Despite being around since 1998, American metal band Skelator has really picked things up in the last 6 or so years. “King of Fear” marks album number 4 for the band, and if this is any indication of how good their old work is, it’s safe to say they’re well on their way to dominating the American speed/heavy metal scene. As you might imagine, “King of Fear” is a relatively succinct blueprint of how to make metal that absolutely rocks. Bring together a wildly talented vocalist with screaming guitars, and you’ve got a great combination. Lead singer Jason Conde-Houston will definitely be the make or break part of this record for the listener. If you dig balls-out performances filled with screaming, shrieking, and all sorts of other high-pitched sounds, this record will satisfy. He combines the sound of Rob Halford during "Painkiller" and King Diamond with his own flare to create something quite interesting. Of course, plenty of other bands do all those wicked screams as well, but what separates Skelator is Conde-Houston’s normal singing voice. Epic is the only word to describe it. Admittedly, it does feel like he might hold back a little bit at times, only because of how potent his voice gets when he really lets it go. Nevertheless, his singing is quite distinctive, and much in the same way that bands like Gamma Ray or Overkill are instantly identifiable, Skelator’s singer will always make it easy to tell what band is currently laying waste to your ears.
Lost amongst the greatness of the vocal performance here is the fact that these 9 tracks are actually some pretty catchy tunes. Songs like “Stronger Than Steel” and “Test The Metal” are just fun to sing along to. And when it comes down to it, that’s what this style of metal is all about. The riffs are great, the melodies catchy, and the solos are virtuosic without feeling excessive. The aforementioned “Stronger Than Steel” even has a guitar solo/harmony/solo again section that takes up quite a bit of time, but it never feels like the band is showing off. Rather, they’re just taking what the gods (Priest/Maiden) taught them and adding a little bit to it. In general, the songs tend to be a bit blazing in their tempos, but there Skelator can pull off mid-paced sounds decently as well. Even when the band gets a bit on the slow side (the end of “Temple of the Witch”), they use that to their advantage creating wicked harmonized guitars that make everything more epic.
From a production standpoint, “King of Fear” is about par for the course. It’s hard to sound exceptional in this style, because a great guitar crunch isn’t really required. It would definitely make the galloping of “Sword of the Dawn” a bit heavier, for example, but it’s not a huge issue, as it might have been if this were thrash or death metal (check out "Raging Demon" for a bit of a thrashier feel). The lead tone is absurdly good, as evidenced by the beginning of the first solo on "Curse of the Black Hand". As a whole, other than the bass, everything sounds in order here. The bass is not difficult to hear, but you can never have too much bass in the mix (well, as long as you don’t reach Manowar levels). As you might imagine, the huge guitar leads leave plenty of space for the bass to do its thing, and it does, but when the rhythm guitars return, it is definitely fighting to be heard at times. Nevertheless, the production is more than satisfactory here, as are the songs and the individual performances. For that reason, Skelator’s “King of Fear” is an essential purchase for all metal fans.
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"King of Fear"
"Stronger Than Steel"
"Test The Metal"
4.4/5 or 88%.
Written by Scott