I find it puzzling how often the "big names" of the traditional heavy metal genre get thrown around (ICED EARTH, JUDAS PRIEST, etc), yet San Diego's CAGE is rarely mentioned. Maybe it's because the band does no formal touring (just occasional shows, festivals, etc) or perhaps because the act has not had the push of a big label. Whatever the case, CAGE has been cranking out excellent heavy metal albums for many years now and deserves to be considered with the heavyweights of the genre by more people than just the members of its steadily growing fan base. Each album is meticulously constructed to make every track a keeper through a combination of a punishing, PRIEST-style delivery, catchy melodies, varied arrangements, and vocalist Sean Peck's ever-expanding repertoire. It is exactly this combination that makes "Hell Destroyer" one of the year's best pure heavy metal albums.
Many found 2003's "Darker than Black" to be the CAGE masterpiece, myself included, but after a few spins of "Hell Destroyer" it became apparent that it easily rivals its predecessor. A 74-minute juggernaut of out and out, fire breathing, skull-cracking metal, "Hell Destroyer" is also a finely crafted concept album that works on many levels. One can pluck out individual tracks for a quick fix or take the entire journey and be just as satisfied.
The album's epic story is based loosely on Revelations (with plenty of poetic license and a heavy metal backdrop). With a beginning point of the crucifixion of Christ, moving through the modern age, and ending with an epic battle between Satan's army, which launches an invasion of Earth, and God's "battle-angel" (aka the "Hell Destroyer"), more than lyrics tell the tale. The packaging includes illustrations and the 20 tracks include brief character narratives, which serve only to move the tale along (rather than bogging things down or killing momentum). According to the press release, this is "the world's first ever heavy metal graphic novel….beautifully illustrated by comic artist Forrest Butler." I can neither refute nor confirm the claim; all I can say is it all looks pretty damn cool.
As for the music, it is once again first-class heavy metal. The title track is an up-tempo monster that recalls the fury of JUDAS PRIEST's "Painkiller", while "I am the King" will have you immediately singing along with its chorus. "Christhammer", "Born in Blood", and "Rise of the Beast" are just a few more examples of CAGE's fantastic riffs, harmonies, powerhouse drumming, and Peck's vocals, which range from Rob Halford shrieks to mid-range singing, and all of it flows seamlessly from beginning to end. The nearly eight-minute "Legion of Demons" is an epic of sorts that features more smoking riffs and some incredibly effective pace changes that never fail to grab one firmly by the throat. There are no weak tracks on the album, only a few that fall into the "good but not spectacular" category. For example, the chorus of "Fall of the Angels" is not one of the group's best, but the song as a whole is decent.
Heavy metal concept albums are hit or miss propositions, but 2007 has brought the world two (the other being ICED EARTH's "Framing Armaggedon") that are worthy of high praise. There are very few albums that can claim to be as quintessentially heavy metal as "Hell Destroyer".