Four long years since their last album, the mighty Skull Fist are back with their fourth full-length record. This time around, the thrashers are out to prove their rightful place among the upper echelon of modern metal, and they more or less prove it here.
I wasn’t even initially that impressed by the first single, “Long Live the Fist,” but Paid in Full contains eight tracks of intense top-notch metal that’s hard to ignore. Starting off appropriately enough with the title track, there’s very few moments where things let up here, with brilliant Maiden-inspired guitar riffs that lead the charge all the way (even though the presence of now-former guitarist Jonny Nesta is slightly missed).
Things reach their peak in the form of “Blackout” and “Madman,” two epic anthems worth turning up to eleven. All in all, Paid in Full is a relentless assault on the senses that never fully lets up, and a worthy effort that should not be overlooked.
Something about Canadian rock and metal seems to just always hit the spot, and in the grand tradition of classic and modern power trios from the great north such as Rush, Exciter, and Cauldron, enter Thunderor (okay, so maybe the name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but here me out here!).
Formed by Skull Fist drummer JJ Tartaglia (who also serves as vocalist here) and former guitarist Jonny Nesta, the two ex-bandmates are joined by bassist Oscar Rangel (who also briefly did some time with fellow canucks Annihilator). The chemistry of these three rockers combined gives off an undeniable, contagious energy that shines through their music.
The moment I first heard “How We Roll,” I knew I was in trouble…and instantly hooked. Other numbers like “All or Nothing,” “On the Run,” “We Can Make It,” and the epic title track, infuse multiple sub-genres like thrash, power, and synth metal, and are the type of adventurous anthems that make life still feel like it’s worth living even on its darkest of days.
Being more on the pop side, I can see how the more “brutal” metalheads might put their noses in the air to this. But if you’re able to just open your mind and embrace it, you might just have yourself some fun, and what’s so bad about that?
I’ve been going to metal and rock shows for nearly a quarter of a century now. In that span of time, I’ve attended as everything from the fan in the crowd, to the musician on stage (and for a brief time, I’ve even been the security behind the barricades). For over a decade now though, my role at shows has largely been that of a music journalist (and when my wife is unavailable, the occasional photographer, too), reporting everything I see and hear in great detail.
But at my age (and with having a bum leg), I tend to experience most shows on the sidelines these days (it makes it a lot easier for jotting down notes, anyhow!). But last Saturday, October 12 at The Haven Lounge in Orlando (or is it Winter Park?), I broke my own rules, and exerted myself right in the middle of all of the action for the first time in I can’t even remember how long…and have zero regrets.
Perhaps it had something to do with the initial opening act, Orlando’s own Darkness by Design, whose immediate intensity, reminiscent of old school Slayer, caught the attention of the entire room, and demanded one to listen up instantly. Guitarist Marcos Mercado’s massive riffs were a definite highlight, making them a force to be reckoned with on stage.
Destructonomicon were next on the bill. I’ve caught them a time or two over the years, and judging by their performance this past weekend, they haven’t matured all that much since then (but go figure, with a name like that). Although they did initiate a decent response from the audience, their “tough guy” brand of crossover doesn’t quite do much for me these days.
Another local outfit I’ve seen a time or two over the years, Thicket, were up next. I’m not entirely sure how to place them; part traditional thrash and part progressive metal, their lack of cohesion is somewhat of a strange mixture. Still, there was no denying they had the club amped up and ready for a night of more headbanging by the end of their set.
The band that got me through the door that night, Enforcer, were next to play. I’ve been a fan of theirs since another magazine I’ve often freelanced for, New Noise, asked me to review their 2015 album, From Beyond. With their ability to skillfully mimic the sounds of such beloved ’80s thrash/extreme metal bands such as Megadeth or Venom (though without ripping anyone off), I was instantly hooked on these Swedish metalheads from the start, and have sought their entire catalog out ever since. Prior to last Saturday’s show I had heard that some of the members would not be present for this tour, but had no idea only lead vocalist/guitarist/overall mastermind Olof Wilkstrand would be present from the band’s core lineup, along with touring musicians that included Skull Fist guitarist Jonny Nesta. Warbringer guitarist Chase Becker also filled in on bass, while Hellwitch drummer Brian Wilson rounded things out behind the drumset.
