Power metal is commonly regarded as a European style. Bands like Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody, Freedom Call, Sonata ArcticaHammerFall and Blind Guardian are from Italy, Germany, Finland, Sweden, and Germany, respectively. And the audiences are definitely bigger over there; bands that headline arenas or massive festivals in Europe play clubs in the US, if they tour here at all. But power metal’s roots are in what was just called “metal” in the 1980s—the work of UK acts like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, but also American bands like Dio and Manowar. And a few US bands have kept the banner flying for power metal (or traditional metal), including Manilla Road (formed in 1980), Cirith Ungol (supposedly formed in 1972, but making their recorded debut in 1981), and Attacker, who’ve been around since 1983.

Attacker released their debut album, 1985’s Battle at Helm’s Deep, on Metal Blade Records, but it didn’t make much of an impact, and they didn’t record again for five years. Following the release of 1988’s The Second Coming on the tiny Mercenary imprint (a division of Celluloid, the French label for which Bill Laswell did a lot of production work in the early to mid-1980s), they broke up. On these records, their sound was basic and hard-charging: speedy, full-throttle metal in the vein of British Steel-era Judas Priest, with the energy of the mid ’80s quartet version of Motörhead. At times (as on “Lords of Thunder” from The Second Coming), their jackhammer velocity approached thrash, but their song structures were never as intricate as Metallica or Megadeth. Their most potent weapon was guitarist Pat Marinelli, whose lightning-fast riffing and wild solos gave their songs ferocious energy. Original vocalist Bob Mitchell‘s high-pitched shrieks combined a Rob Halford-esque upper register with the East Coast sneer of Kiss‘s Paul Stanley and Manowar‘s Erik Adams. His replacement on The Second Coming, John Leone, is a more operatic/theatrical performer of the Ronnie James Dio school, which makes for an interesting contrast with the somewhat bare-bones material.

When Attacker returned in the early 2000s, Mitchell was back on vocals (Leone died in 1994), and while the sound on 2004’s Soul Taker was a little thin and raw, that problem was rectified on 2006’s forceful The Unknown. (Mitchell sounds uncannily like Accept‘s Udo Dirkschneider on the thrashy “Anger Aggression.”) In 2007, they released Standing the Test of Time, a compilation pulling four tracks from each of their first four albums. But then they went back into hibernation again, or so it seemed.

When Attacker returned again, it was without Mitchell. In his place was Bobby “Leather Lungs” Lucas, formerly of Overlorde and Seven Witches. Their 2013 album, Giants of Canaan, featured two founding members—guitarist Marinelli and drummer Mike Sabatini, alongside second guitarist Mike Benetatos, who joined in 2001, and brand-new bassist Jon Hanemann, who’d leave the following year. Despite his short tenure with the group, Hanemann was a major element of the album’s sound, and between his throbbing near-lead lines and Lucas’s Bruce Dickinson-esque caterwauling, not to mention lyrical themes drawn from history and horror, the music is often highly reminiscent of The Number of the Beast-era Iron Maiden. Still, the speed and power were all their own, and it was as strong an album as they’d released to date, easily the equal of their early work.

Attacker‘s latest album, Sins of the World, features only one new member, bassist Brian Smith. It’s every bit as amped-up and hard-charging as their previous work. Sabatini drives the band hard, his drumming precise and militaristic as he sets a galloping beat, interrupted by Nicko McBrain-esque fills, on tracks like “Carcosa” (yes, like everyone else, the members of Attacker really liked Season 1 of True Detective). Other songs nod to the fantasy literature of Conan creator Robert E. Howard on the instrumental interlude “By the Will of Crom,” and apocalyptic astronomy on “World Destroyer,” which is about all life on Earth being snuffed out by a giant meteor.

Marinelli and Benetatos are a terrific guitar team (though the former has left the band since the album was recorded), riffing in tandem and harmonizing in a way that gives some songs extra anthemic power, and if Smith isn’t as dominant as his predecessor was (he doesn’t get to intro a song the way Hanemann did on “Trapped in Black” from Giants of Canaan), he’s important enough to the overall sound that he’s given plenty of space in the mix. The album’s one flaw is that it never slows down—the songs range from uptempo classic metal to headlong near-thrash. The chugging closer, “Where the Serpent Lies,” is the longest and slowest cut on Sins of the World, passing the seven-minute mark. Power metal bands should stay away from out-and-out ballads, are but a well-placed, doomy anthem to break up the nonstop galloping would have been a pleasant surprise. Still, Attacker‘s sixth album is shockingly good: thirty-plus years in, they’re making some of their best music of their career by sticking to their guns and playing to their strengths.

Phil Freeman

Stream three tracks from Sins of the World on Bandcamp:

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