When the spark of traditional metal was re-kindled in the late 2000s, it came with a surprising infusion of modern commercial rock. The result seemed to target the teenage set more than adults who remembered the heyday of true metal. Bands in question include White Wizzard, Striker, and Steelwing, with the worst offenders being Alpha Tiger and Holy Grail. Fortunately, the past few years have seen a marked shift away from the glossy, cleanly produced albums that kickstarted the revival into a more rugged, underground sound. Satan’s Hallow arrives in the midst of this changing climate for NWOTHM, and its rough-hewn production and grounded vocal delivery further establish a new age of authentic heavy metal.
Although there have been a handful of female vocalists to throw their hats into the NWOTHM ring, until now none have compared to the standout women of the ’80s. Mandy Martillo breaks that trend with her remarkable emulation of Doro Pesch’s recordings with Warlock and Ann Boleyn’s early contributions to Hellion. Although it is easy to compare Satan’s Hallow to those bands based solely on their female vocalists, the similarities extend to the boys and their instruments as well. Comparing Warlock songs like “Time to Die” and “Sign of Satan” with Satan’s Hallow’s “Moving On” reveal plenty of similarities in the driving rhythms and rapid-fire guitar work.
Satan’s Hallow is no mere tribute band, however. All the essentials are here: vigorous drumming and bass lines, an adept vocalist who is comfortable with her range and versatility, and guitarists who pack in enough riffs and solos to keep songs fresh for their duration. The sound production is coarse, with the guitars scraping their way through each track and relying on the relatively clear bass notes for balance. Martillo maintains a textural middle ground, favoring clean tones but frequently roughening her voice during the verse sections. The band’s technical execution tends to be loose, but not sloppy, and the unhindered playing style contributes to the rowdy, feel-good energy of the recording.
The Chicago-based headbangers kick things off with an uptempo, tremolo-driven track in “Reaching for the Night” and the similarly immediate “Choir of the Cursed.” These songs are well-chosen openers, and their unbridled energy is bound to get listeners to turn up the volume. The third track, “Hot Passion” is an obligatory hard rock-fueled song about feeling good and loving life. The track is a bit bland, though it comes through with a surprisingly strong spirit and serves its purpose as a break from the faster entries on the album.
Unfortunately, things start to get murky by the middle part of the album. The group’s brand of American power metal is attractive at first, especially with some respectable guitar solos thrown in, but it quickly becomes difficult to find memorable riffs, chorus hooks, or other distinguishing features among it all. This is especially true of some of the speedier tracks like “Choir of the Cursed,” “Black Angel,” and “The Horror.” Repeated listens afford some mental separation, but the songs still have a tendency to run together. Even “Satan’s Hallow,” a downtempo tune that helps break up the middle of the recording, comes across with lackluster riffs and a generic vocal delivery. After a few spins of the album it becomes clear there is nothing new to uncover. This is even more disappointing considering the album’s short running length, which clocks in at just 34 minutes.
The closest the band comes to a classic is with the penultimate track, “Still Alive,” which reveals a side of the band not heard elsewhere. The song delivers a thoughtful, emotionally-charged experience that, unlike the title track, gains force and substance from its slower tempo. It stands out not just for its structural contrast to the surrounding songs, but for its unique temperament and willingness to tell a story with the music. The primary riff also contains the most personality of any on the recording.
Taken together, Satan’s Hallow is a vibrant and listenable recording with a clear passion for underground ’80s albums that does a fine job of helping to redirect NWOTHM to a more adult-oriented sound. However, like the vast majority of its contemporaries, it lacks the detail and inspired touches needed to establish itself as a classic in its own right. Satan’s Hallow is perfect to throw on for a Saturday night drinking session with some friends, but those looking for depth, nuance, and song variety will find them in short supply here.
Rating: 75 / 100