Review : SATAN'S HOST – "Celebration: For the Love of Satan" and "By the Hands of the Devil" (Some JAG PANZER, Too)

We’re all so fucking jaded. Complacent we sift through extensive collections, from the sickest goregrind to the bleakest black recesses, feeling both unafraid and unchallenged. I’m not about to question the motives of the aforementioned and all points in between; people make the music they make for myriad reasons. But here’s what sells me on Satan’s Host—their conviction. You never doubt these dudes’ love for the dark side.

And fancy this, folks: they actually distanced themselves from the “extreme” ends of the spectrum in order to achieve this. By returning to their formative roots, the band now sounds more evil than ever, for the first time in 23 years. Since retracing their back catalogue, I sense a dearth of character in former frontman L.C.F. Elixir. Now that original vocalist Harry Conklin has returned to the infernal fold and re-recorded a career-spanning best-of collection, it almost feels as if these songs were meant for him; in retrospect, Elixir sounds like he’s been singing karaoke. (Reminds me of when I sang Aerosmith‘s “Sweet Emotion” with death growls in the high school cafeteria.)

Anyway, before they get to all that, Satan’s Host unleash a new song—the impassioned title track. Not only is the fretwork of stalwart guitarist Patrick Evil impeccable, but rarely, if ever, have I heard the phrase “mindless fucking sheep” used so effectively. From there, two updated takes on classic tracks originally laid down in 1986 with Conklin on the band’s first album Metal from Hell, and one from the 1987 EP Midnight Wind; all benefit most from modern production.

The following seven songs move chronologically through their decade fronted by Elixir, and in every instance are here improved. Check “Ecliptic Equinox” for example: the sinister brooding seems to come natural to Conklin, who adds dimension with theatrical gusto where it felt froggily croaked before. One sings confidently from his diaphragm; the other typically rends their throat. Further, Harry can affect quite a sinister pitch, and bassist Margar fills in background vox when needed. Though relatively new to the band, he’s a great low-end in many ways, and has no problem locking in with hilariously-monikered drummer Evil Little Hobbit. The second new track “Convictions” concludes, and though I mentioned the ‘conviction’ of Satan’s Host earlier, this song seems less about one’s certitude and more about receiving final judgment in Hell. Celebration: For the Love of Satan is a must-have for all Metal fans, because in the age of unbridled genre-jumping, you need forefathers to show you how it’s done. 4.5/5

01. For the Love of Satan (new song)
02. Hell Fire (originally from Metal from Hell)
03. Metal from Hell (originally from Metal from Hell)
04. Witches Return (originally from Midnight Wind)
05. Cauldron of the Ancients (originally from In Articulo Mortis)
06. Nightside of Eden (originally from Archidoxes of Evil)
07. Ecliptic Equinox (originally from Burning The Born Again [A New Philosophy])
08. H.E.L.L. (originally from Burning The Born Again [A New Philosophy])
09. Satanic Grimoire (originally from Satanic Grimoire: A Greater Black Magick)
10. “The Cursing” Vampyric Evil-Eye (originally from Great American Scapegoat…666)
11. Dark Priest “Lord Ahriman” (originally from Power~Purity~Perfection…999)
12. Convictions (new song)

The band crossed my plate earlier in 2011, though. Turns out the band has been rather prolific in their latest incarnation, and By the Hands of the Devil is just superb. The overall tightness, the fluidity of tectonic tempo shifts between menacing movements, and the brilliant re-imagining of “Norwegian Wood” (originally by The Beatles) that invokes church burning in the name of Satan (“Watch out for the splinters!”). It’s amazing to watch a band so deftly leap between dark power metal and melodic black metal, but you witness it in places like the title track and “Black Hilted Knife”—this is how you elevate above the cheese.

Ever sure-footed, they approach the brooding “Bleeding Hearts of the Damned” using an appropriate eerie atmosphere without slipping far into melodrama. And remember the “not far into” aspect, because some drama is essential; it’s part of the allure, really. The eight-minute tour de force “Before the Flame” underscores that, as both Conklin and Pat Evil pull out a multitude of tricks and techniques, interwoven with a damned catchy chorus. I hope this next 21st century decade embraces the new and improved Satan’s Host. (Oh, and does anyone else hear echoes of the main riff to “Breaking the Law” about two minutes deep in “Fallen Angel”?  No big… just saying.) 4.5/5

01. By The Hands of the Devil
02. Shades of the Unlight
03. Demontia
04. Before the Flame
05. Bleeding Hearts of the Damned
06. Black Hilted Knife
07. Revival
08. Fallen Angel
09. Inferior Worlds
10. Norweigan Wood

So I wanna wrap this up, but I nearly forgot that—about two months prior to Satan’s Host planting themselves firmly on my radar—Jag Panzer released their ninth LP. Technically speaking, this was the album that got me paying attention to Harry Conklin again. As good as the The Scourge of the Light may be, my initial reaction was that it drags. This surprises me, even moreso when the average track length of 4:50 is more than a minute shorter than either of the albums above.

The middle four songs are likely to blame, as they leave little lasting impact. Also, the band has since reportedly split up, perhaps sick of the guitarist juggling: former axeman Chris Broderick now slings for Megadeth in what’s likely a more permanent gig, Christian Lasegue quit a few months after this album’s release in order to pursue a degree, and the new kid they brought on, Jake Dreyer, just didn’t work out. Maybe it’s serendipitous that their last album was named thusly and the best track is called “Burn” because now Conklin can focus on fronting the fiendish Satan’s Host as Leviathan Thisiren. One last note: “The Book of Kells” truly is an ambitious, blazing swan song for the Colorodo metal powerhouse …but The Secret of Kells is still sweeter. 3.5/5

01. Condemned to Fight
02. The Setting of the Sun
03. Bringing on the End
04. Call to Arms
05. Cycles
06. Overlord
07. Let It Out
08. Union
09. Burn
10. The Book of Kells

~MetalMattLongo

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