Being a connoisseur of power metal of all stripes, one does eventually become inured to a certain homogeneity of imagery in lyrics and promotional art. In my own case, it’s never really been a sticking point—I’m interested in the genre more for the music than whatever imagery is arbitrarily attached to it, which is frequently little more than superfluous window dressing. That being said, I do sometimes find myself wishing that more artists saw fit to expand their subject matter beyond swords and the raising thereof, or look further afield for literary inspiration than J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, or Michael Moorcock.
With this in mind, I come to The Reaper’s Spiral, the debut album of Northern Ireland’s Terminus, musically in the mould of classic USPM such as Omen and Warlord. Lyrically, the album takes its influence from Isaac Asimov’s influential Foundation novels (aside from the seventh track, ‘Poseidon’s Children’, which, unless I’m very much mistaken, seems to have taken its cues from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). It’s a marriage of theme and musical subgenre which I’m not personally aware of any other examples of, save for the little-known Eleutheria by Canada’s Antiquus. If Terminus did nothing else to win my approval, I would still be in love with the way their literate lyrics, carefully crafted with regard to metre, mesh with the music and give it extra flavour in ways that one doesn’t normally expect even from good power metal.
A particular favourite moment for me comes with the track ‘The Mayors’, with the delivery of the lines ‘We will show no clemency for his crimes / Against science and mankind.’ It’s the line break preceding the preposition ‘against’ that gets me—what poets would call enjambment. It’s the way it continues a single self-contained declarative statement across multiple bars of music; it’s as surprising and invigorating to listen to as anything the band is doing on a purely musical level, and it informs our appreciation of the music it’s attached to with vocalist James Beattie’s stentorian, deliberately inflected delivery. Although not all of The Reaper’s Spiral is so metrically intriguing, it always benefits from arresting, picturesque lyrics that give it an edge of specificity and uniqueness in what its riffs and solos evoke even at its lowest ebb, something many of Terminus’ contemporaries could stand to emulate.
Before this review disappears any further down a literary rabbit hole then, please rest assured—if I didn’t speak a word of English and none of Beattie’s lines were anything other than gibberish to me, The Reaper’s Spiral would still be a treat of an album on audial merits alone. Guitarists Gavin Coulter and Paul Duffy tune their guitars low and employ a coarse, gravelly tone that calls to mind the massive-sounding Isen Torr, and similarly to Rich Walker’s short-lived project, the no-frills production belies the eloquence of their dual harmonies and the stateliness of the song structures.
Songs run the gamut from worship of ’80’s speed metal and NWOBHM tunes such as ‘The Encyclopedists’ to the propulsive quasi-thrash of finale ‘Centaurean’, which is driven by the kind of triplet-centric rhythm guitar work which Jon Schaeffer made his name with twenty years ago. The songwriting strikes an ideal balance between effusive and epic, neither losing sight of the grandeur of its sci-fi trappings at its most riff-driven, nor running out of energy during its most digressive instrumental breaks. Barring a couple of rough spots—the most prominent being ‘The Traders’, a quick and dirty pummelling that lacks the mythic, larger-than-life bearing of the tracks surrounding it and suffers from a weirdly jaunty chorus hook—it’s terrific stuff from beginning to end: tight, heavy, and meaty. One particular high point does deserve to be flagged up: the mighty ‘Poseidon’s Children’. Surely the most metal that Star Trek has ever sounded, Beattie’s towering, furious bellow of the refrain, ‘From Hell’s heart I stab at thee!’, is the sort of crowd-pleasing chorus hook that’s worth losing your voice for. As far as 2015 USPM-throwback-styled debut albums go, I hadn’t expected anything to readily equal Visigoth’s The Revenant King, and yet The Reaper’s Spiral stands right alongside it, jostling for position at the head of the pack.
01) The Reaper’s Spiral
02) The Psychohistorians
03) The Encyclopedists
04) The Mayors
05) The Traders
06) The Merchant Princes
07) Poseidon’s Children
08) Fortress Titan
Written by: Andrew
Stormspell Records (United States) / SSR-DL 163 / CD
Horror Records (Denmark) / HOR044MC / Tape
Independent (United Kingdom) / None / Digital