New Zealand’s Stälker is a new find from the ever-popular Napalm Records. These guys play raw, rough, and dirty speed metal. While their cover art might have you thinking of cleaner modern bands, Stälker finds themselves in an interesting position between having the precision and songwriting chops of these bands, but the production and attitude of less polished groups. This entire album feels like the band is just completely going for it: lots of shredding, wild high-pitched screams, and a general tendency to fly off the handle. Nowhere is this more evident than in the raging opener, “Total Annihilation”, which features some of the most brilliantly catchy speed metal around.
Stälker being a 3-piece is an interesting choice, as it has a two-pronged effect on “Shadow of the Sword”. The first is that there isn’t a lot of harmonized guitars, as the band would obviously be unable to replicate this live. For this particular sound, harmonization is often a big selling point, but it is the more aggressive side of the band that carries them despite a lack of killer harmonies. The other side of this, however, is the fact that it allows the bass to stick out often. Nearly every track has several killer bass licks, and at times, it’s hard to believe that the band’s low end is provided by the same guy who is shrieking his guts out.
As you might imagine, the sheer speeds that the band often reach result in some thrashier moments. Early Razor is an apt comparison, as the bands both enjoy utilizing more simplistic, NWOBHM-influenced riffing at tempos that are off the charts. Stälker tends to utilize more basic choruses, comprised mainly of shouts of the title. The result is that each song is easy to sing along to even on a first listen, and most of them won’t leave your head for a while. “Shocked To Death” marks the obvious example, but nearly every track shares the same enthusiasm and straightforwardness.
Towards the end of the record, Stälker covers one of the most covered songs in metal history: Death’s “Evil Dead”. Their rendition shows just how brilliant this song is because it works as well as a speed metal song as it does a death metal track. It seems like the band’s vocalist does go for some harsher, more drowned out vocals in the verses, but like most choruses on the record, he tears out his voice hitting the highest notes possible. The end result is yet another great cover of this masterpiece song! Overall, “Shadow of the Sword” is an impressive offering from a new band. There are no bad songs on this album; just songs that are better than others. Despite all of the bands playing this style, Stälker does feel just a little bit different from the others, and that makes “Shadow of the Sword” an immediate winner!
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"Shadow of the Sword"
"Shocked to Death"
4.4/5 or 88%.