St. Paul, Minnesot'as True Metal Record Store (RIP as of Dec. 24, 2015)
For further insight into this loosely defined “series,” see our first entry (and inaugural blog post!) reviewing FATES WARNING’s brilliant and mystical masterwork Awaken the Guardian.
OMEN (USA) — Battle Cry
Metal Blade Records, 1984
Welcome back to the
Metal Blade Records Tribute The Overlooked series, if two posts can be rightly called a series. We’ll cross and burn that drawbridge when we get there. Lo! For now, this piece of epic US power metal known as Battle Cry deserves your rapt and undivided attention.
I’ve been sitting on this review for a while, but since my post on the recent MANOWAR show keeps getting hits from all over the web nearly a month later, it seems like the appropriate time to let this beast out of its cage.
Assuming one believes the two bands are even fit for comparison, I find OMEN to be the superior entity. Hailing from the home city of their label, OMEN were inarguably contemporaneous with the Manowarriors’ obsession with all things medieval, taking care to exploit such trappings in word, wear and song.
This isn’t to say that there weren’t a million examples of dragon lore and courtly lust throughout metal at the time. However, OMEN, like MANOWAR, managed to better their European brethren by making the medieval bristle with immediate and genuine power. The opening lyrics cut to the heart of the matter, showing that OMEN is no dusty old storyteller but a force to be reckoned with directly:
Ride against the wind, shameless killer in the night
Rape another village, before the break of light
Trample down the ashes, grind them with your hate
Take another helpless life, before it’s too late
Thus spake the late JD Kimball. Although he never had the range or bag of vocal tricks of, say, Eric Adams, his raw, esophageal tenor was a perfect match for the sustained and explosive tension delivered by guitarist Kenny Powell et al. As JD waxes nostalgic, evocative, soaring dual-guitar harmonies and a muscular, galloping rhythm section guide him like a stiff wind and sturdy steed. The riffs thrive on short and recognizable phrases in predictable patterns to drive home anthemic choruses. In short, nothing out of the ordinary for heavy metal at the time, at least in the popular conception of its essence.
But therein lies the paradox of Battle Cry: the terse and formulaic songs, independently, don’t seem important, but as if by alchemy, the album as a whole conjures a magical heavy metal realm where raised fists, rhythmic headbanging and volatile screams are obligatory rites of passage. By unflinchingly forging straight into the fray and avoiding boring paeans to rock music through ballads and bluesy accents, OMEN managed to tap a true heavy metal lifeblood that their much more famous forbears often took years more to finally recognize or achieve. Add passionate execution and an authentic air to the mix and the whole concoction is spellbinding and hypnotic. And, lest it be left unsaid, damned fun.
Enjoy this piece of American metal history and think back 30 years to a time when such music could be pulled off without a trace of irony or apology.
The smell of death lingers in the air
Bloodstained bodies scattered everywhere
In the distance
Thunder in the sky
See the sorrow
Hear the battlecry, battlecry
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