Review Summary: Steely, strong, bombastic and certainly one of Cloven Hoof's finest hours.
Like a neverending steam train, Cloven Hoof simply show no signs of stopping. They never quite got the recognition they deserved, even with the brimming confidence of the NWOBHM scene back in the 80s, yet the sheer consistency of the band's output since reforming two decades ago has been a positive boon. After all, Cloven Hoof were always under the same proverbial roof as Satan, aiming for creative heights and reaching that set standard but failing to resonate with the mainstream metal fanbase. Nevertheless, the band's latest full-length effort, Age of Steel
, is a real barnstormer.
Whilst the band's previous album, Who Mourns for the Morning Star?
, showed signs of stepping outside of the comfort zone and ultimately resulting in a top-heavy affair (the album was still confident in its delivery), this year's Age of Steel
seems to have simplified things a little and in that every aspect is rendered sublime. Not only does the rhythm section sound so much crisper and George Call is arguably at the peak of his vocal performance, but the bombast of songs such as brazen opener “Bathory” and “Touch the Rainbow” (No, it isn't a Rainbow cover) is nothing short of a real sonic powerhouse. Everything about Age of Steel
is done with vigour and real passion, and you can feel the individual performances standing out as they should. “Alderley Edge” may encounter a time warp back to 1985 but its beefed up production ensures the crunch of the guitar work is amplified to earth-shattering volumes, and the fluent pace makes for one of the smoothest rhythm section transitions heard on a Cloven Hoof song. “Bathory” cleverly utilises a dramatic performance, the narrative focus and versatile vocal palette adding extra power to an already majestic performance. Then there's the menacing, straightforward battery of “Apathy” and “Bedlam”, both of which prove to be some of the heaviest songs the band have ever written.
Age of Steel
may be more straightforward and arguably heavier than its predecessor, but in no way is this a one-trick pony. Instead, the band clearly indulge in crafting as many moments of melody and melancholy as they do sheer metallic glory. “Touch the Rainbow” has been mentioned before but what stands out above all else are those beautiful twin guitar harmonies, coursing throughout the entire song without ever becoming OTT. Instead, the seamless instrumental delivery ensures a fluent passage through the song and both guitarists show their individual talents, most notable in the outstanding solo section which is still beefed up by bombastic production. “Ascension”, like “Bathory”, strongly and confidently focuses on narrative performance, inducing a storytelling approach but never lacking the instrumental precision which made previous songs so engaging to the listener. The narrative is also well-placed, opting to appear during the usual excellent guitar interplay between Chris Coss and Ash Baker but never spoiling either aspect. Instead, it feels like a very collective example of songwriting which, at this point, seems to be one of the finest advantages Age of Steel
has under its belt. Finally, “Apathy” engages in a slightly dreamier and lighter instrumental performance, though the riff work is still hard-hitting and definitely indulges in that beautiful balance between razor-sharp precision and the melodic flourishes towards the end of the song, which fades out at just
the right time.
Age of Steel
not only proves that Cloven Hoof are still going strong, but that they're arguably matching the brilliance of their peak in the 80s. This is a band that doesn't seem to be slowing down even as they enter their third decade of existence (if you count the 10-year hiatus), and an album such as this can only be the start of a bigger and brighter future. Whether or not it goes on to make the band more successful or indeed popular remains to be seen, but for now Age of Steel
can confidently be known as one of 2020's finest heavy/power metal releases.