Swords and sorcery and heavy metal have been linked since the primordial days of the genre. Both interests were most certainly pursued in basements across the country so it is no surprise that they would soon influence one another. The fantasy influence remains strong with many current metal bands including the likes of Pittsburgh’s Legendry and Texas’ Eternal Champion among others. Picking up the battle ax to continue the journey is Columbus’ Grayhawk with their ambitious new album The Sacred Seal.
The band’s first full-length is an epic 12 track story complete with an intro that serves as a prologue to the story that unfolds as well as the band themselves. The story really takes off with the galloping opener All Is One. Jack Proctor’s drums and Ron Camstra’s bass are the horses carrying Zac Szymusiak’s fiery guitar work into the first of many solos about three minutes into the first track. The band really starts to find it’s groove on Dragic’s Deal with a chugging riff and a hook that requires repeated listens. The album’s centerpiece Test Your Metal is a thrash metal epic that takes some proggy turns before it races to a glorious double-bass finish. The Sacred Seal closes with The Tale to Come… which hopefully means there are more metal adventures to come from Grayhawk. Are you willing to roll the dice on this journey?
Bourbon Train is a bit deceiving at first, a band that zags instead of zigs but ends up in a good place nonetheless. Coming into to this release, I expected more of a sweaty mix of heavy blooze riffs and vocals that would veer more toward a plodding stoner blues sound. I am happy to report that my assumptions were quickly dashed by the aptly titled First Stop. It takes about a minute for the band to kick into a high energy opening riff carried swiftly by bassist Andy Shaw and drummer Justin Kaplan’s steady gallop. Travis Anderson’s vocal delivery comes in somewhere between James Gang era Joe Walsh and an amped up Bob Hite from Canned Heat although a bit more unhinged (in a good way).
First Stop is the first proper release by the Columbus Ohio band and brings with it a tight sound that can only be built through late nights on a barroom stage or rehearsal space. Whiskey Litch is built around a serpentine blues riff that rises and falls between huge solos by Casey Haubach and Tyler Lust. End of the Line is the heaviest track on the album with double bass and heavy riffage to spare. Bourbon Train defies expectations on this first release with a muscular sound and velocity that creates a unique blues-based heavy rock release.
Akula as a going concern is a relative newcomer to the scene having only existed for less than a year, but this beast is constructed from veterans of the Columbus, Ohio metal community. Chris Thompson and Jeff Martin from Lo-Pan handle guitar and vocals, Sergei Parfenov from Ves/Nightsoil is also on guitar, while Scott Hyatt from Bridesmaid fame brings the bass and Ronnie Miller from Artillery Breath mans the drum kit. Based on the collective metal resume brought to this band, there should be no question that it will slay. Spoiler alert; it slays.
A Pound Of Flesh kicks off the album and sets the tone for the rest of the album by packing a truck load of riffs into the first song. Flesh begins with an ascending tone that allows Martin’s vocals to climb and climb until it hits a brick wall of riffage and drum fills about a minute into the piece. From there the track shifts tempo a couple times before ending with around 90 seconds of instrumental dynamics before finally coming back down to earth. Born Of Fire is another stand out track that showcases the band as a true sum of its parts. A nice mid-tempo base is laid down by the band that sets up Martin’s vocals to shine once again. Hyatt and Miller bring huge sounding bass and drums to drive the song into its final descent.