There are numerous ways to uphold the values and musical ethos of old-school heavy metal, but not all of them produce believable results. Fakes and poseurs are legion at this end of the metal spectrum, but every now and then a band rolls into town and delivers the traditional goods with something approaching evangelical zeal. Finland's SATAN'S FALL are so obviously the real deal that it's frequently hard to believe that "Final Day" isn't some long lost gem from 1985. Steeped in the melodies and might of '80s metal, with plenty of speed metal fire and a dash of deathly menace, these songs may share plenty of DNA with the NWOBHM revivalist contingent, but there is nothing sepia-tinted or nostalgic about their execution. Instead, this five-piece attack everything like marauding berserkers, exhibiting the same sort of spiky energy and haughtiness that made WOLF's early records so addictive.
With echoes of all the stuff sensible people want and demand — from MAIDEN and PRIEST to EXCITER and early GRAVE DIGGER — every one of these songs boasts a giant chorus and enough prime, old-school drama to satisfy the most restless metal soul. "Forever Blind" is a heroically blustery opener; "Madness (Finds a Way)" throws some power metal uplift into the mix, while still oozing sinister vibes; "They Come Alive" is an instant classic, with a towering singalong refrain that almost certainly isn't about 2020 but might as well be: "This is the final curtain / This is the end of days!" Elsewhere, "Retribution" showcases the Finns' mastery of epic balladry, with their self-evident MAIDEN worship hurtling off the scale with compelling results. "There Will Be Blood" is a straightforward head-banger, rich in melody but garrulous of gait, like a cheerful fistfight in a Dortmund car park.
It's the closing two songs that confirm that SATAN'S FALL aren't merely one of the best retro-minded new bands around. "The Flamekeeper" sticks to the old-school script, but there's a sense of ingenuity on display, maybe even a feint frisson of proggy intent, and it's instantly harder to play "spot the influence." Similarly, closer "Final Day" is unabashed about its debt to MERCYFUL FATE, but SATAN'S FALL are inventive enough to stand apart from the denim-clad crowd, and the song's final crescendo is a euphoric splurge of spiraling leads and balls-out ensemble intensity.
At its heart, "Final Day" is a wide-eyed love letter to heavy fucking metal. It just happens to also be one of the more convincing examples of the form to emerge in 2020. Hails all 'round then.