Whether your steed of choice is a war horse as you gallop through the battlefield slaying orcs, or your drunk buddies back as you piggy-back through a circle pit, Black Tower’s music will provide you with the perfect soundtrack. In their debut album, The Secret Fire¸ the Canadian trio unleash their brand of punk/metal, that owes just as much to traditional British and black metal as it does to the dark melodic punk of the members’ other projects, Crusades, The Creeps, and The Visitors. The band states this album is heavily influenced by the works of Tolkien, specifically The Hobbit. While that is very obvious when reading the lyrics, and the music itself seems to serve well as an anthem for a medieval war, it is still just as enjoyable for anyone not interested in such things.
The album starts out strong with “Death March,” as a galloping intro builds into a punchy call to arms of a verse that features singer and guitar player Erin’s wails over driving power chords and double bass driven drums that don’t skimp on the cymbal play. As Erin sings “We’ve gathered the brave / To march / Into the unknown,” her vocals remind me of a more demented Iron Maiden and you can’t help but feel compelled to want to go on this journey with them. When she then squeals out “We’re ready to die!” in a scream that even the best black metal-heads would be envious of, you may want to think again. But fear not, for as the song continues, bass player and singer Skottie comes in to provide a battle cry to the troops, belting out “We’ve reached the mountain / We can hear the best roar / We got blood on our swords / We got blood on our swords,” in his more soothing but haunting tone.
The interplay between the two singers’ very different voices bring out the best in every song, as the music tends to tie them together so that everything complements each other. As the vocal delivery goes from dim and somber to raging and virulent, so does the music. Songs like “Riders” and “Winter” tend to have slower drum parts and more dissonant guitar lines that give them a brooding feel, while songs like “Black Moon” and “Shadows” bring out the blast beats, heavy power chords, and wailing vocals. The members of Black Tower are so well versed in making dark sounding music without coming off as cheesy, that everything they attempt on this album comes through flawlessly.
The whole album seems to lead up to the epic “Night Siege,” which, as the longest song on the album, serves as a chance for the band to play around with a little bit of everything they have done up to this point musically, and to wrap up the journey taken lyrically. Up to this point, the listener feels like they have been on a quest leading up to this final battle as the band sings, “Ten thousand men / atop their steeds / The arrows pierce and they bleed and they bleed.” But as the band lead’s us this far, they make it a point to ensure you the battle isn’t over and there is more to come. “A war begins / The time has come / For their blood to run!” The album then comes to a close with the final acoustic track “The Secret Fire,” which at first I thought would have served better as an interlude rather than a closer, but after listening to the album and reading the lyrics more, I see this as kind of like the credits music to an epic movie that didn’t quite have a happy ending, leaving the audience begging for more.
And so is The Secret Fire. It comes in strong and takes you on a most epic journey before leaving the listener much too soon and desperately seeking more. Here’s hoping that like the Hobbit, this is just the beginning of many great adventures to come.
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