Few labels are as committed to the cause of heavy metal as Inferno, and few band’s match up to such commitment as Clenched Fist, the Brazillian metal act who, on their second album ‘the gift of death’, exercise their passion for melodic heavy metal with verve, force and aplomb. As always it is a delight to review an Inferno release because the label steadfastly continue to support the most traditional elements of Heavy Metal, and Clenched Fist are as traditionally minded as they come, their lyrics delving back deep into history to create a smoky world of monks, dragons and Norse mythology whilst the music is the missing link between Candlemass and Iron Maiden – doomy, laden with portent and melody but able to whip up one hell of a storm when the mood takes them.
‘The gift of death’, then, offers ten tracks which blaze away with fire and fury over the album’s relatively brief run-time of thirty-six minutes. Of these tracks, the first is an instrumental intro which perfectly sets the mood – grandiose, ambitious, exciting – before the band plough headlong into the excellent ‘Codex Gigas’, a disturbing tale of a heretic monk who, upon being buried alive for his crimes decides to write a book in one night with the help of Satan. It is a grim tale, to be sure, but delivered at break-neck pace and with a ferocious vocal from the mighty-lunged Vagner Fist whose vocal excursions are somewhere between Messiah Marcolin and Bruce Dickinson. In truth the vocals take a moment to become accustomed to, but onde they click there’s no looking back as the epic melodies wash over you and the guitars of Evandro Grando (now departed) tear massive solos through the melodic fabric of the music. Up next is ‘the spirit of the death’, a rampaging beast that charges forth to the relentless beat of the percussion and the ever-present thud of Sadistic Noise’s bass. Opening with the sound of rampaging hordes ‘medieval land’ is a slower number that conjures up the grim and grimy atmosphere of times long gone by, while Vagner delivers his beast black metal narration which leaves him briefly sounding like Aaron Stainthorpe with his gruff, clipped delivery, before unleashing his finest vocal to this point – operatic and full of energy. It is enthralling, traditional heavy metal at its finest and the guitar solos that ripple across the surface of the track are a more than welcome addition to the mix.
There’s nothing like adding the word burning to a song title to get the blood pumping and thus the rampant ‘burning the holy gates’ proves to be one of the album’s fastest tracks, an aggressive pre-thrash monster complete with diabolical laughter and a chorus destined to be sung at high volume by audiences of metal heads lucky enough to catch the band live. ‘Hate of dogmas’ is a slower, hypnotic, dirge-like song that has a strong doom feel with its gruff vocals and atmospheric riffs grinding away in the darkness. It is a nice shift of pace that allows the listener to draw breath after the flaming might of ‘burning the holy gates’ and it also allows plenty of opportunities for fret-board bothering solos which are always welcome. Of course slowing the pace is but a temporary state of affairs and the Norse mythology referencing ‘Asgard’ hits home with real force, the hyper-speed riffing and clattering production destined to get the blood pumping through your veins as the music roars over you like an army on the charge. ‘The signal’ is similarly fast paced and a personal favourite with its vocal histrionics and epic guitar lines all combining to set the adrenal glands going. ‘Speed metal attack’ is exactly as it sounds and it recalls the fast-paced proto-thrash of Polish trad-metal super-group Panzer X with its high pitched scream and furious riffing. Final track, similarly playing tribute to the band’s grand heritage, is ‘old school avenger’, the key line in which runs “always playing the battle hymns” – an apt description of Clenched Fist themselves.
This is unashamedly, wonderfully traditional metal. Those looking for wild innovation should look elsewhere for that is not the purpose of Clenched Fist. Rather, ‘the gift of death’ is a passionate, heartfelt celebration of the wonderful genre we call metal played with determined skill and joy by a band who are heart and soul devoted to the cause. Anyone who’s ever banged their head to Iron maiden, cheered to the sound of Judas priest or simply felt that surge of euphoria at the sound of a distorted guitar – this is for you – raise your hands in the air and salute the mighty Clenched Fist.