Artist: West Wall
Album Title: On My Shield
I liked how "Conquest Or Death" sounded, but this record makes it seem murky by comparison! The guitars are right up front in the mix, and the crunchy rhythm guitar sound is quite distinct from the leads. The bass is equally easy to make out -- a real pleasure, as there are some great bass lines on this album! -- and the drum sound adds even more low-end along with crisp cymbals and snares. The vocals have plenty of impact, too: they're the centerpiece throughout, but they're never allowed to overwhelm or subtract from the guitars.
The songwriting On My Shield is also an improvement: as before, West Wall perfectly captures the mid-paced, epic death metal sound of bands like later Bolt Thrower, but it's the variety in tempo and mood that propels these songs over the top. "Dogs of War" is a great example, ripping the record wide open with a thrashing paean to the US Marines. There's not an ounce of filler to be found on this track, just catchy leads combined with a driving, vicious main riff. "Behind Enemy Lines" is quite atmospheric by comparison, deriving its punch from top-notch drumming, bass work, and vocal delivery. "In Hoc Signo Vinces", "On My Shield", and "The Hammer" are mid-paced anthems of defiance in the best West Wall tradition -- the former is right up there with "Panzer Voran", packed full of crazy solos -- while "Bridgehead Narva" and "Blood River" speed things up again, the latter with a bit of a frantic d-beat feel. "I Am Infidel"'s incisive lyrics and middle-eastern sound draw a parallel between the Crusades and Iraq/Afghanistan, making West Wall one of the few war-themed bands with the guts to sing about the wars our servicepeople are actually fighting today. Likewise, "Sands of Desolation" is the band's best epic since "Titan's March", packed with memorable riffs and shout-along chorus parts; it's a century of battle in macrocosm, both punishing and utterly convincing.
I thought the last album was a bit too short, but at forty-one minutes, On My Shield is just right. Every song sounds better than the last, every time I listen, and the extra variety makes it easy to throw this on repeat for hours. Those who still think of For Victory when they think of "war metal" will be more than pleased with this record -- it's by far my favorite death metal album this year, and likely to remain that way. Highest recommendations.
Standout Tracks: "In Hoc Signo Vinces", "On My Shield", "Sands of Desolation"