Reviewed: January 2020
Released: 2020, Fighter Records
Reviewer: Lee Carter
Whatever walk of life you pass through, comparisons are always made between you and someone or something else. It may be an overt thing, or something far more subtle, but it is always there. You may even do it to yourself (and cesspits like the advertising media bloody know it). It is especially the case with artists and musicians, but it’s made worse by the fact that these are often comparisons they themselves have chosen to define them. As a musician or artist, your influences are what make you who you are, and that then means you are measured by them, particularly if you state who your heroes are aloud.
Drawing influence from MANILLA ROAD, VISIGOTH, OMEN and ETERNAL CHAMPION, as well as metal gods IRON MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST or MERCYFUL FATE are Spain’s WAR DOGS. Formed in 2015, ‘Die By My Sword’ represents the band’s first full-length bow to the metal world and it demonstrates that the one thing the band is not lacking in is confidence. From front to back, the album is a tour-de-force of galloping riffs with subtle thrash leanings, chest-thumping lyricism and a thoroughly “metal” aesthetic. The phrase “go big or go home” springs to mind, and the Spaniards are certainly not hailing a cab anytime soon.
‘Die By My Sword’ opens with the title track and immediately gets the blood pumping with MAIDEN-esque drive and snaking riffs that demonstrate cracking technique from the band’s guitarists. From there, the blueprint for the rest of the album is set out, with subsequent cuts like “Castle Of Pain” and “Ready To Strike” similarly driving, with gang vocals making an appearance to give an uplift that will no doubt work well live. Whilst the riffs are more of a thrash thing, with scale runs and licks throughout, the lead work owes a lot to the band’s illustrious influences in MAIDEN, PRIEST and FATE, with twin lines throughout to get the air guitarist wailing away.
All sounds like it could sit alongside the greats, right? Yet for all the machismo and oh-so-metal aesthetic (album cover, battle themes in each track and the song titles themselves), ‘Die By My Sword’ feels really rather flat. Considering WAR DOGS’ more decorated luminaries with their soaring vocals and epic songwriting, the album just doesn’t have that quality. The vocals here, whilst impassioned and befitting the music, aren’t in the same league as the likes of Bruce Dickinson or Rob Halford, and rarely escape what feels like a comfortable range of octaves.
Even the themes of fighting and battles comes across rather safe as an album subject. Granted, there is only so much that can be written about in music, but the content on ‘Die By My Sword’ just feels rather uninspired. Only “The Shark” really makes an effort to change up the subject matter as a tribute to MANILLA ROAD’s late vocalist, Mark “The Shark” Shelton, with its refrain of “he gave heavy metal to the world”. Though wait just a moment and normal service is resumed as WAR DOGS announce that “tonight we fight in Hell”, so so much for that.
Bottom-line, there isn’t anything stand-out wrong with WAR DOGS’ debut, as it is a perfectly serviceable album of traditional heavy metal. The playing and cohesion is tops, whilst the songwriting is concise and to-the-point; nothing screams “bad”. It’s just that it never really feels like it gets out of second gear. Of course, not every album can twat you around the face with a sharpened broadsword by an elite knight, but this one feels rather more like a jab by an uncommitted conscript. Full props to the band’s confidence, but drawing comparison with the likes of MAIDEN, PRIEST and FATE may have given the album’s title of ‘Die By My Sword’ a rather more self-directed quality.