Slough Feg have always been outstanding so the quality of this album is unsurprising. What's surprising is how streamlined it is. Some metal, "classic" metal in particular, has always seemed to be on the verge of falling prey to a true and heavy-handed bloating, a desire to cram so much in to so little and still have the audience walk away understanding the (at times) ridiculously lofty concepts and conceits at play. True metal is a historian's genre, a tromp through slimy back alleys of British history and a deep wade into the pond of mythology and magick, an ancient sort of idea conveyed by what the true connoisseur recognizes as an equally ancient sort of dusty aesthetic and sound. In other words, shine up the British Steel.
That comparison seems apt given the aforementioned appreciation of brevity on Slough Feg's part. On that storied album Judas Priest gave in to a more commercial version of their work and turned in their most well-received (at least publically) effort, and while some purists (myself included) miss a bit of that ancient sounding triumphance, as a whole the album is a nasty little slicer from start to finish (barring of course the near comic "Livin' After Midnight," a somewhat ill-conceived stab at chart topping.) Luckily Slough Feg takes the most important lesson of "British Steel"-brevity and succinctness-and puts it to use famously across "The Animal Spirits." There isn't a wasted minute or note and while some songs pace themselves a little more slowly than others, there is absolutely no drag to the record and very little weight. It's metal cut to the bone, stripped of all the dead flesh and hulking fat. What's left is a jagged ride through pure rock, crying with a mournful nostalgiah and raising a hand in reverence to the grey, dimming British skies. Song composition is at an all time high here, with enough thrashtastic double bass speed riffing to stand up against Mike Scalzi's previous work in the Hammers of Misfortune while never letting go of the Celtic folk-inspired melodies and structures that set Slough Feg apart. Scalzi's vocals have never been better, their operatic soar coasting high above the wicked intertwined guitar work, at times sounding both coarse and workmanlike as well as polished and reaching.
So too is this a guitarist's album, like so much of what i'm drawn to musically. No fan of the instrument will be disappointed here, and perhaps this is where i would most like a little bit of that bloated extravagance to seep into Slough Feg because the guitar playing here is beyond reproach. Tasteful yet over the top all at once, Slough Feg hearken to the best of Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden's overbearing, harmony-laden appraoch and temper it with Phil Lynott's innate sense of what needs to be there and what doesn't. Live they abandon this a little bit; when i saw them play a few summers ago every solo was harmonized and it became a little much to take. As much as i love guitar pomp, the restraint shown on this record works to the material's advantage.
It's nice to see another band doing true metal correctly, without irony. Mike Scalzi has written a number of recent articles lamenting the loss of metal in culture and taking today's musician's to task for their horrid approximations of what constitutes metal in today's environment. Obviously i love all sorts of metal (i would pretty much defend black metal to the death at this point in my life) but there is a truth to Scalzi's opinions. Everything is becoming a facsimile as music progresses ever further and we're losing sight of what made the forebears of genre so mind blowingly cool and original. It was a sound that didn't exist, a new approach born of what came before. It was exciting and vibrant and a lot of what's materializing today simply isn't-it's just recidivism, to bring that word back, in the very vilest sense. Slough Feg, then occupy a very important place in the musical microcosm, a stalwart castle of tradition and structure, made of brick and mortar and passion. Let's hope it never crumbles.