Thursday, December 2, 2021

Tower - Shock to the System

How it feels to chew 5 Gum

Were you, like me, devastated when Satan's Hallow broke up pretty much immediately after releasing one of the standout throwback speed/trad metal albums of the decade a few years ago?  Are you, like me, interested in Midnight Dice, the band that took shape afterwards featuring every member of Satan's Hallow except Von Jugel, but think they're missing some of the previous magic and are getting impatient with how long it's taking them to put out a full length?  Do you, like me, firmly believe that you can gauge a metal band's quality simply by judging how ugly the members are?  Then boy fuckin' howdy do I have a treat for y'all today.

While there's been no shortage of raunchy female-fronted throwback metal in the past few years thanks to bands like Solicitor, Crystal Viper, Sanhedrin, Savage Master, and others (not to mention more polished power metal entrants like Battle Beast having a pretty great run until recently), there's some primal intangible that Tower scratches like a spider bite.  To bring it back to Satan's Hallow one last time, Von Jugel once described the intention behind their sole album to be single-mindedly tight and focused, with nothing but ass kicking metal from front to back, not unlike a finely tuned opening set from the best local opener you've never heard of.  That idea is in the forefront of my mind when listening to Shock to the System.  This is 39 minutes of lean, mean, ball-shattering Heavy Fucking Metal straight out of the mid 80s.  I give throwback acts a lot of shit on principle because I prefer bands that bring their own flavor to the style instead of just ripping off classics and calling it a day, but if exceptions that prove the rule are a thing, then the fact that Tower was such an instant hit with me should show that they are exactly that.  This really feels like a temporally displaced Warlock album from their speedier era instead of a group of kids desperately wishing they were Warlock, ya know?

The Warlock comparison is pretty much mandatory considering the vocal stylings of Sarabeth Linden here.  Doro is pretty much the undisputed Queen of Metal at this point in history and her sandblasted howl is a huge reason why.  Linden follows in her footsteps by blasting the listener with the vocal equivalent to a flamethrower, but I'd wager she actually has more in common with the tragically forgotten Nicole Lee, who fronted Znowhite in the late 80s when they were secretly one of the best thrash bands in America.  Check out "Running Out of Time" for probably the clearest example of their similarity.  Linden has a very similar hint of shrillness (I know that's usually a negative but I mean it value-neutrally here) with her wild-out shrieking and fuckloads of vibrato when she really cuts loose that sets her apart from the flood of Doro-likes out there.  She sounds like she's flying off the rails and I love it, it's completely unhinged.  

While she's the highlight of the band for sure, Shock to the System wouldn't be worth listening to if the music underneath her vocal acrobatics weren't equally great.   Fortunately, Tower avoids the pitfall that Iron Griffin fell into and gave the vocal star some excellent songs to work with.  The majority of the album is awash in 80s sleaze and early metal tropes, but instead of being tired rehashes of 40 year old ideas, it's approached with the kind of creative verve that really only happens when the stars align.  Sure, a track like "Hired Gun" can trace its lineage directly to late 70s Motorhead if you really wanted to dissect it, but it doesn't feel like a Motorhead track, it feels like a Tower track, and that's very important for reasons I've repeated plenty by now.  One thing I really appreciate about Shock to the System is that it's unafraid to dabble in hard rock influences as well, instead of limiting themselves to the tropes that we exclusively categorize as "heavy metal" forty years later.  "Hired Gun" is a great example in the opening minutes, as are "Blood Moon" and "Lay Down the Law", the latter of which is pure arena metal cheese during the buildup.  What makes these touches magical, however, is how startlingly brief they are, as each and every one of those tracks I mentioned (along with the rest) inevitably climax with absolute teeth-shattering speed metal insanity.  This balance between hooks and intensity would be clinical if it wasn't so obviously covered in slime.  The overwhelming sense of pure fuckin' raunch is completely inescapable and I'd argue that it's crucial to the album's success.  I want my metal to sound fuckin' dangerous and that's exactly what Tower gives me.  "Blood Moon" kicks the album off with a nifty marching snare and a descending guitar riff that sounds like it could've been written by Steppenwolf, but it lasts a whole twenty seconds before Linden fires off the first absolutely deranged howl and the music abruptly shifts into high octane carnage.  It's so destructive and over-the-top that the first simile I thought of was "it's like a parade float with boosters and rocket launchers instead of t-shirt guns" and I almost didn't write that down because it's so stupid, but god dammit I seriously can not think of a better visual to describe the reckless enthusiasm on display here.

There's very little I don't adore about Shock to the System, and I can't recommend it enough for fans of older, less extreme styles of metal.  If there's any flaw, it's simply that "In Dreams" doesn't really sound like a seven minute long track, and man that's barely even a complaint!  What it lacks in ambition it makes up for in execution, and it's just a fantastic fist-pumping metal tune instead of a particularly epic one.  That's uhh... kinda it.  I haven't even touched on the smaller aspects like how much the solos melt face or how fucking great "The Black Rose" is, the whole experience is just nugget after nugget of unoriginal but extremely explosive Judas Priest style trad metal if every song was "Freewheel Burning".  And come on, does that not sound rad as shit?