Recently Black Sabbath made a stop in Eastern Canada visiting Halifax and then Quebec City. Half of the people I knew went to Halifax while the other half went to Quebec City for the concert. I love Halifax but I understand why many of my hardcore metal friends made the pilgrimage to go see the godfathers of Metal play in Quebec City; one could argue that it is the metal Mecca of North America. I missed both shows but I did see them on their Farewell Tour in 99 in Vancouver. One of the cool factors about Black Sabbath playing in our backyard recently is that the Farewell part of my concert never actually happened. Why? Because Pop music, like the soft drink, fizzles out overtime. Heavy Metal bands happen to be aging like fine wine. There has been an astonishing amount of successful reformations of classic metal bands, and in many cases, these bands are producing their best output in years. Considering the relative young age of Metal as a genre, I was surprised to see at the Black Sabbath concert three generations of fans sharing an incredible experience together. Metal is the Blues of rock n roll. It is not that hard to consider when listening to the bluesy riffs of classic Sabbath tunes. Heavy Metal has a huge spectrum of sub genres and styles but at its core, it’s the music of the working class. It has roots in dark escapist fantasy, wild parties, kinky sex, hard living and most importantly – it is a culture of acceptance. Enter, Hero’s Last Rite’s new album The Mirror’s Face.
The members of Hero’s Last Rite are seasoned veterans who increasingly get better and better, album after album, they continue to push themselves. These guys have produced their best recording to date, their strongest collection of songs by far, while SPEEDING things up at the sametime. I mean, this record is FAST. It is as if the band simultaneously channelled the 80s Bay Area thrash scene – I can hear some of Exodus’ aggression and some Testament vocal stylings.
Steve McDonald is my favourite front man to see play LIVE. A true entertainer who has an uncanny ability to work the crowd. He owns the stage. The challenge for a great live band like Hero’s Last Rite, is to be able to replicate the LIVE sound in a studio recording. McDonald manages to do just that; his performance on The Mirror’s Face sets the tone of what is simply one of the best Metal releases this year. Tim Gorman and Mike Davidson share axe duties on this record and both of them provide plenty of memorable riffs and solos. Paul Vidal’s bass embeds the hooks on I Am Automic, especially during the breakdowns, or the crushing groove/doom found at the beginning of What I Long For? While the guitars and bass provide a thrashy nostalgia on many of the albums tracks, Dan Rogers’ technical, precise drumming has more similarities with technical death than old school thrash. Rolling fills, machine gun double kicks, and blast beats abound, Roger’s manages to hold it all together.
The songs range from hard rocking anthems, technical death, and late 80s thrash. Old school thrash fans will be happy but there are just as many contemporary influences on this album. Blind Eye Compromise is what would happen if Gojira jammed with 80s Slayer. There maybe some obvious classic references that can be heard in some tracks but then there is the moody blackened intro on Blind Eye Compromise that turns into a Slayer infused onslaught of brutality and speed. These guys are on fire. Save it For My Ghost maybe the hidden gem on the record, being that it is the last song and all, the Morbid Angel tremolo picking with insane dissonance has me hitting repeat. The guitars swarm like a sky full of killer bees. When Gorman and Davidson playoff each other during the harmonic passages, the band is firing on all cylinders. The Plague maybe my personal favourite and possibly the heaviest track on the album with its borage of blast beats, brutal riffs, and borderline hardcore vocal assault.
Metal in particular benefits from really good drum production. Nothing is worse than drums being buried in the mix. On the other hand, overly clean production can really hurt a metal recording. It needs to be a little dirty. Drummer Dan Roger’s produced and mixed the record and it is a noticeable improvement over the previous album Inevitable is The End. The mix was a little too muddy for me but The Mirror’s Face finds the perfect balance between clear and dirty tone. My only complaint would be that the bass is buried at times within the sonic chaos. I would like to hear Vidal slap the bass on the next record. Overall, this is a great sounding record that would benefit from a vinyl release…just saying.
Hero’s Last Rite is an appropriate name for a band of this stature and musicianship. They have just put out an amazing album that I believe is an Instant Classic in the local Metal canon. But most importantly, these hard working group of guys have just released their magnum opus of heavy metal. The Mirror’s Face requires multiple listens and it needs to be heard…LOUD! Highly Recommended