Stormspell Records: the Tiny but True Heavy Metal Label
So who the heck is Stormspell Records?
Record Store Day 2016 was celebrated on April 16th, and as usual, I was nowhere near any retailers that took part in the festivities (sigh). I don't collect vinyl anyway, so most of the collector-bait R.S.D. "exclusive" releases aren't a major deal for me, but it would be nice to drop by an actual record store for a while on R.S.D. some year, just to soak up the atmosphere and to remember the days when a music store could actually draw a crowd on a Saturday afternoon.
Since I couldn't visit an actual store, I celebrated Record Store Day by ordering a stack of CDs online - which isn't the same, of course, but when a CD nerd gets a hankerin' for some new tunes, he will utilize any method he can in order to feed his addiction!
In order to maintain the "indie" spirit which Record Store Day was founded upon, I opted to purchase a stack of releases from Stormspell Records - a tiny California based independent record label devoted to obscure 1980s style traditional heavy metal. Stormspell has been keeping the True Metal flag flying since 2006 and in that time they've released more than a hundred titles, running the gamut from traditional and NWOBHM to thrash and death metal to '80s "hair metal." Whether they're releasing a long-lost demo recording by a long-forgotten band, a reissue of a cult classic metal album or fresh material from new bands playing in a retro/traditional '80s style, it's always 1986 in Stormspell's world, which is fine with me, The slogan that's etched right into the back of their CDs tells you everything you need to know about this label: they're "OLD FARTS STUCK IN THE 80'S AND PROUD OF IT!"
In the interest of full disclosure, I feel that I must divulge that I've known Stormspell's head honcho on a casual basis for a number of years, thanks to our mutual memberships in several of the same online heavy metal related message forums. I believe I may have ordered some CDs from Stormspell's online distribution service in the past, but the albums shown in this article are the first I've ever bought that were released by his label proper. (I can already hear him asking, "So what the @#$% took you so long, poser?" Haha...) Here's a quick rundown of the results of my first trip down Retro Metal Lane, Stormspell style...
Rocka Rollas, "Pagan Ritual" (2015)
Don't let the name fool you - they may have taken their name from the title of Judas Priest's 1974 debut album Rocka Rolla, but there's nothing '70s sounding about this band. The front cover of Rocka Rollas' Pagan Ritual proclaims it to be "KLASSIK POWER/SPEED METAL FRAN SVERIGE" (which I believe means "from Sweden," in case you're linguistically-impaired) and that seems quite accurate to me. This band has been kickin' out old school speed metal jams since 2011 and Pagan Ritual is their fourth full-length. In a nutshell, if you like your metal hyper-speed, squealy and bombastic like early Blind Guardian or Helloween (or hell, pretty much any trad-metal band that came out of Germany during the mid-to-late 1980s), the Rocka Rollas should be right up your alley. I've been told that Pagan Ritual represents a slight shift in sound towards something a bit more "epic" styled and less "street level" than their earlier albums, but since this is the first Rocka Rollas disc that I've heard, I can't say if that's true or not.
Rocka Rollas - "Demigod" from "Pagan Ritual"
Blazon Stone, "No Sign of Glory" (2015)
No Sign of Glory is the second album by Blazon Stone. If that band name sounds familiar, then you're probably a scene rat who's old enough to remember the 1991 album of the same name by German pirate-obsessed power metallers Running Wild. This is intentional, because Blazon Stone are complete, total and intentional Running Wild worship. No Sign of Glory sounds like it fell right out of a 1987 Noise Records catalog, and that's not a bad thing in my book at all.
I wasn't aware of it at the time I ordered this pile of discs, but Blazon Stone isn't actually a "band" - they're a two man "side project" headed up by Rocka Rollas guitarist Cedrick Forsberg. Cedrick performs all of the instruments on this recording (talk about a multi-talented fella!) while Georgi Peychev handles the vocals. This is classy, speedy stuff and I think I might actually like it better than Cedrick's "real" band! I will have to try and track down a copy of Blazon Stone's previous album, Return to Port Royal (yes, that's another Running Wild reference), which was released on Stormspell in 2014.
