(Sweden Music Group)
Death Dealer has crushed the sophomore jinx. The sophomore jinx. At least that's what it's called in America. In the United Kingdom, it's often referred to as the second year blues; in Australia it's known as the sophomore slump.
At any rate, it is a term that addresses a second effort that is weaker than the first. Whether it's in terms of an athlete's performance, a student's second year, or a musician's second album, it is a reality that has haunted since time immemorial.
'Hallowed Ground' is the band's second album, and it's a runaway contender for best Metal album of 2015. As much as I've enjoyed Iron Maiden's latest, I will admit that a part of that love is tied to nostalgia and very much wanting to love something.
Maybe that's the difference between it and 'Hallowed Ground' - Death Dealer comes across like someone's first band, and I am taken back to the first time I saw Eddie The Head grace an album cover, reminded of how I felt when I first heard Def Leppard's 'On Through The Night'. It's excitement is thrilling, and it hits you like a ton of bricks. It makes me feel like a kid again, and Metal is reborn.
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The band was conceived in 2012 by guitarist Stu Marshall and vocalist Sean Peck. According to co-guitarist and rock demi-god Ross "The Boss" Friedman, a man who was present at the creation of two of rock's coolest sub-genres punk/Metal and power Metal with his stints in The Dictators (now The Dictators NYC who happen to also be near ready to unleash new music on the world), and the onetime "world's loudest band", the mighty Manowar:
"Death Dealer formed early 2012 when Stu Marshall and Sean Peck who had collaborated previously, met Mike Davis when on tour in California. Stu was blown away by Sean's vocal abilities and a bond was formed.
"Sean would send me messages on Facebook now and then, and Stu started talking to me as well. The conversation quickly went to, 'Hey Ross, would you like to play on some songs we've done?' I said sure, not knowing what it would sound like.
"Well, after they sent the first tune over, I was blown away, then Stu and Sean tell me they want me to join this band, called Death Dealer. I say, 'Who else is in the band? After they gave me the roster line-up I said ' I'm in! Stu goes, 'It was either you or we would have approached KK Downing on guitar.' Wow!"
The result of that internet dating success was 2013's 'Warmaster', an album that made it onto any Metal top ten that mattered that year, and the band began their assault on the world with tour dates far and wide that left fans desperately demanding more.
Death Dealer is an iconic 1973 fantasy painting by Frank Frazetta. It depicts a menacing armour-clad warrior with a horned helmet, whose facial features are obscured by shadow, atop a horse, holding a bloody axe and shield.
The Death Dealer is, at the heart of the matter, just another guy in history who is standing his turf against terrible odds, and given the state of this thing of ours called the music business, this band has the perfect name. See how I didn't say moniker?
There are great guitar players in every great band, and Stu Marshall and Ross Friedman give chase to Judas Priest's current guitar team of Tipton and Faulkner for the title of most exciting guitar team in Metal. You may think that the genre would be tapped out after many decades, all the great riffs extracted, but no - Marshall and Friedman are as fresh as 1980, and above all is that they truly play as a team, and that's huge.
However, as great as the damned guitars on this album are, it comes down to the drums and vocals for me. The reason being, the performances of singer Sean Peck and drummer Steve Bolognese are in contention with the best in the genre's history.
Bolognese is a marvel behind the kit, you can hear his amazing command of technique, but it's almost so musical and perfect for the song that you don't notice the near impossibility of it being played by a drummer of mere mortal talents.
As for Sean Peck, the guy is simply the best in the game right now. He's younger, and naturally more powerful a singer than anyone in the realm of classic Metal, but make no mistake, he is a tremendously creative writer who is able to pull off whatever his brain is hearing in his head.
From a purely vocal standpoint, this is an instant classic. I'd also be very remiss if I failed to mention bassist Mike Davis - go straight to the musical interlude on the opening track, 'Gunslinger', and you'll hear some bass work that is as grand as the legends. Great stuff.
One place where I honestly think Death Dealer are the guys to beat right now is in the record's production. I liked Judas Priest and Iron Maiden's latest efforts, but in both instances I wish someone else had been behind the boards, and that might just be my narrow views on some things sonic.
I will admit to being a bit neurotic in these regards. But, that is exactly what I think makes this album a classic, the fact that these songs sound right as they blast their way out of my early 70s Japanese custom shop speakers, and every nuance is right.
The mix, that delicate art of keeping a tremendous racket being made by musical machines of great horsepower, is sublime, I never once found myself having to strain anything I was wishing to hear at any given moment. It makes the whole affair a lot of fun.
I could go into a marvellously self indulgent bit of contemporized rock writing by going into detail on the album's tracks, but I don't think I'm going to. If by now you haven't gone off to buy this record, then I might be talking to the wrong audience, but this is an album for anyone who loves heavy guitar music.
I'm guessing that this is my Metal album of 2015, but someone would have to come along and knock Death Dealer off his perch. That's up the mountain and then facing a very formidable foe, one that is one the right side of history. I don't think it's going to happen.
Death Dealer's 'Hallowed Ground' is a great piece of rock 'n' roll, no matter how you slice it. That's just how I see it.