review by Rick Ossian
They come from the land of ice and snow and Vikings…no, not Scandinavia, and I’m not shower-humming Zep‘s “Immigrant Song“, either. Just going on and on, at length, you will find, about my most recent discovery. They are from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and they are Noble Beast. What sort of beastie, you might inquire? They are dragons, but they are also men, as will appear more and more evident as you continue to read. One might even end up calling them the MIGHTY Noble Beast when they are finished reading/listening to this most auspicious debut.
First of all, let us begin by defining some boundaries. My wife does NOT like Noble Beast. Now, normally, that would be a good sign, and it is for the most part in this case. She did, however, have some valid points. Let us keep in mind, folks, that yours truly’s better half seldom gets much heavier than Pink, Three Days Grace and maybe a bit of Halestorm here and there. Now, while I have nothing against Lzzy and company, and really dug 3DG’s “(Let’s Start A) Riot” the first dozen or so times I heard it, I’ve no time for senseless pop pap here. Watching Pink do her aerial acrobatics on the awards shows makes for some eye-popping extravaganzas, I will admit; but enough about what Heidi thinks (sorry,honey!). I really like this stuff when it’s at its best.
For example, normally I rave about the epic-length numbers; I will get to that, just give me a few moments. First of all, let me get to the shorter numbers. The barn-burners, if you will; in particular, Behold the Face of Your Enemy, a tight, riff-tastic, five-minute smoker of a tune. As an old-school headbanger, I love the sledgehammer force of the pounding rhythm, but does Sir Robert (vocalist extraordinaire) actually expect us to take him seriously? I mean, I would imagine he does, but the story-telling battle metal style mixes with the stately set of pipes in a bizarre, disturbing manner. Again, normally I would find this very cool, but there are times when he sounds as if he’s mocking us – or himself – or everyone. Again, as I have done so often in the past, I will leave this matter to you – the reader – to decide. By the way, we are treated to a tasty guitar solo at about the three-minute mark – you will begin to see a pattern developing here, trust me – not that that is a bad thing!
Master of Depravity is a bit of growl, a bit of Manowar-ish mayhem, but again I’m forced to wonder if I should laugh at or admittedly admire Sir Robert. What is this man’s plan? Is he going to take over the world one vocal at a time, or is he going to be the birth of thousand jokes? You know, Sir Robert and Eric Adams walk into a bar, and they both begin to shatter beer mugs with their voices… Master also features a pretty cool heavy rock groove to boot!
All right, enough picking on Sir Robert. He’s damn good, let’s just leave it at that…okay, let’s wonder if he’s poking fun at himself, or the genre, AND the fact that he’s damn good – then let’s leave him alone – for now. Instead, let us rave about his compatriots. Robert also plays guitar, by the by, and he is joined by lead guitarist Matt Hodsdon, who has to be the most amazing, blazing lead player I’ve heard in some time. There are moments where he and Sir Robert play twin leads (unless Matt is overdubbing himself), and tightly, à la Priest, Thin Lizzy or Wishbone Ash in their glory days. Drew Sulphen is nothing less than a genuinely bad-ass bassist, and his partner in the rhythm engine, drummer Steve Bergquist, is definitely no slouch, either.
Peeling Back the Veil and Disintegrating Force are both tight, speedy and no-holds-barred ferocious thrashers. The former features a tough opening riff AND a shredding lead intro, with a couple of wicked guitar interludes at 3:00 and 4:00. Sir Robert gets a bit more serious here, even vocalizing a statement of intent at times. Did I mention that he tells stories while he is singing? I’ve heard this done a million times before (Dio, Maiden, Priest, etc.), but Sir Robert sounds as if he’s on a mission – whether it’s one of depravity or doom, again, I leave up to you dear readers! My favourite line here is an obvious one: “ Once a king of the castle/Now I’m a prisoner of these walls“. We’ve all heard this one before. I briefly envisioned Max von Sydow as the king in Conan The Barbarian (“there comes a time when the jewels and the gold lose their lustre...”). There is a weird synth fade out at the end of this number, which is, admittedly, a bit uncharacteristic considering what we’ve heard thus far. Alas, somehow, it works.
Disintegrating Force pounds us into submission immediately, just as heavy and speedy as number preceding it. There is a wonderful jam section at about the 2:20 mark, the drummer is busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest (as usual), and there is cool vocal and guitar shredding alike. This is pure battle metal, with some brief guitar flourishes thrown in (check the one at 1:25), but for the most part it sounds like Symphony X on speed. “We’ll fight the righteous fight!“, proclaims Sir Robert. But of course you will, sir – at this point, we would expect no less. Again, righteous guitar solos abound, particularly at 3:00 and 4:20.