Still, I knew from the moment they hit the stage with “Destroyer” that this particular night would be different, and found myself quickly making my way to the front of the stage to scream along with every lyric (that I could remember anyway). More crushing anthems like “Die For the Devil,” Searching For You,” “Undying Evil,” “From Beyond,” “Belles of Hades/Death Rides the Night,” ‘Zenith of the Black Sun,” and “Mesmerized by Fire,” followed with total fury.
What came as an even bigger shock (other than how hard they played) was the fact they managed to represent every album of their career, including one of my personal favorites from the Diamonds album, “Live For the Night,” as well as “Scream of the Savage” from their lesser known 2008 debut album, Into the Night. After an epic rendition of “Take Me Out of This Nightmare,” the band came back for two more Diamonds-era tracks, “Katina” and Midnight Vice,” before finally calling it a night.
By the time they finished their set, there was no doubt that my wife/photographer and I were both in need of a reprieve before Warbringer hit the stage, and by the time we got back from grabbing some fresh air, the club was already packed again. I have to admit I don’t know Warbringer’s (who were technically the headliner of the night) material as well as Enforcer’s, but I did familiarize myself with some of their music beforehand, and recognized some of the tracks in their set, such as “Remain Violent,” “Firepower Kills,” and “Severed Reality.” Their music is honestly a bit hit or miss for me, at times on the interesting side, while at other times extremely generic sounding. One thing’s for sure, their intensity might have come close to matching Enforcer’s (who no doubt stole the show that night), but were far less superior in comparison.
And the end of the night, we even had the pleasure of meeting some of the members of Enforcer, including said front man Wikstrand, and fill-in guitarist Nesta, who each embodied the living “rock star” image without tarnishing it one bit, both being as down to Earth as possible, and helping to make it one memorably epic night indeed.
In the ’80s, Canada produced a number of notable metal acts (Exciter, Annihilator, Anvil, etc…), each admirable in their own right. Now a new breed of bands have slowly taken over as the kings of the Great White North, including Striker, Cauldron, and Skull Fist (among others). I was recently able to speak with Skull Fist singer/guitarist Zach Slaughter, who was more than just a little stoked about the band’s upcoming 3rd album, Way of the Road about to be released later this month after nearly a 4 year gap in between albums; “Dude. seriously right?! It’s almost weird to have this album coming out now, although the songs were written some time ago, I am already bored of them and have gotten the 4th album written.. so…forget this one everyone? (Laughs). We spent a lot of time just waiting to see if my voice would heal (almost 3 years), so in the meantime I was always writing a lot more music.”
When asked where Way of the Road was recorded and if the songwriting was a group effort, Zach says, “Well a lot of the songs I had already written a while back. The album was supposed to be released almost 3 years ago but because of all the voice surgery issues I had, I was forced to keep waiting. We recorded it at the same place we did the 2nd album, with Eric Ratz at Vespa Studio in Toronto. He’s real good at this stuff man, any sound you’re looking for he can nail it. I’m really happy with how he got this stuff going. I usually write the tunes but the boys are always around to give some input. “Witch Hunt” was actually a riff from Jonny, and it was JJ’s idea to write a swing song on this record. You can thank Casey for the title of the album as well.”
The band is also about to take Way of the Road on the road. Regarding it, Zach informs me, “Yeah man, going to do that whole worldwide crap again. That sounds lame when I say it like that (laughs), but basically we will go out to all the places we have gone in the past. Right now we will do the Euro thing with Striker from Canada as well. That’ll be in November, the dates should be out by the time people read this. After that we’ll get a South American tour going, after that North America, then after that, I’ll probably break another bone skateboarding? (Laughs).
When it comes to playing the new songs live, Zach says the tracks he is most looking forward to playing include “No More Running,” Stay True,” and “Way of the Road.” “I think those ones are a bit more enjoyable for me playing live, but its hard to say what songs will wind up as live staple tracks, you know? Just gotta play ’em out for a while and see what happens. I’m still stoked on a few of the old tracks as well, “Ride On” always feels right when I’m playing it live. I never know which songs people will like the most though, my predictions for the 1st and 2nd album were wayyyyy off (Laughs)!