Hold the line, folks. It’s hammer time! No, we are not reviewing the latest Hammerfall product. I’m taking about a band of Texan traditionalists named Eternal Champion. Their debut album, The Armor of Ire, has been well-received by fans and critics alike (including the indefatigable Fenriz himself). It’s not too difficult to figure out why. On the very first track of the record, lead singer Jason Tarpey defiantly shouts “I am the Hammer” and for once, I am inclined to endorse his imaginary identity. The vocal delivery and instrumental backdrop are just so energetic and convincing. Who can resist the urge to join the melee?
Greatest of captains Robert E. Lee once considered the Texans to be his best soldiers. Some of that old fighting spirit is certainly present on The Armor of Ire. On songs like The Last King Of Pictdom, the hunger for battle is overwhelming: “Bring forth those who’d conquer . . . no dawn for Roman dogs”. Man, I would not wish to meet this bunch of barbarian bushwhackers. Luckily, the band’s bellicose tendencies are balanced with a narrative flair. The lyrics tell tales of the Eternal Champion (duh!), a fictional character created by English fantasy and science fiction writer Michael Moorcock. In a “multiverse” torn apart by the perennial struggle between the forces of Law and Chaos, our hero is destined to fight for Cosmic Balance. He is often a reluctant leader, however, not always conscious of his higher calling. If you are now thinking about Hegel’s “irony of history”, you are too much a nerd, so the Eternal Champion may arrive and kick you in the face.
Musically, Eternal Champion invites comparison with Sumerlands, another band whose debut came out in the fruitful year of 2016. Some of the similarities in sound can be traced back to Arthur Rizk (Sumerlands’ extraordinary guitarist), who produced both records. In Eternal Champion, he also handles the rhythm section, leaving guitar duties to his buddy John Powers. However, while Sumerlands’ eponymous album exudes ambition thanks to its varied songwriting and subtle aesthetic, The Armor of Ire seems a tad less serious. The song structures are very straightforward and the riffs are anything but sophisticated. One cannot fail to notice the influences of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Savatage and Manilla Road. But in the end, it’s hard to argue with the effectiveness of those simple grooves and melodies, delivered as they are with such energy and passion. And as I mentioned, the authentic vocals of Jason Tarpey really put these Texans over the top. The man snaps like a young Jon Oliva, but he also has a storytelling voice through which he channels his best Mark Shelton. Very convenient, since a warrior’s reputation is never established on the battlefield alone.
Traditional metal has experienced a slow and steady revival during the last decade, especially in the United States. While some bands (like Pharaoh or Mindcage) are exploring the high road of greater musical and lyrical sophistication, others (like Eternal Champion) are taking the low road with their straight-shooting sound. The fact that they are able to do so without succumbing to either stupidity or commercialism is truly admirable, to say the least.
Release date: September 27th, 2016
Label: No Remorse Records
1. I Am the Hammer
2. The Armor of Ire
3. The Last King of Pictdom
4. Blood Ice
5. The Cold Sword
7. Sing a Last Song of Valdese
8. Shade Gate