Tower Hill
Deathstalker

Picture this: you find yourself in the hellscape of a charred and broken battlefield. You’re tired, bleeding from a nasty gash left in your ribs by a claymore you were only just lucky enough to avoid having split you in two. Vision is blurred, everything sounds echoed and distant. Desperately, you look in every direction for an ally, and find they’re overrun – the enemy cutting down friends, neighbors, brothers and sisters with sadistic grins and reckless abandon. Through the smoke and the blood and screams, it all becomes unnervingly clear:

You’re fucked. Game over.

But just as you’ve accepted your inevitable fate – *CRACK* – the most unlikely of sounds somehow cuts through the chaos. It seems to stop time itself, brings the battle to a sudden, screeching halt. The attention of every still-living soul has now turned completely to face the source of this disturbance. And there, holding a freshly-opened White Claw, stands the husky, aviator-clad hero no one saw coming. A killer clown with a grin as big as their beer-swelled gut, and jeans cut down so short you can only hope and pray his briefs are up to the task of keeping any prized jewels from making a surprise appearance.

Just when you thought the battle was over – it turns out the party was just getting started.

This, brothers and sisters, is the Tower Hill experience. Let’s. Fucking. GET IT.

I know that I am part of probably a very small group of people who have been waiting with bated breath for these Alberta-born warriors to drop this, their first full length following 2021’s incredibly fun and endearing Fighting Spirits EP, an understandably under-the-radar release that, nevertheless, packed a punch much greater than it had any right to. In just 3 songs, anyone lucky enough to stumble across that modest offering could not help but get swept up in the raucous, all-in energy of R.F. Traynor’s (at the time responsible for every aspect of Tower Hill‘s music) performance – especially on the brilliant, light-hearted “The Claw is the Law,” which presented the world with the White Claw-guzzling metal anthem literally no one asked for. It is every bit as dumb as it sounds, and yet I will defend ’til the end of days that we’re all better off for having it exist.

Even better – anyone new to Tower Hill doesn’t even need to go back to that debut EP to enjoy those three tracks (rounded out by the equally excellent “Fighting Spirits” and “Antigone”), because they’ve all been re-recorded here, now with a full band in tow (Personally I suggest going back just to compare the two recordings because I’m psychotic like that, but I digress)! I’ll admit, this gave me some hesitation because sometimes a band will do this because those original songs are much better than anything they’ve come up with since, but I’m happy to report this is not remotely the case here. Deathstalker is filled to the brim with high energy bangers that meet at the crossroads of Traditional Heavy Metal and Power Metal, not the least of which coming from opener “Deathstalker” which sets the tone right away with a commanding and highly entertaining vocal performance (processed as some of the higher-register falsettos may be), and picking right back up again where the EP left off with some fan-freaking-tastic guitar work that put “fun” at the highest priority, a core pillar of what makes the Tower Hill sound. Soaring, Maiden-inspired melodies, sharp, head-banging riffs from the schools of Judas Priest and Rhapsody, and some more-than-capable leads that could stand tall and proud with any modern masters of the genre. It’s a fantastic start that leads beautifully into the first re-recording, the aforementioned ode to hard seltzer “The Claw is the Law.” If it’s your first experience, strap in, because it’s just a goddamn doozy that will have you screaming along with the earworm chorus on first listen. I mean, just look at this shit:

“Ain’t no laws tonight!
Metal on our side!
Ain’t no laws tonight,
When you’re on the claws!”

I will shotgun 8 ‘claws and run through drywall for this band. I will become an absolute menace.

While certainly the other re-treads “Fighting Spirit” and “Antigone” both carry the same kind of no-holds-barred, full-throttle energy, some of the new tracks show that Tower Hill aren’t just a one trick pony. While certainly not lacking in potency, “Kings Who Die” takes a much more measured approach. The riffs and melodies are every bit as mighty, but here the band adds some really nice groove to the mix – the changeup in timing and tempo making for a much more dynamic listening experience as you make your way through the album. It’s still fun as all get-out, but it feels slightly more calculated, showing that underneath the joyous vibes that permeate most of the album, beats the heart of a band that still deserves to be taken seriously. That trend continues with “In at the Death,” which presents an even slower, more meticulous attack that displays a sense of maturity you’d be forgiven for not knowing the band were capable of. I admit, on first listen it came across slightly off-putting, if simply because it felt out-of-place with the rest of the Tower Hill experience, but with every repeated listen I’ve grown to appreciate it more and more. Tower Hill no longer just feels like a cheap thrill, there’s some real meat on the bone here.

BUT, if that emotional low point ruins your vibe, fret not, because balance is restored with the duo of “All the Little Devils are Proud of Hell” and “How Am I,” both of which showcase the band’s newer sense of relative maturity without sacrificing any of the innocence and vibrance promised on the Fighting Spirits EP. The Eddie Van Halen-inspired soloing of the former is enough to have you breaking out in air guitar hysterics, and the latter is a work of pure Judas Priest worship of the highest order that will again have you pumping your fists in the air with it’s anthemic glory. And this, really, is where Tower Hill has established its identity – it’s not in the originality of the work, nor is even in it’s quality (high as it certainly is, it’s not like there’s a shortage of high-quality similar releases out there to be found), it’s in the sheer exuberance of the delivery. Where Eternal Champion is the stern, no-nonsense field general barking orders and crushing enemies with precision attacks, Tower Hill is the goofy, chaotic, probably drunk goblins swarming the battlefield with absolutely no regard for personal safety or sense of self-preservation. You get the sense that every solo and soaring melody is performed with their tongues out, a knowing wink given over their lowered aviators saying “yeah, this is fuckin’ rad, my dude.” And it is. It’s fucking RAD.

I genuinely hope the sense of fun at the center of Tower Hill is never lost. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being the party boys of the Heavy Metal fight for supremacy, and I can’t think of anyone who fits the bill more naturally. I’m so happy to say that for once, an album I had so heavily anticipated ended up completely knocking it out of the damn park, because Deathstalker is a pure joy from start to finish, and easily one of the most fun record of the year for me. It’s pretty much everything I wanted it to be, and I can’t wait to see where these friggin’ animals go from here. If you’re at all a fan of Traditional Heavy Metal, there is absolutely a place in your life for this record.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
November 28th, 2023

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