Conquest of Steel

Storm Sword: Rise of the Dread Queen

Written by: GR on 29/10/2009 01:21:30

I'm not sure what Conquest of Steel's reputation is like outside of the UK metal scene, or indeed if many of you will be familiar with them at all, but over here they're generally well regarded in the underground by those of us who enjoy a bit of unashamed heavy metal; denim, leather, studs and clichéd themes intact. I discovered their self-titled debut album some time back in 2005 and whilst initially underwhelmed by its somewhat rough production values, ended up completely hooked on their infectious and exuberant metal anthems. After a stop-gap EP, second album "Hammer & Fist" saw the light of day two years ago and offered improved, if a bit flat, production and another clutch of strong songs. Two years on and we have the release of "Storm Sword: Rise of the Dread Queen", a title that should give a clue as to the nature of this album - that's right, it's a concept album, which, as we all know, is potentially rocky territory for any band. The narrative weaving it's way through the 14 tracks charts the rise and fall of an empire, complete with a king and his mythical sword (the 'Storm Sword'), a blind prophet, a discarded princess, tyranny, betrayal, lust, incest, rebellion, war and everything else you'd expect from the sort of story Manowar would be proud of.

You've probably already decided whether or not this is likely to be an album worth further investigation, so for those still here for the ride, I'm pleased to be able to inform you that on the whole Conquest of Steel's brave move into the conceptual realm has been successful. Creeping orchestral intro track "The Final Battle" signifies the grand scale being aimed for and when first track proper "Conquest Through Fire and Steel" kicks in there's no doubt who we're listening to; it's classic Conquest. To the uninitiated their sound may seem generic, but they have a guitar tone and playing style that is unmistakable, the twin guitar attack charging from the front. Next song "The Prophecy" (watch the video here) is an anthemic highlight, employing the dual vocals of frontman Dan Durrant and bassist Vic Victory to great effect and creating a sound that I would like to hear developed further. As the album progresses it become clear that this is Conquest of Steel's most accomplished and mature album to date, using variations of their basic metal style and pushing their musical boundaries with interesting and even slightly progressive ideas. Sure, this is no "Dark Side of the Moon", but for a band that has penned such bastions of straight-up heavy metal as "Bitch of Steel" and "Steel is the Law" (they do like their steel!), it's most definitely a step forward.

At first I just listened to the album and didn't make any attempt to find out the concept or really take in the lyrics, but I recommend becoming familiar with the story as linked above, as it really helped add to my overall listening experience once I knew the outline of the tale being told. In particular the tracks that feature female vocals made sense in a narrative context (representing the character of Jocasta, daughter of the king) rather than just being a factor adding to the sonic attributes of the record. With the use of different elements such as the female vocals, acoustic guitars and Hammerfall-esque backing chants, as well as the catchy and glorious full-on metal assault, there are times when this album pushes itself firmly into [8] territory, but unfortunately doesn't quite manage to keep the excitement and interest levels up across all the tracks to warrant such a score . The need to continue the epic narrative occasionally comes at the cost of memorable song writing; some of the verses towards the end of the album in particular becoming Conquest-by-numbers and making little impact. I suspect there'll be many people who won't be able to stomach the cheesy nature of the lyrics, particularly the likes of "Lament of the Steel" ("Though I ride into battle with steel by my side/Though I know those who face me shall die"), but the band pull the whole thing off with enough conviction and confidence to satisfy most battle-hardened heavy metal warriors. Realistically, "Storm Sword" isn't going to elevate Conquest of Steel above the underground cult status they've already obtained, but it's a worthy addition to their armoury and one to pick up if you like your metal old school and your stories epic.

Download: The Prophecy, Unholy Union, Lament of the Steel
For the fans of: Manowar, Iron Maiden, Marshall Law
Listen: Myspace

Release date 06.04.2009
No Face

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