STORMZONE – LUCIFER’S FACTORY

 

The Ol’ Horned One has been a frequent subject in heavy metal since…well, since it became heavy metal; from Sabbath to Watain to Stryper, Satan in all his guises has been a rich vein the genre has seamed from day one. To this list can now be added another band: Northern Ireland’s Stormzone. They skated close to the topic on their last album, 2015’s Seven Sins, whose lyrics delved into the story of the evil that men do and the antiheroes who can be a surprising saviour to those affected. This time, on Lucifer’s Factory, the theme is more overt; each song tackles the subject from several perspectives, which is a thought-provoking tactic. Additionally, the move home from sunny Spain to Northern Ireland’s more, ahem, tenebrous climes seems to have triggered a renewed interest in the place for vocalist and main lyricist John ‘Harv’ Harbinson: several of the tracks reference places of myth and legend in NI, such as ‘Cushy Glen’, ‘Broken Window’ and ‘Dark Hedges’ (of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame).

Having formed as a studio outlet for Harbinson in 2004, Stormzone have spent the intervening fourteen years studiously honing their sound over several albums (this is number six) and hundreds of gigs, including performances at Sonisphere and Wacken and supporting such luminaries as Saxon and Y&T. As a result, their ‘classic meets power metal’ sound has been whetted down to a dagger-like sharpness, as is immediately obvious on Lucifer’s Factory. Lead single ‘Dark Hedges’, which tells the legend of a ghostly female visitor to the famed tree-lined avenue on a single night in June, is a case in point: a powerful beat, choral background, catchy riffs and Harbinson’s excellent upper range all combine to create a sound that is at once fresh and yet recognisably Stormzone.

It’s interesting to note that as their career progresses, their subject matter gets darker – and it doesn’t get much more so than Satan himself. Several tracks actually speak from his own perspective, such as ‘Cushy Glen’, all sawing, staccato riffs and hooky-as-hell chorus; the defiant ‘We Are Strong’ which speaks of the great battle between good and evil; and the sympathetic ‘The Heaven You Despise’, which is one of the highlights of the album with its furious pace, glorious twin guitars and malevolent feel.

There’s also a few tracks that feature Lucifer only tangentially, such as the ominous ‘Hallow’s Eve’, the Irish myth of Stingy Jack who initially tricks the devil but ends up doomed to spend eternity wandering the planes between good and evil with only an ember in a turnip to light his way (sound familiar?). Then there’s ‘Albhartach’, believed to be the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula; the mid-paced and atmospheric ‘Broken Window’ which references a way into Hell, should you wish to make a deal with the devil; and ‘Your Hell Falls Down’, all insistent, chugging riffs and lyrics which speak of life following such a deal, not to mention one of the best solos (such anguish!) on an album packed with glorious, soaring ones.

Gratifyingly, the band have also tried some new things on this album, too: check out the almost sea shanty feel of ‘The Last Goodbye’; the stunning acoustic/electric combination of bonus track ‘Kingdom of Lies’; the deeper vocal style of the ‘god versus the devil’ chugger ‘In For the Kill’ and, most importantly, the acoustic, single-drum ‘Time To Go’, which speaks of redemption in a beautiful, almost bardic way. The lyrics are also intriguingly vague: is it Lucifer who has found his way, or the one who struck a deal with him? Do they refer, perhaps, to god himself? It’s wonderfully confounding.

Now well into their second decade of existence and with their new lineup solidified, Stormzone show all the signs of both being happy with their sound and willing to mix things up and be

adventurous. Their dark subject matter shows no signs of abating, much to the delight of their fans, and their music continues on a sharp upwards trajectory – and thank Satan (literally and figuratively) for that.

 

Review by Melanie Brehaut

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