Iron-Clad Angels, the opener, sounds like they mean business, but again I’m not sure about Sir Robert. He is either the best belter in the land, or a bizarre Vegas lounge act gone horribly awry. Wicked guitar runs, shredding of the top-most calibre, and an excellent tune nonetheless. We Burn is more of the same, but I’m beginning to be won over by Sir Robert. Is that bad? Perhaps he is growing on me, like a fine mould…This is actually more of an epic Viking metal-type tune, and clocks in at just under eight-and-a-half minutes (whew!), It’s really very good, but just how far can one put one’s tongue in one’s cheek? Again, total shredding and guitar solos rule the day, one that actually runs from about 4:30 to 6:50, and includes some tight twin leads that would rival anything I’ve heard recently. Sir Robert returns to ridicule the proceeding with what I can only describe as barbershop quartet style vocalizing at the close. It’s good, but is it over the top? YES, it is, but somehow, it STILL works! Damn you, Sir Robert! With righteous flames, indeed – he burns!
The Dragon Reborn is quite possibly among my fave tracks here, and begins at regular speed, sort of a journeyman’s power metal, if you will. I’m still not sure if Sir Robert is serious or just fucking with us all, but I would opt for the latter. He’s got one hell of a set of pipes, that is apparent, even obvious, even to the lowliest of punters – but is he fucking kidding, or what? There is a glorious guitar exchange at 4:00, and, for those of you who were still wondering, this is power metal at its semi-finest. If you mix in a bit of battle metal (again, Manowar comes to mind), then you get the picture. Another guitar solo at 5:50 reminds us why we’re here. My son asked me yesterday what my favourite instrument was. ‘Guitar’, I replied, without even a moment’s hesitation. As if any of you were wondering!
The Noble Beast, which I would have referred to as the title track under normal circumstances, is considerably epic (again) in it’s scope. However, these are not normal circumstances, my friends. Is the noble beast a man? At first, I thought he was a dragon. Now, I’m not so sure…In the end, I’ve decided that it is, inevitably, about us (mankind,that is). The lyrics tell the tale (“Time wlll tell/ If we will be ruled by heaven or hell/ Will we fly amongst the angels/ Or fall into the dark/ We’ll just have to wait and see”). Again, some tight twin lead work going on here, particularly at the 3:00 and 4:20 marks. See that pattern there again? Maybe it’s just me.
The two closers are possibly the finest fare on board here, particularly On Wings of Steel. Some of you may cry, “but Rick, it’s naught but formulaic battle metal!!” Perhaps, my friends, you are correct. Let us say, for the sake of argument, and the salvation of my space bar ( it keeps sticking), that you are correct. However, there ARE some differences. For example, how many songs do you know that mention sorcery, heroes, furies or tyrants? Oh, never mind. Maybe you are right. But just listen to the grandeur! It’s positively inspiring! There are dual/twin leads of magnificent magnitude (3:00, 3:30, the incendiary jam at 6:00 – I could go on)! “Never bend/ Never kneel/ Force of might/ Strength of steel” may be SUPER cheesy lyrics, but what did you expect? Poetry? Okay, maybe a bit of cheesy lyrical poetry – after all, this IS power/battle/hero metal. But it IS also very good. The musicianship alone speaks almost as loudly as Sir Robert!
Nothing to Repent has a bit of a curve ball – they throw us a phase-shifter/slammer intro right in your face to start things off, and there is some seriously slamming, heavy riffing going on. At about the 3:50 mark Sir Robert stops briefly to do some more story-telling, but it is of the suspenseful, building-up type (Stephen King or Dean Koontz come to mind). This is more of the same battle/power/Viking metal that we’ve come to expect, but it is among my fave releases so far this year, so go out and buy it!
By the way, their bio claims,among others, the following influences: Maiden, Dio, Priest, Blind Guardian, Helloween, Ensiferum and Iced Earth. You can find Noble Beast on Facebook and Bandcamp, and at firstname.lastname@example.org. I believe you could also locate them on iTunes. If you like your metal vain, glorious, pretentious, powerful, or just downright full of itself (and rightly so!), then go find Noble Beast now! I’d give them six stars but I’m only allowed 5…