Keepers of the Flame

Let’s just go ahead and address the elephant in the room.


Listen, I’m not afraid of indulging some full-on campy fantastical Power Metal tropes. Shit, I not only reviewed Victorius’ Space Ninjas From Hell earlier in the year, I loved it. So clearly, I’m in no way above nerding the fuck out – but my gods. You start immediately on the left with what appears to be He-Man and Han Solo’s Viking love child, brandishing both a flaming sword AND some kind of futuristic-looking blaster of sorts at his hip. Then you’ve got the Human Torch’s very… uh… well-endowed sister who is, for reasons unknown, crouched in a pose that’s bringing back nightmares seared into my brain from those horrific Cats movie trailers. And that’s a fucking owl, right? Yes, I know that “Greyhawk” is a D&D reference, but if you’re gonna give yourself that name and fully immerse yourself into this fantasy as these guys have… You might as well make it a hawk, right?! I can’t be the only one thinking this. And wouldn’t the snow around flaming cat-lady be all melted?!

ANYWAY… while I normally don’t bring album art into the equation of my reviews, I bring it up here for two very important reasons. One: It’s just fucking outrageous. And two: Keepers of the Flame actually serves as a pretty good example that you shouldn’t necessarily judge a book fully on it’s cover, because this is an album that actually caught me, very pleasantly, by surprise.

So here I am, expecting some full-on Power Metal, maybe with a folkish twist. Something along the lines of Falconer or Twilight Force. And indeed right off the bat, intro “Gates of Time” does little to quell those expectations, with building synths leading to a sort of cosmic PA announcement from singer Rev Taylor leading you through said Gates of Time. But follow-up “Frozen Star” breaks in with an unexpected surprise; busy fretwork and rollicking double bass get things going, bringing early HammerFall to mind, right before Rev busts out a totally unexpected falsetto scream, the likes of which would grab King Diamond’s attention (though impressive, he thankfully only uses them sparingly throughout the album. A little bit goes a long way).

Suddenly, I’m not in the more over-the-top world of Gloryhammer or Rhapsody. Nay, my friends, we’re taking a ride back into the early years of what would be the more traditional Heavy Metal-leaning  building blocks of Power Metal as we know it. Painkiller-era Judas Priest, Helloween, a hell of a lot of the aforementioned HammerFall, and of course a healthy dose of Dio for good measure. By the time third track “Drop The Hammer,” uh, drops, with its speedier Motorhead-esque riffing and rowdy gang vocal chorus, my perspective has totally changed and I’m all-in on this thing.

The band does a nice job pacing this album, too. The incredibly catchy “Halls of Sanity” slows things down a beat into a nice mid-paced, but upbeat track that leans heavily on the Dio influence and features one of the better, more controlled vocal performances on the record. They follow that track up by breaking things completely down with “The Rising Sign,” a moody, brooding ballad that reminds me in equal parts of Alice Cooper and Type O Negative or Moonspell. It’s a nice sort of decrescendo before the band launches into the album’s second act, which storms back in spades with the epic instrumental, “R.X.R.O,” a total noodle fest of Yngwie Malmsteenistic proportions that allows the band to really just get up on their soapboxes and shred away. It’s ostentatious and geeky, but it’s all in good fun.

The thing is, I’m really just a sucker for bands who are willing to throw all shame off a cliff and go full-bore into embracing whatever their “thing” happens to be. These guys aren’t half-assing anything they do here – they’re confidently and proudly putting their chainmailed, sword-wielding hearts on their sleeves and giving it the full beans. The album’s real highlight, “Don’t Wait For The Wizard,” is an absolute ear worm with some of the record’s most ridiculous and undeniably catchy songwriting. Even the coldest, blackest of hearts would have a hard time scoffing at this one, as they crank everything up to 11 and put the Priest worship on full display. Meanwhile, “Black Peak” goes full Manowar-style anthem and gets your fists pumping and head banging. “Masters of the Sky,” with it’s Thin Lizzy-inspired galloping guitars is just a pure joy that has me begging for a beer right about now and has me thinking about shaving my beard down to a handlebar moustache. I’m not going to, but I’m thinking about it…

I’ll tell you one thing, when I saw that cover for the first time, I sure as shit didn’t expect to end up with an 8 paragraph-long review about this thing, even if one was just a commentary on the ridiculousness of said cover. But I guess maybe that’s the plus-side of low expectations, you open the door for fantastic surprises like this to stride in with its fur-lined boots and mead-fueled outrageousness and provide you with a genuinely good time. Regardless of whether or not this is your kind of thing, the fact is that this is a group of dudes doing what they do really, really well. Rock on, you glorious dorks!

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
July 29th, 2020


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