
To buy the set, go here: http://www.indiemerchstore.com/item/17803/
For more on the label, go here: http://www.metalblade.com/us/