Absolute Power is a metal supergroup. That’s supergroup used as lazy journalist parlance, whereby any combination of blokes with some sort of form and gathered together in one place long enough to record an album automatically becomes such an institution. That established, our first question must be, “yes, but are they a super group?”
The answer to this is a qualified yes. The brainchild of Napalm Death, Brujeria, Lockup bassist Shane Embury and producer Simon Efemy (the man at the desk during Paradise Lost’s golden period before the descent into Depeche Mode-worshipping madness), hatched as a result of many misty-eyed sessions listening to classic seventies and eighties metal, AP ‘s avowed intention is to recreate those glory days of yore in aural form for the delectation of a new generation. And the band largely succeeds in that aim.
Opener Absolute Power (and yes, if you’re going to do this properly you’ve got to have a song named after the band) sets the scene in barnstorming fashion, propelled by some classy double kick work from drummer Ian Treacey (last seen as an Embury collaborator in Meathook Seed)and a vocal performance from Efemy that is eerily reminiscent of Tokyo Blade’s Alan Marsh. Efemy’s slightly reedy vocal is beefed up come chorus time (and what a chorus it is!) by a suitably coruscating backup line from none other than Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens, which gives the song a neat edge but does rather highlight the frailness of the lead vocalist.
Still, this is all about retro, and if there’s one thing that united all the not-quite-as-big-as-Maiden-and-Priest-et-al bands of the late seventies and early eighties it was the presence of a slightly dodgy vocalist. That said, at no point does he let the side down on this album, so maybe I’m being overtly picky here – what do I know?
Next up is Sea of Horns, a classic ‘we’re all in this together’ metal anthem that will have the mulleted hordes emulating the song’s title Europe wide come festival time if I’m any judge – which I am- , it’s a gloriously martial stomper coming straight from the line of All Men Play on Ten and comes equipped with some sumptuously melodic axework courtesy of Mitch Harris (yes, that Mitch Harris) and extreme music producer de jour Russ Russell. The Ripper returns to add his pipes to Raging Pursuer; fitting that, as the song is Priest in excelsis (with the added bonus of a hint of English eighties act Battleaxe!), a demented romp through a Halfordesque world of sci-fi ne’rdowells that ends with some classic interplay between Owens and Efemy. This is, as Chris Tarrant might have once said, what they want.
Land of Steel isn’t quite as effective, being a slightly plodding slice of HammerFall-by-numbers Eurometal; it is however equipped with a servicable chorus that will once again get the punters going in the live environment. The Hidden Battle is an atmospheric instrumental interlude, not quite in the league of Losfer Words or Genghis Khan but enjoyable nonetheless, and it sets up the albums mid way point surprise very nicely indeed.
Thus far we’ve been enjoying the heads down-no-nonsense-mania on offer, but to my mind there’s been something missing – and here it is!
In the early eighties every English metal band with a deal released singles, and many of them got in the lower reaches of the Top 40 (apart from Angelwitch, who’s single of the same name – metal classic though it undoubtedly was, and still is- was for many years labelled by the Guinness Book of Hit Singles as ‘the least succesful British charting single of all time' having spent one week at number 75 in the charts) and in Secrets Absolute Power has just such a song – the heavy metal hit single. A jaunty rocker with an irresistible chorus that could easily have appeared on an early Bludgeon Riffola release, this is pure pop mastery from our othwerwise grim-faced heroes.
This is what AP has going for it. Whilst there are many acts out there at the moment tipping a wink to the greats of ‘our kind of music’, many of them have all the moves but none of the feel. Everyone involved with this project clearly loves old school heavy metal, but more importantly they know what makes a great album. Hence after that little bit of frippery mid album we’re back into the hard stuff with another chain mail clad anthem in Full Metal Roar, which if anything is even better than Sea of Horns – AP up the ante again here, knowing that pacing is everything. Standard Bearer is pure mid-paced NWOBHM nirvana, and all those early doubts about the validity of Simon Efemy as a vocalist are erased in one fell swoop on this track. The song fits his voice perfectly, its muscular chorus not pitched this time in the stratosphere but kept closer to the ground to maximise its killing power. A great solo keeps up the quality, lending the track a real classic feel. Forbidden Fruit is slightly more workaday – A Sunlight and Steel amongst the Prisoners if you like – but it’s hard to type criticism when even this song has the right hand curling into a fist and punching the air come chorus time.
Circles drops the pace with some reflective guitar work before the superb Faster Than the Speed of Evil brings the curtain (and the rest of the house, if truth be told) down on proceedings in a maelstrom of out-and-out heavy metal madness that will have you immediately returning to the start of the album to listen to the whole thing again. Many bands have run out of puff by the last track of the album, but FTTSOE (assisted by yet more Owens-fuelled vocal hysteria) is utterly compelling in its conception and execution, the perfect sign off for an album that, whilst completly unoriginal, is utterly, utterly ravishing in almost every other respect. It’s out on May 9th – make sure you avail yourself of a copy.