Review by Daniel for Lord Weird Slough Feg, The - Traveller (2003)
With all of the recent talk about the US power metal movement in The Guardians forum, I noticed that I hadn’t rated this highly regarded release from that particular scene, despite harbouring the distant memory of having given it a few spins over a decade ago now. Having sat through the album three times over the last two days though, I’m not so sure that my recollections are all that accurate as I can’t say that I’ve heard anything particularly familiar in The Lord Weird Slough Feg’s 2003 fourth album “Traveller”. There’s one thing that can’t be denied though & that’s the impressive pedigree of this band as they showcase a very solid understanding of several eras & movements that produced the fundamental building blocks of metal music in general.
Some of you may have read my recent whinge about how poorly the US power metal tag is used & defined. Well, “Traveller” is one of a relatively small percentage of releases that are genuinely deserving of the tag as it’s as metal as fuck & possesses a consistently epic atmosphere that rarely crosses over that dreaded cheese line. The warm rhythm guitar tone isn’t overly distorted & this restraint gives “Traveller” a noticeably 70’s feel that reminds me of Judas Priest’s classic material from the 1976-78 period. Black Sabbath is also strongly represented through several chunky doom sections that sit very much in line with some of the material from the Grand Magus record we featured recently. Iron Maiden & the NWOBHM receive more than the occasional dalliance too with the classic Maiden gallop & guitar harmonies being a major component in the Slough Feg sound although it has to be said that the harmonies in question often sound a little more dark & doomy than the Irons ever attempted.
Despite the obvious classic metal influences though, “Traveller” is categorically a US power metal release for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the riffs have an overarching weight to them that never veers from the metal course, even if they do occasionally head into territory that’s a little more melodic than I’d like. I mean there’s absolutely zero hard rock here & neither is there any hint of commercialism. These guys do what they do purely for the love of metal. Secondly, the vocals of Mike Scalzi (who also fronted San Francisco progressive metal outfit Hammers Of Misfortune at the time) have an epic quality to them that’s tailor made to encourage audiences to don their leathers & raise their metal claws to the sky in unison. To my ears, his tone sits halfway between the emotionally engaging styles of A.A. Nemtheanga (Primordial) & Vincent Cavanagh (Anathema) & the nasal story-telling of Manilla Road front man Mark Shelton & this really seems to work for Slough Feg as it provides further reinforcement to their whole ideal which appears to me to be a celebration of metal in general.
I can’t deny that there are some really attractive elements to the Slough Feg sound that I get a lot of enjoyment out of. The lead guitar tone offers plenty of shred & really highlights the skills of the musicians involved so the solos are always enjoyable. I also find the more organic rhythm guitar sound to be a refreshing side step from the usually heavily distorted one found in most modern heavy/power metal. It adds another layer of integrity/credibility & immediately saw my ears pricking up, particularly during the more crushing sections where those guitars have a lovely crunch to them. So I guess I generally like the band’s approach but the only problem is that I’m never quite onboard with Slough Feg’s overall musical direction. It’s just a touch too melodic for me & I’ve often struggled with the more epic sounding brand of heavy metal over the years. These concerns are probably responsible for me not being able to find any genuine classics amongst the twelve tracks included & are compounded by a three track run in the middle of the B side that leaves me completely cold (see “Gene-ocide”, “Curse Of Humaniti” & “The Final Gambit”). So overall I’m gonna place “Traveller” into the big box I keep at the back of my musical tasting room i.e. the one that I store records that I quite like but rarely find myself returning to.
For fans of Brocas Helm, Manilla Road & Eternal Champion.