Released: 1998, Sentinel Steel
Earlier this month I had noticed that somehow in our history we had not reviewed any albums by Gothic Knights. Mortified by this oversight I reviewed their whole catalogue. As I was working through that process it occurred to me I wanted to share my thoughts with our readership on the brand new Axehammer album as well. There has always been a parallel (in my mind anyway) between to the two bands. Again I discovered we had no Axehammer CD reviews in our database. What an oversight! It’s almost like the phantom that haunts the Metal-Rules crypt is slowly removing album reviews because I could have sworn we had a couple of Axehammer reviews (and Gothic Knights) reviews in our database. No matter, I can fix that! So much like the Gothic Knights feature we are proud to bring you three reviews of Axehammer, LORD OF THE REALM (1998), WINDRIDER (2006) and the newest 2012 album, MARCHING ON.
Denis Gulbey and Sentinel Steel have an uncanny knack for finding these great bands that could have and should have made it (but never did) and giving them the recognition they deserve. Axehammer was an LA area band that was active in the club scene in the early 80’s. They churned out the one EP and after almost a decade of struggle they called it quits in 1989. In hindsight it’s obvious why they never made it in LA. They were too heavy, too European, for the sound and the times of the Sunset Strip. Again, looking back I easily lump them in with the heavier LA bands of the time, Malice, Lizzy Borden, Slayer and W.A.S.P.
The Sentinel Steel issue of their EP, LORD OF THE REALM is extremely well done. The multi-page, multi-colour booklet has lots of memorabilia, photos, liner notes, an essay and commentary from the various band members. The disc also comes with three bonus tracks including a fun radio promo for a local rock bar where Axehammer was slated to play. The booklet, design and layout are of the highest quality and other bands should look to this on how to do a good reissue. Getting Greg Hildebrant, the famed Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Comic/Movie Poster artist, to do the cover art is also a major score as well!
One of the immediate highlights (or perhaps drawbacks depending on your perspective) are the over the top vocals of Bill Ramp. Bill’s performance is full-tilt and he uses a wide range of styles which I personally love but I understand could turn off someone who is accustomed to more traditional vocals. For a good example, check out his solo vocal slot at about the 3:00 mark of the title track. He actually yodels with any music to accompany him. I’m not kidding. He uses his range and power to deliver a very quirky performance, I’d say almost ‘oversung’ but there is not such a thing in Metal. He is the not-so-secret weapon of the band. I love his spoken world intro of the bands signature song, ‘Axehammer. The lyrics are as follows.
“And so it was said to the Metal giant…
“Ye shall send the Antichrist back to hell with thy blade of steel.
For no Man can stop you
Your name shall be…AXEHAMMER!”
That’s got to be the most metal thing I have ever heard. The opening track ‘Princess’ is also a bit weird; it starts with (after a brief flourish) a minute long bass solo of all things! The whole album of classic metal is loaded with personality, character and style. The production is good for the time and the thumping chest-pounding sound still retains the energy and true Metal sound without sounding dated.
In the end this reissue, and the few loyal fans who remember the band and the few of us who thirst for true Metal, have given Axehammer a new lease on life as they have reformed and released a couple more albums over the past decade. There is enough magic in the songs and performances to give the band a new sense of purpose and drive. This is where it all began!