Review: Eternal Champion – The Armor of Ire

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The warrior stands at the edge of the field, his sweaty hand clenching his sword. Sweat is dripping down his brow and onto his meager armor. He can hear the drums getting louder, ever louder. They are a monotonous sound, a sound of death.

There in the distance he can see them, dozens of foes, clad in armor. Some wielding swords, others spears and axes. All have much better armor than he, but he doesn’t care. He thinks to himself “How long has it been? How many foes have I killed? How long will this go on for? Is this my fate, the fate of all who walk the lands? An endless battle?” No matter, the army sees him; a horn sounds and a piercing battle cry fills the air. They run towards him. The warrior clenches his sword harder and that ever present feeling begins to surge though his blood. That ever endless thirst for the blood of those who would stand against him. If this is his eternal fate, let him meet it head on then. He raises his own battle cry and charges forward, to either victory or oblivion.

It’s easy to say that the genre of “epic” metal has made a great resurgence in recent years. But if you paid attention it never really left. Bands like Crush and Wotan more than held their weapons high in the early to mid 90’s. But it is definitely reaching into more metal loving ears now thanks to the wonders of the internet. Those who have been paying attention though will have noticed among the many great bands singing about warriors and battle the presence of Austin, TX outfit Eternal Champion. To say this full-length debut has been highly anticipated is an enormous understatement. I am still impressed that they managed to wow so many people and build such a ravenous fanbase with basically just three songs, seven if you count the material of front-man Jason Tarpey’s previous band Graven Rite. So the question arises; has The Armor of Ire been forged sufficiently strong and true to stand among the greats of epic metal? For this maniac, the answer is a resounding YES.

The album clocks in at over 34 minutes and consisting of 2 instrumentals and 6 songs, one of which is a re-recording from their demo. Some would gripe that makes this album too short, but I disagree. This type of metal doesn’t need 12 songs mostly consisting of filler, and The Armor of Ire is the perfect length. EC have learned their riff craft from the likes of Omen and “The Deluge” era Manilla Road well, as there isn’t a single wasted note here. Album opener “I Am the Hammer” is a mid-paced fist pumper about a grand battle that doesn’t actually reveal the record’s true strength. The songs on this record are very simple but have a deceptively early progressive metal (think early Fates Warning) feel to them, like “Cold Sword” and its primary galloping riff that with every stop, goes a sight bit off center, or “Sing a Last Song of Valdese” with its understated but noticeable bass work and amazing spoken word section. And let’s not even get into how amazing all of the solos on this bad boy are.

Another thing that stands out about EC in general is their approach to the revered fantasy lore that so many bands of this ilk crib their inspiration from. They take a much more somber  approach to their lyrical content. It’s no coincidence that the band is named after a Michael Moorcock creation; his literary works weren’t so much about “good and evil” as they were about “order vs chaos.” A constant endless struggle against the madness of the world and all of the horrible things that we construct ourselves, be it conquering kingdoms or summoning unspeakable horrors.

One listen to “The Invoker” aka the closest thing the band has to a ballad, and it reads like the very end of everything because we were foolish enough to bring a Great Old One into our world, knowing that mere humans would be either eradicated on sight or driven mad by their mere presence.

The moment has come, the horror unreal. They wait at the gate, but I see them. And in my mind I will always recall the sound of the Gods as they rose.

The track alternates between its clean guitar-driven verses and Tarpey’s mournful crooning to the riff city of the bridges to exemplify this, as though hesitant to go through with the ritual. And then when that final solo comes in, it’s now or never; stop the vile ones or the world burns forever. While other bands go on about the triumph of slaying their enemies and obtaining all the gold and wenches, EC simply acknowledge the folly and hideousness of the world and scream against the inevitable end knowing that they are doomed to repeat that very journey, in different places and forms, for the rest of time. Even their more upbeat songs carry this mentality. The title track has a faster pace and has riffs (and again, those solos) out of the wazoo; but it is about an impending final, futile take of revenge against some seemingly unstoppable warlord.

It helps that the band behind him more than pulls their weight. Of their three (yes, three) guitarists Carlos Llanas in particular proves to be a master riff wizard, as he excels greatly on building upon the main riff of every track and adding melody upon melody to glorious effect. The rest of the band is on fire as well, including the understated but forceful enough audio backbone provided by the drumming of Arthur Rizik, he of the equally mighty Sumerlands. His excellent rhythm on the redone “Last King of Pictdom” and the increasing tribal-like abuse of the toms on “The Invoker” is astounding and just two examples of why he is one of the most prolific folks in metal today.

Tarpey is a very important element to this approach. His vocals are very low key and haunting compared to his contemporaries, who see fit to be overly dramatic and belt out as many high notes as possible. Oh the man can belt with the best of them, like on the aforementioned “Sing A Last Song…”. But he prefers to use his voice to tell a story. And he makes that story the most urgent and timely thing ever, enunciating every word to make sure you hear it while it’s still dripping with emotion. The aforementioned spoken word section of “Sing a Last Song…” is all him, and it is filled with the required dread and feelings of reckoning to accompany what is basically a eulogy to a fallen warrior.

I can’t state enough how great this record is. Even if you are not a fan of the whole “SLAY POSERS WITH STEEL” rhetoric, you should give this a listen and let it fill you with an inner strength to take on any foes who stand in your path. Or at least make your neck delightfully sore. Simon says unsheathe your sword, ready your shield, and get this album.

FIVE OUT OF FIVE FLAMING TOILETS OV HELL

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PS: Having seen them earlier this month, I can safely tell you; If they play live in your town, you owe it to yourself to go see them. These songs pack even more power in a live setting. See them if only to hear Tarpey call his music “some real nerd shit.”

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