Blazon Stone - "No Return from Hell" from "No Sign of Glory"
Starborn, "The Dreaming City" EP (2015)
Hailing from the U.K., Starborn are one of the newer kids on Stormspell's block. Their five track debut EP for the label, The Dreaming City, comes highly recommended for fans of old-school power metal with shred-heavy guitar work and vocal acrobatics. The CD's hype sheet name drops such underground favorites as Liege Lord, Fates Warning and Crimson Glory as influences/comparisons, but I'd also add some Helstar, King Diamond, and even Toby Knapp's greatly missed (at least by me) early '00s combo Onward to the list. I was particularly fond of the track "Cruelty Unchained," but the entire EP is pretty damn solid - even the 13-minute plus title track never overstays its welcome. This is some highly impressive stuff and I would definitely like to hear more from this band.
My favorite thing about this CD, however, may be the awesome "TREND KILLERS" cover graphics. "Trend Killers" are Stormspell's bargain-priced series of introductory EP's by new bands (they're up to volume #16 as of this writing), and sharp eyed metal nerds with long memories will surely recognize that their cover scheme expertly parodies RoadRacer Records' classic (and now highly collectible) set of "Price Killers" budget-line CDs from the late '80s/early '90s.
Starborn - "Cruelty Unchained" from "The Dreaming City"
Lunar Shadow, "Triumphator" EP (2016)
Germany's Lunar Shadow is such a new band that they didn't even have a listing on the record-collectors' tracking site RateYourMusic until I took the liberty of adding them. (You're welcome, fellas.) The awesomely retro Conan-the-Barbarian style cover art on the four song Triumphator EP may bring legendary sword swingers Manowar to mind, but the music is more along the lines of NWOBHM like Angel Witch or early Iron Maiden (lotsa twiddly-twiddly twin guitar harmonics), or their rougher-around-the-edges spiritual children like Omen and Jag Panzer. What Lunar Shadow may lack in polish, they make up for in tried-and-true metal attitude! This EP has quickly become my favorite out of this batch of Stormspell releases, so naturally I did a happy dance when I heard that Lunar Shadow is due to enter the recording studio soon to begin work on their first full length album. Bring it on!
Lunar Shadow - "Metalian" from "Triumphator"
Cold Steel, "America Idle" EP (2012)
I had only vague memories of this reactivated New York thrash outfit before I picked up America Idle. To the best of my knowledge, Cold Steel released one album in 1992 - Freakboy, on the short lived J.L. America label - then disappeared off the face of the Earth until 2012, when they resurfaced to cut this five track EP. I wonder if someone in the Cold Steel camp lost their home in the mid-2000's economic meltdown, because America Idle is a pretty pissed-off disc of chunky power/thrash full of songs railing against the U.S. government and calling on the public to rise up and fight the power (the band proclaims "We want YOU for the Revolution!" on the disc's back cover). Musically Cold Steel's mid-paced thrash comes off like an angrier Anthrax or Metal Church, with a healthy dose of Testament, particularly in Troy Norr's gruff vocal delivery. Cold Steel hasn't released anything new since this EP, so I guess that means the "revolution" didn't go as planned. Still, America Idle is worth a listen if you're a fan of any of the aforementioned acts.
ColdSteel "America Idle"
More True Metal on the horizon...
These five discs may have been my first foray into the Stormspell catalog, but they definitely won't be my last. As I write this I've already got three more of their releases on the way to me - the 2012 self titled debut from Puerto Rico power metallers Sacred Guardian, United for Metal by Brothers Of Sword (a Brazilian combo with a high level of Manowar worship) and a re-issue of Rocka Rollas' 2011 debut album The War of Steel Has Begun. I think I may be developing an addiction!
According to Stormspell's Facebook page, their upcoming release slate includes CDs by Hellhound, Shah ('80s thrash metal from Russia), Steel Aggressor, Ancient Empire ("sci-fi themed power metal"), and Silverbones (Cool! More "Rum Fueled Pirate Metal" ala Blazon Stone!), to name just a few. I will definitely be keeping a closer eye (and ear) on this tiny but true label which deserves the support of every metal head!! Happy 10th Anniversary, Stormspell... and here's to many more!!