Label: Pure Steel Records
Where from should I begin unraveling the threads of this narration elaborating on the undisputable masters of the epic sound? Each time I am asked to mention my favourite group of all the metal branches, dozens of bands are struggling to get on top. Iron Maiden, Savatage, Summoning, Angizia, Anaal Nathrakh, Twisted Sister, Mayhem, Sopor Aeternus, Solitude Aeturnus, Destruction, Jethro Tull, Skyclad, Arckanum, Warlord, Death, King Diamond and a lot more – if not hundreds of bands – keep spinning in my mind as a possible answer to this question. One of them though pops up almost instantly… OMEN! The undoubtedly (always for my personal tastes) best heavy metal group that the epic genre has ever spewed. There were the best among the elite, the leaders, who tamed the steel like no one else could (yes, the first three albums of Omen stand higher than all the best epic moments of Manowar). For years I’ve been trying to finally decide which of “Battle Cry”, “Warning Of Danger” and “The Curse” is the most valuable. Unnecessarily though, since the three aforementioned albums sound as if they were released all at once, as if they sprung from the same steely marmite, from the magical chest of Kenny Powell, this gifted guitarist and composer, who, with his unimaginable mastery coined the recipe based on juvenilia maiden-esque textured riffs, transforming them into immortal melodies. Omen did not play epic metal with the strict sense of the word, on the contrary, they led the epic sound rocketing it in closed areas for the other contenders to the throne. Their orchestrations, an amalgam of inconceivable melody and martial paeans, plucked from the battlefield, causing delirium to the uninitiated listener (for those already initiated, no discussion is needed; they religiously attend the daily appointments with them).
There is a saying… “music tames manners.” Well, there is the sort of music that infuriates us, awakes us; a music that triggers and stimulates emotions and such music was played in the 80’s by Omen. A researcher called Debussy says that “music is the most noble of the arts, because it allows the human soul to express itself completely freely. Thus a musical composition can express psychological states that are perhaps impossible to express in words. “. The only certainty is that Debussy didn’t live this far to listen to Omen, but if the timing was correct, then his writings would be fully justified.
“That’s all good, but, could you say a few things about the new album?” Correct! But how could we possibly comment about “Hammer Damage” without talking about Him? Kenny Powel had the foresight to entrust the microphone to huge J.D.Kimball, the performer who seems enough to listen to once and remember him forever. He is in my opinion the best frontman in the history of our music. Yes, he did not have the range Dio had or the grinding quality of Snider, but the way the “spat” the lyrics was UNIQUE. After his departure, the position of the singer was haunted for Omen and truthfully, how could they avoid that, as every new singer would in fact be compared to Kimball from that point on. Then the average “Escape to nowhere”, the appalling “Re-opening the gates”, the indifferent “Eternal Black Dawn” had to follow to reach a really good album with excellent compositions that would normally have followed the “Nightmares “EP of ’87. I did not expect that I would ever write a review again about an Omen record because I no longer hoped that my beloved band would still be able to create great things. But that old wolf, Kenny Powell, didn’t let go, he wasn’t intimidated by departures, nor the fury of nature that has made the studio they’re recording its centre, or some irritating guys like me who talk all the time about Kimball, nor anything else. He carries on with his head high, assisted by old drummer Steve Witting, bassist Andy Haas and vocalist Kevin Goocher (you already know him form Phantom X, while he participated again in Omen during 2003-2009). He baptized the album with the name of the band Kimball was singing with before joining Omen, he brings forth the cobra once more, he tunes his guitar with memories of the past and delivers 9 pieces of pure blooded American epic metal.
“Hammer Damage” features uplifting and easy to remember choruses, Witting’s seminar – like performance, poisonous riffs, tracks made for concerts, while the overall style of the record will wake up sweet memories of the old fans of the band.
The only dark moment of the record comes with the vocals. Kevin Goocher tries to mimic (or if you consider this term non-applicable like Powell) Kimball’s vocal qualities, but the final result doesn’t justify his try. He is a good singer and I would rather he did his own project as Coburn Pharr had previously done on “Escape to Nowhere”, because as I said, Kimball’s cries are so special and unique, that are not approachable. This is the curse of Omen…
“Chaco Canyon (Sun Dagger)”,”Cry Havoc”, “Eulogy For A Warrior”, “Knights”, “Era Of Crisis” and the amazing instrumental “A.F.U.” (that sounds as if it come from “Warning Of Danger”) stand out as highlights.
Dear reader, without a doubt, “Hammer Damage” deserves to be purchased. But before this happening, be sure that you already own “Battle Cry”, “Warning Of Danger”, “The Curse” and “Nightmares”. One of the most underrated metal groups had the guts to return 13 years later with a decent and respectful record.
As for the final rank, if we were dealing with a fresh band, I would add some extra points, however ladies and gentlemen, this is the mighty Omen. In the 80s they earned everything with their axe. Hopefully they’ll do the same thing in the future.