Satan: Atom By Atom

Speed metal originals still thinking big

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The success of Satan’s thrilling 2013 comeback opus, Life Sentence – this lineup’s first recording since their hallowed cult debut Court In The Act in 1983 – took many people by surprise, and none more so than the band themselves.

It’s true that there was always something special about these Geordie speed metal trailblazers; right from their first demo tape circa 1981, Satan were toughening and accelerating the NWOBHM blueprint with belligerent conviction. However, the band fizzled out in the late 80s after several years of indecision and instability (with guitarist Steve Ramsey and bassist Graeme English going on to form another of British metal’s most underrated all-time greats, folk metal pioneers Skyclad), so only since their long-hoped-for reunion in 2011 are Satan belatedly attaining the peak of their powers.

Aided by incessant world touring and a turbulent wellspring of inspiration, Atom By Atom proves Life Sentence was no fluke of nostalgic curiosity. Bursting out of the speakers with the bloodcurdling screams of Blitzkrieg air raid siren Brian Ross and rampaging with white-knuckle intensity through meaty, infectious neck-snappers like Ruination, Fallen Saviour and In Contempt, with incisive twin guitars alternating between sinister menace and playful exuberance, forceful declamatory vocals that have barely aged a day since the debut and a chemically bonded rhythm section audibly having a ball – plus distinctive and demented trademark sleeve art, where their skeleton judge mascot’s wig has become a coffin and a suspect is being atomised in a gavel.

The record’s second half eases off the gas a little to explore more complex, unorthodox terrain – witness the crafty arrangements and offbeat dramatic contrasts within profound bruisers Ahriman, Bound In Enmity and impassioned closing mini-epic The Fall Of Persephone.

Satan’s vigorous new lease of life in late middle-age is poignant and inspirational, for older fans who never dared to imagine that the full five-piece would rise again in such grand style, as well as for younger fans in search of a contemporary headbanging masterclass from a group who helped ratchet up the machinery of heavy metal in the white heat of the early 80s. Let’s say it: hail Satan!

Chris Chantler

Chris has been writing about heavy metal since 2000, specialising in true/cult/epic/power/trad/NWOBHM and doom metal at now-defunct extreme music magazine Terrorizer. Since joining the Metal Hammer famileh in 2010 he developed a parallel career in kids' TV, winning a Writer's Guild of Great Britain Award for BBC1 series Little Howard's Big Question as well as writing episodes of Danger Mouse, Horrible Histories, Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed and The Furchester Hotel. His hobbies include drumming (slowly), exploring ancient woodland and watching ancient sitcoms.