Review Summary: The Devil’s in the Details
Let me be blunt. Cruel Magic
has no fucking right to be as good as it is. The lasting cult status and success of Satan themselves is something that will never cease to befuddle me. Not to say that they don’t deserve it, it’s just that traditional heavy metal band formed in 1979 should not still sound this creative and lively. Not even the most trailblazing and important metal bands at the time have been able to keep even nearly the same amount of control and calculation that Satan has. That right there is the key, Satan’s continued caliber doesn’t come from luck or rehashing. It’s painfully obvious that these five men care extensively about their output quality and still have what it takes to create a great album.
Much of what makes Satan stand out is their ability to sell their bombast to you, and this record is no exception to that. Much like Mercyful Fate or Slough Feg, the band has a knack for backing up their own grandeur with outstanding song progressions, ones that weave vibrant, catchy melodies into the high octane compositions, while still giving the songs room to breathe. Despite this, the tracks here feel deceptively simple on first listen, yet it’s undeniable that there’s a subtle ingenious to the way “Morality” and “Who Among Us” unravel and intensify. In a similar fashion, it’s commendable how the ebbs and flows of songs like “The Doomsday Clock” and “Death Knell for a King” sync up to their own over-the-top narratives.
The grandiosity and unabashed campiness is far from unique to this style, but Cruel Magic
is still able to sell the admittedly outrageous vibes with a sense of refreshing ernest, without coming off ill-advised or unaware. A lot of this comes down to the pure heart and soul of the performances, with guitarists Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins giving these blistering solos and complex riffs everything they have. And, while the guitars are the definite standouts, the rest of the band are able to lend structure to the two axe wielders, with special props going to Sean Taylor’s superb percussion work. Everything comes together in a way that reeks of Dungeons and Dragons, Black Sabbath t-shirts, and Diamond Head concerts.
I guess that’s why I have so much trouble believing how great comeback era Satan is, especially Cruel Magic
. It’s not an homage, it's not a throwback, it’s not a piece of relived glory - it’s the God damned real thing.