Enforcer is an easy band to poke fun at (and lord knows if AMG was writing this review, much poking would ensue). Though from Sweden, they play a retro style that seeks to hit the sweet spot between NWOBHM and early American speed metal acts like Abattoir, Attacker, old Anthrax (i.e. their debut) and Jag Panzer, with the occasional dose of hair metal/cock rock tossed in for shits and giggles. This style calls for a fair amount of skin-tight white jeans, hairspray, bullet belts and overall silliness pasted on a rickety frame of Iron Maiden and Saxon riffs sped up to a quasi-thrash pace. How that strikes you is a very personal matter and I’m not one to judge (that’s a lie. I’ve been silently judging you all for years). Personally, I found their first two albums light-weight, escapist fun, especially 2010s Diamonds. I expected more of the same here on Death by Fire and that’s exactly what I got. However, this time it isn’t sitting as well for a number of reasons. Maybe their style and approach has a limited shelf life (as does the whole retro-80s wave) and this baby is smelling a little…off.
Things kick off with the zippy and speedy “Death Rides the Night,” which sounds like old Jag Panzer played at the wrong speed. Although it’s a pretty fast and furious ditty, the chorus sounds like something lifted off Poison‘s Look What the Cat Dragged In. While that makes for a weird dichotomy, the old school zest of the playing makes it work, especially the exuberantly excessive solos and the vintage, “screaming mimi” vocals employed by Olaf “The Enforcer” Wikstrand. Likewise, follow ups “Run for Your Life” and “Mesmerized by the Fire” are fun, throwback 80s metal time capsules with plenty of energy, plenty of Maiden-styled galloping riffs and not a trace of brains anywhere to be found (I particularly enjoy the rousing, fist-in-the-air chorus of the latter).
After the promising start, Death by Fire quickly starts to put out the flames of its own momentum with some lackluster writing on the back half. “Take Me Out of This Nightmare” is passable, but nothing more. The instrumental “Crystal Suite” sounds like a collection of segments from the first two Maiden albums pasted together with a bit of Diamond Head serving as the glue. Not bad, not good either. “Sacrificed” is a weak track with a chorus that almost becomes memorable, but can’t quite get there, and while the riffing reminds me a bit of Mercyful Fate, it still doesn’t do much for me. “Silent Hour/Conjuration” has some nice riffs flashing in and out, but the song itself is a bit dodgy and by the time closer “Satan” arrives, I was quite tired of the whole Enforcer shtick.
The strength of Enforcer‘s sound is the frenzied and truly old school guitars courtesy of Olaf and Joseph Tholl. They loot the storehouse of Maiden, Priest, Jag Panzer and every other member of the NWOBHM and American speed metal camps and when it works, it results in some fun, nostalgic noodling. That said, it can also wear thin after a while, as it did here around the half-way point.
Making matters worse, Olaf’s vocals seem much more annoying this time out and his screaming and chirping didn’t strike me as quite so cute and old-timey as they did in 2010. Add to that a fragile, tinny, high-pitched production and often underwhelming song craft, and Death By Fire ends up with more smoke than flaming metal glory. I will say, I enjoyed the very audible bass work by Tobias Lindgvist. While he’s no Steve Harris (though the lyrics here are about as crappy as his recent works), I found myself listening to his lines more than the dulling guitar on several of the songs.
My half-apathetic reaction to Death By Fire caused me to return to Diamonds to see if I had become jaded and tired of all things retro. Turns out I still enjoy their prior platter and that’s largely the result of better, more consistent writing. It always comes back to the writing, people! At any rate, this is a noticeable drop off from Diamonds, but it has its moments. Luckily, they took the time to segregate all the good stuff on the front of the album, so cherry
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