Stallion has been above average since their debut EP Mounting the World dropped back in 2013, but the band has never quite reached the upper echelon of retro heavy metal bands. Their debut suffered from murky sound production while their first full-length, Rise and Ride, overcorrected the sound production issues by aiming for a bright, clear tone that felt too shrill at times. But through it all, the the songwriting was solid, the players demonstrated undeniable skill, and the band produced satisfying, if somewhat unremarkable chunks of old school speed metal.
Three years after their last release, the band has delivered a second full-length album, From the Dead, and it improves on past recordings in every way. From the first notes, it is clear the production is deeper and thicker than on Rise and Ride. The drums in particular feel beefier, though the guitars and vocals have also been given a new treatment, emerging with a more polished texture that eliminates the spiky, sometimes abrasive feel of the last album. The bass notes gallop along faultlessly in the background, capably providing drum support while retaining enough volume and personality to stand on their own. Everything works well together, and though the lower end sometimes flattens out, the band has never sounded better.
The style is a logical continuation of past releases, so fans of Stallion’s earlier work will find plenty to enjoy. However, there are some new elements worth noting. There is a more conspicuous presence of thrash and crossover in this recording, coming through most obviously on the ultra-short “Kill the Fascists.” The band also delves into stronger melodies and a commercial ’80s metal sound, apparently channeling the polished, effects-laden guitar sound of Judas Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith. Fortunately, Stallion manages to blend these diverse influences together to create a well-balanced recording.
The most significant improvement on From the Dead is the songwriting, which is more elaborate and rewarding than the group’s past efforts. The drums frequently mix things up in the middle of verse sections, guitar riffs evolve rapidly, and new elements are selflessly introduced late into a song’s running time to keep things fresh. In short, this is a smart and nuanced recording that rewards careful listening and repeated spins.
This versatility is apparent on the opening track, when “Underground Society” expertly draws out its guitar-driven intro by tweaking the primary riff and rhythm several times before the vocals come in. Where most bands would hammer the same section a dozen times to open the song, Stallion avoids complacency and favors variety with praiseworthy results. The rest of the song plays out equally well, shifting easily from its full-speed verse into a relatively downtempo chorus section. It later enters an instrumental break and a completely new section before rolling back into familiar territory, eventually revisiting the chorus and the opening section. This level of variation is consistent throughout the album, and it elevates the music above not only Stallion’s past releases but the vast majority of their NWOTHM peers as well.
Stallion drops the speed a notch for the second song, “Down and Out,” where the early to mid-’80s Judas Priest style emerges with a perfect fist-pumping rhythm and some excellent guitar solos. “Hold the Line” is a similar throwback to feel-good, hard rock-inspired heavy metal, pounding out its choppy riffs in classic Accept style.
The biggest surprise comes in the fourth song, “Waiting for a Sign,” which improbably places a synthesizer melody behind the chorus vocals, reminiscent of commercial ’80s melodic hard rock and even AOR. The song is a borderline ballad jammed with melodic, harmonized guitar solos which, vocals aside, could almost feel at home on something like Y&T’s Down for the Count album. Although the song eventually launches into a thrashy speed metal section, the heart of it is an introspective rock anthem. That is sure to frustrate some fans, but the uniqueness of it gives the album character and effectively breaks up the wall of uptempo heavy metal that constitutes the rest of the recording. In fact, the speed metal section comes off as an apologetic, self-conscious effort that actually hurts the song’s overall character. “Waiting for a Sign” is a competent piece of music that could stand on its own without any of Stallion’s trademark sound.
Those who dislike “Waiting for a Sign” will be comforted by the remainder of the album, which is packed with blazing tremolo riffs and thunderous drumming. The thrash-heavy “From the Dead” offers one of the most aggressive pieces of music recorded by the band to date, while “Lord of the Trenches” is a classic piece of Stallion speed metal loaded with sound clips of gunfire and explosions.
The album concludes with perhaps its strongest entry, “Awaken the Night.” Beginning with a low-key, effects-heavy guitar melody, the song quickly opens up and carries the listener on a diverse and unexpected musical journey. The personality of the song’s many sections vary dramatically, effectively advancing and retreating to build tension for the blazing guitar solo climax that hits just after the midpoint. At six and a half minutes long, “Awaken the Night” is the longest track on the album, and Stallion makes the most of every second. It is the band’s most progressive song to date, and it further demonstrates their ability to successfully play outside their comfort zone.
All together, From the Dead clocks in at close to 45 minutes, which is remarkable for a speed metal album. Even better, none of it comes off as filler. The album is a solid slab of old school metal that can shift from a thrash-fueled punch in the face to a melodic and contemplative embrace and handle each approach equally well. From the Dead takes Stallion’s basic formula and improves on from all sides; the song structures are smarter, the vocal delivery is smoother, and the band reveals a broader range of influences. Stallion has been knocking at the door of excellence for several years now. From the Dead is the breakthrough they needed, establishing the band as a premier act in the genre and providing one of the finest traditional heavy metal recordings of the 21st century.
Rating 91 / 100