At this point in the year of 2018, the modern heavy metal scene is heavily saturated with newer bands throwing back to the sounds of the early 1980s. Scores of bands are aping the riffs and chord progressions popularized by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Bay Area thrash, and the heavier ends of the Sunset Strip sound. Many acts are doing that well, but few are standing out. Toronto's SKULL FIST has accomplished that task by embracing the sense of triumph that comes with an embrace of classic metal's braggadocio and a vocalist that stands out from the dozens trying to futilely ape air raid sirens of the past.
The quintet's previous record, 2014's "Chasing The Dream", was a melodic-thrash ripper. The entire running time was filled with blazing hooks and fist-pumping choruses. There are still a few of those present on the group's newest and third record, "Way of the Road". This time out though, the band takes a huge gamble by taking a break from the speed and introducing mid-tempo stompers that take a page from the playbook of mid-'80s Sunset Strip acts such as DOKKEN. It's a gamble that pays off though, as SKULL FIST proves to be as perfectly capable of delivering tracks that comfortably scratch that itch as well as the tracks that aim to please the speed freaks.
Album opener "You Belong to Me" starts off the album by assuring those that love the thrashier side of SKULL FIST's songbook that the group's capabilities have not deteriorated. That said, the fact that the track opens with a drum-and-riffs burst that could pass for a differently tuned spin on the opening of VAN HALEN's "Hot For Teacher" and then segues into what at first glance appears to be a re-working of MOTLEY CRUE's "Live Wire" is a tell that the group's ambitions on this record lean more towards a bid of Sunset Strip glory circa "The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years". Luckily for the listener, the group has the songwriting chops to overcome the sense of déjà vu for more hardened ears.
"No More Running" then sets the tone for the more mid-tempo side of the record. The twin-guitar attack of Zach Slaughter and Johnny "Exciter" Nesta and the thumping bass of Casey Guest provide a strong backbone for melodic rhythm hooks and blazing solos while JJ Tartaglia hits the skins with a strong precision attack. It's not overly flashy, but it also ensures that the melodic anthems crafted by the band on its slower tracks remain sharply focused. Though the duration of the record alternates fairly evenly between hyper-charged eruptions of speed and more leisurely paced songs, SKULL FIST takes great care to center each side of its sound around anthemic choruses that are meant for triumphant fist-pumping.
The true spirit of SKULL FIST's musical intentions lie in the vocals of Zach Slaughter. While many vocalists fronting modern acts performing throwback-metal aim to match Bruce Dickinson or Geoff Tate end up faltering at sub-Blaze Bayley levels, Slaughter's vocals are more reminiscent of the adaptability of Klaus Meine. On the high end, Slaughter hits a register reminiscent of Meine's shouts on faster-paced SCORPIONS tracks like "Blackout". It's appropriate that SKULL FIST's musical compositions when they slow it down would be more at home on an '80s-era record from that legendary act than on those by the majority of acts being mined for inspiration by modern bands.
"Way of the Road" is another in a long line of competent, if not original, traditional metal anthem collections released in 2018. But SKULL FIST's embrace of the mid-tempo stomper, and the group's ability to generate instant fist-pumping choruses, combines with Slaughter's capabilities distancing the band from the rest of the crowded playing field, even if only just a little bit.