I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
Release Date: March 2020 via Stormspell Records
Genre: Traditonal Heavy/Power Metal
Tracks: 8 Run Time: 50:53
Southern California's Shadowkiller was not an immediately familiar name to me when the promo for Dark Awakening arrived from the true metal specialists at Stormspell Records. However, a quick scan of the credits revealed that all four of the musicians that make up Shadowkiller (guitarist/vocalist Joe Liszt, lead guitarist Rob Edwards, bassist Dan Lynch, and drummer Rob Neff) have been involved at one time or another with fellow Stormspell acts Ancient Empire and/or Hellhound, which rang a few bells. (Continuing with the All-In-The-Stormspell-Family vibe, Joe Liszt has also performed vocals on two releases by the now-defunct Rocka Rollas. Now your score card is up to date.)
I've reviewed several of Ancient Empire's past releases for this site and I've enjoyed their ambitious, science-fiction inspired conceptual albums which followed in the footsteps of German power metallers like Iron Savior. Once I learned of Shadowkiller's connection with A.E., I was very interested in what Dark Awakening would have to offer.
Unlike the Ancient Empire catalog, Shadowkiller's Dark Awakening (their fourth album) does not appear to be a "concept" album (correct me if I'm wrong, fellas). The eight tracks on Dark Awakening are straight-forward melodic power metal with fantasy-inspired lyrics that should appeal to fans of vintage Iron Maiden, Iced Earth, and Liege Lord.
The album's opening track "A Fate to Echo" begins with some plaintive piano and guitar interplay that brings to mind Edge of Thorns-era Savatage (Liszt's vocals even sound a bit like Savatage's Zak Stevens at times), which is one of my all time favorite bands/albums, so we're already off to a good start. The chugging, seven-minute "Jericho Hill" (which is apparently inspired by Stephen Kings's The Dark Tower saga) is a Maiden-ish highlight, and "At the River's Edge" thumps along with a nice balance of melody and crunch. A sinister acoustic intro leads into the epic "The Witch on the Mountain," ably showcasing the guitar skills of Liszt and Rob Edwards.
When "Darkness of War" speeds things up a bit at the album's mid-point, it brings in a bit of the Euro power metal vibe of HammerFall, and I swear I can hear a slight classic rock/Deep Purple vibe in the dark n' doomy "Sea of Conquest," thanks to some badass Jon Lord style keyboard fills at the beginning of the track. "Shadows of the Mist" is a pure speed metal cut in the vein of Gamma Ray, with plenty of zippy guitar work and soaring vocals from Liszt. The album closes with its longest track, "The Fires of Olympus," which approaches the eight minute mark and has lots of hills and valleys for the players to show off their skills.
"At the River's Edge"
Summing It Up
Shadowkiller is a band of veteran players and performers who have their musical you-know-what together and definitely know how to craft epic songs in the classic '80s heavy metal style. As usual for a Stormspell release, the production, artwork and packaging of Dark Awakening is all top notch. The band gives a shout out to departed Rush drummer Neil Peart in the CD booklet, which was an additional classy touch.
If I had to pick nits, I'd say that that at times while listening to Dark Awakening, I found myself wishing that Shadowkiller would step on the gas pedal a little bit more often (as heard in the highlight tracks "Darkness of War" and "Shadows of the Mist"), because the bulk of the album is played at the same chunky, mid-tempo pace. It's not boring, but a few more bursts of intensity would have livened up the overall proceedings just a bit.
In spite of that minor complaint, Dark Awakening is an enjoyable enough retro-metal listen and I recommend it to fans of solidly played, polished American style power metal.
Slaves of Egypt—Stormspell Records, 2013
Until the War Is Won—Pure Steel Records, 2015
Guardians of the Temple—Self released, 2018
Dark Awakening—Stormspell Records, 2020
© 2020 Keith Abt