Despite the words “traditional heavy metal” in New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal, few NWOTHM bands actually play a style of classic heavy metal. Most favor old school speed metal or the more intricate style of music developed by American power metal bands in the ‘80s. Stereo Nasty is one of the few exceptions to this, frequently delivering stiff, four-on-the-floor old school heavy metal. Guitar riffs crunch and tear their way along the top of the head-nodding pace established by the bass and drums, while Mick Mahon contributes his recognizably coarse vocals to the mix. The band occasionally kicks things into overdrive, and the result is a satisfying slab of ‘80s-style metal that recalls classics like Grave Digger’s Heavy Metal Breakdown and Battle Axe’s Burn This Town.
Twisting the Blade is Stereo Nasty’s second full-length album, and it maintains the group’s playing style from 2015’s Nasty by Nature to a fault. In fact, the biggest complaint about the Irish group’s newest effort is how much it feels like a rehash of the tracks on their debut. The new recording is so much like the previous effort that it’s easy to confuse moments and entire songs between the two. This feeling of déjà vu kicks in immediately on the opener, “Kill or Be Killed,” which could be mistaken for “Holy Terror” unless the songs are played side-by-side. The fact the band has maintained the same playing style isn’t an issue by itself, but the extremely limited scope of the riffs, rhythms, and vocal patterns causes many of the tracks within and between the two albums to jumble together. Those who haven’t heard Nasty by Nature obviously won’t have any troubles with the similarities, but fans who gave the first album plenty of spins are likely to feel like they’re treading water with Twisting the Blade.
Despite its doppelgänger status, “Kill or Be Killed” provides a satisfying opening to the album with a relatively quick tempo, catchy riffs, and seamless interplay between the verse and chorus sections. Mahon’s vocals are clear and accessible, perfectly accenting the instruments. The second song, “No One Gets Out Alive” doesn’t fare quite as well, and its uninspired rhythms and straightforward chorus hook grow stale after just a couple listens. Unfortunately, it’s not the last entry on the album that suffers from monotony.
Further complaints are momentarily suppressed by Twisting the Blade‘s best track, “Reflections of Madness,” which delivers invigorating drumming and guitar work along with a tense, brooding atmosphere. A ghostly guitar melody accents the chorus in the album’s most inspired songwriting decision, while an extended and well executed guitar solo further adds to the track’s overall value. It’s an exciting and memorable piece, one that is regrettably followed by the album’s weakest entries.
Twisting the Blade bogs down near the middle, first with the plodding and repetitive “Near Dark,” which suffers from an unimaginative verse riff, and then on the grueling “Through the Void,” whose lifeless, near-ballad first half is the lowest point on the recording. An uptempo second half on “Through the Void” is too little too late to salvage the song, and it’s difficult to even slog through to the track’s midpoint to hear it. The band deserves credit for their attempt at a thoughtful, downtempo composition, but Mahon’s voice simply isn’t suited to that kind of work and the lack of detail and nuance in the instruments lead to a sparse and uneventful listening experience.
Mercifully, Stereo Nasty leaps from “Through the Void” into the thunderous “Haunting the Night,” which brings the energy and attitude back into the band’s comfort zone. The galloping rhythm and riff in the opening section comprise one of the album’s most aggressive moments, and the song’s energy level remains high for its duration, helping it stand out as one of Twisting the Blade‘s finer moments. However, despite its strength, “Haunting the Night” is additional evidence that Stereo Nasty has only one viable trick up their sleeve, especially coming on the heels of the unsuccessful “Through the Void.”
The album’s most unique moment comes in the form of “Vengeance,” a sinister intermission that arrives late in the recording. The instrumental song feels like it’s been ripped from the score for an ‘80s slasher flick, and it would’ve served as an excellent intro. Its presence late in the album is a curious choice that does little to supplement neighboring tracks, though it remains an enjoyable intermission just the same. The darkly atmospheric tone doesn’t exactly align with Stereo Nasty’s usual playing style, though it would be interesting to hear it integrated into the group’s brand of rowdy heavy metal instead of as an isolated effort.
A pair of final songs sandwich “Vengeance,” including the disappointing title track. “Twisting the Blade” never seems to find its identity and finishes without delivering any memorable moments, while “Becoming a Beast” closes out the album with an enjoyable effort that would be much more satisfying if it didn’t step in the same tracks laid by a dozen Stereo Nasty songs before it. Consequently, there’s a mix of disappointment and relief when the album concludes after a paltry 35 minutes of music. Despite the meager offering, the one-dimensional nature of Stereo Nasty’s songwriting means additional tracks would certainly feel redundant, and it’s difficult to ask for a greater portion once the album’s flavor fatigue has set in. Twisting the Blade ultimately feels like the musical equivalent of a fast food burger. It’s satisfying in the short term and will do in a pinch, but its quality is unpredictable and the content ultimately feels overpriced.
Twisting the Blade is at its best when it produces fist-pumping, headbanging old school heavy metal with a gritty attitude. When it delivers, it does it as well as any album in the 21st century. Unfortunately, Twisting the Blade‘s homogeneity and the inescapable similarities to its predecessor, Nasty by Nature, expose the band’s relatively narrow songwriting skills. This is compounded by attempts to diversify the song selection, which have a tendency to backfire. Those who are new to Stereo Nasty, as well as those who had an exceptional love for the band’s debut, will find the album worthwhile in spite of its shortcomings, though metal maniacs on a budget have better options available to them. Despite its unique sound and a handful of excellent songs, Twisting the Blade is disappointingly limited in the breadth of its musical range and the length of its recording, causing it to bleed out well before the band’s audio assault can reach its conclusion.
Rating: 67 / 100
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