Ancient Empire And Sage Meridien: Two New Releases From Stormspell Records
Two New Slabs of True Metal from Stormspell
One of the perks of being an amateur, wanna-be music journalist/blogger is that once in a blue moon, someone actually sends me free stuff to review. It doesn't happen very often, but it's always a nice feeling when it does - because even after all this time, it's still a little mind-blowing to think that anyone is interested in actively seeking out my opinion!
Anyway... I've written several Hubs about Stormspell Records -the tiny-but-true indie Heavy Metal record label — over the past few months, (no, I'm not on their payroll, I just dig their stuff!) and this past week they were nice enough to hook me up with promotional copies of two of their newest releases, which was a cool, unexpected surprise. I was unfamiliar with the two albums that I received - Ancient Empire's Other World (which is available right now via Stormspell's CDBaby Page) and Sage Meridien's Whispered Thoughts (scheduled to be released in October 2016) — but as it turned out, both were right up my '80s retro-power-true-metal lovin' alley. It was an honor to be allowed to take a sneak peek at these albums before they're unleashed onto the rest of the world. Thanks for allowing me into your "inner circle," Stormspell!
...wow, maybe I should start writing articles about bikini models, high-end sports cars, expensive micro-brewed beers and gold Krugerrands. Imagine the freebie possibilities!
Ancient Empire — "Other World" (2016)
Ancient Empire was a new name to me, but it turns out that Other World is the second album by this San Franciscan trio (their debut When Empires Fall was released via Stormspell in 2014). The three members of Ancient Empire are seasoned Bay Area metal scene veterans with stints in bands such as Rellik, Shadowkiller, Hellhound, Forgotten Disciple, and Rocka Rollas on their resumes. On Other World, they serve up cool traditional heavy/power metal with a lyrical focus on science fiction, very similar to Germany's Iron Savior. The cool cover art of a giant alien spacecraft approaching Earth appealed to my inner sci-fi nerd before I even pressed "play" on the album! Opening track "Fight Another Day" starts the disc off in fine Judas Priest style (the beginning of this song echoes the Priest's classic "Electric Eye" intro) and then blasts into eight muscular, chugging power metal anthems with lyrics about Earth fighting back against alien invasions and humanity finding their ultimate destiny out amongst the stars. Do these guys play live? While listening to Other World I could imagine the band playing onstage in front of a giant screen projecting clips from Star Wars, 2001, Battlestar Galactica, Starship Troopers, etc...it would be pretty sweet!
I haven't had time to thoroughly pore over this album's lyric sheet yet, so I can't tell whether these eight songs are all part of the same "concept," or if each song is a stand-alone sci-fi story. Either way, if you're a fan of meat-n-potatoes metal like the aforementioned Judas Priest and Iron Savior, or stalwarts such as Armored Saint, Iced Earth, Primal Fear, or Metal Church, you should definitely dig Ancient Empire. When you camp outside your local theater to wait for Star Wars: Rogue One tickets, make sure this album is loaded into your MP3 player! There don't seem to be any tracks from Other World available on YouTube as of this writing, so here's a cut from When Empires Fall to check out.
Ancient Empire - "Wings of Steel" (2014)
Sage Meridien — "Whispered Tales" (2016)
While Ancient Empire represents Stormspell's "true metal still lives in the here and now" aspect, Sage Meridien's Whispered Tales continues the label's tradition of honoring the obscure Ghosts of Heavy Metal Past. This Tucson, Arizona-based five piece self-released Whispered Tales as a demo tape (remember those?) way back in 1989 (!), and it proved to be the band's one and only recorded effort before they vanished off the face of the Earth. More than a quarter century later, Stormspell resurrected this long-lost cult tape, digitally remastered it, and is releasing it on CD for the very first time. The hype sheet for this release compares Sage Meridian to such progressive/power metal demi-gods as Helstar, early Queensryche, Crimson Glory, and Fates Warning, and I can agree with all of those picks. Particularly Helstar, because Adrian Urbana's high-pitched vocal acrobatics bring to mind that band's legendary, leather-lunged frontman James Rivera (check out the opening "Tales of the Sage" for proof!). Urbana does seem to "push his voice past its natural limits once in a while and ends up sounding a little warbly and weird as a result... but that's my only major complaint I have about this band. Musically Sage Meridien definitely had their you-know-what together, and they show off their chops admirably throughout, especially during the instrumental "Octavian."
There are only five tracks on Whispered Tales, but four of them are lengthy epics that crack the eight-minute mark, which turns this into an album-length listening experience rather than a short EP like I had expected at first glance. I love it when obscure, "arcane" metal material like this is unearthed and given another chance at life. I hope the Sage Meridien guys are happy with the results of this rescue effort.
Sage Meridien — "The Power that Preserves" (1989)
More True Metal on the Horizon
In addition to these two newest releases, Stormspell's upcoming schedule includes a compilation album to celebrate their 10th Anniversary (A Decade of Might and Magic), as well as new albums by Brazil's one-man power metal project Yuri Fulone (In the Steel You Can Trust) and Colombian thrashers Reptile (Solid Metal Rules, which is likely to be my next purchase from Stormspell because the samples on the label's Bandcamp page sound totally bad-ass!).
For you hipster vinyl junkies, Stormspell recently mentioned on their Facebook page that they're considering a possible first-time-ever-for-the-label LP release as part of their 10th-anniversary festivities... but they have not yet revealed which band/title might receive the honor of being pressed to wax. Stay tuned! Obviously, there's a lot going on in the Stormspell camp at the moment. Congrats on a decade of keeping True Metal alive, and here's to another ten years!