Fifth Angel – When Angels Kill

Fifth Angel – When Angels Kill
Nuclear Blast
Release Date: 16/06/23
Running Time: 01:09:03
Review by Simon Black

Power Metal can be a bit of a marmite genre, particularly for us British Metalheads. To anyone else out there in the rest of the world, my apologies on behalf of the nation, but ‘marmite’ is a savoury spread produced as a by-product of the process of brewing British real ale (that’s the infamous ‘warm beer’ you Johnny Foreigner’s always like to talk about). It is a uniquely British product in that you either love it or hate it equally vocally, with a uniquely British marketing strategy that publicises it on that basis (leading in turn to a uniquely British website, where instead of the usual question asking you to either accept or decline cookies, you get asked whether you love it or hate it before you can even enter). 

And Power Metal is a bit like that for many of us…

To be fair, the heritage of Power Metal heads right back to the early days of Metal with supergroup Rainbow when Dio was fronting things, and consequently isn’t as clean a categorisation as many would like. It’s further differentiated by the fact that on different sides of the Atlantic there are two distinct variants with a common root, but a subtly different sound. This is where stalwarts Fifth Angel confuse the hell out of most, as they are an American act that ticks every categorisation box that normally applies to their European counterparts. The US variant owes more to NWOBHM and Speed Metal influences than its Euro counterpart where sword and sorcery concept arcs dominate, but Fifth Angel are notorious for these big multi-album arcs, and “When Angels Kill” is a futuristic vision of societal decline in the same tradition.

To be fair, concepts often leave me cold as a reviewer, because the concept should be an extra element in the mix to reward the repeat listener, rather than a crucial entry criterion. Too often, the concept takes over and makes accessibility a challenge for the more casual listener, who is less inclined to give it the repeated re-spins to begin to unpick it. First and foremost, a record and its songs need to be able to stand alone on its own feet and the songs to be listenable independent of the rest of the piece. The same applies for the reviewer, so if an album needs at least half a dozen spins to even begin to make sense, it’s only going to appeal to the hardcore fans.

Fortunately, Fifth Angel have been at this since the late 80’s (on and off) and have learned the importance of keeping this balance right and manage it reasonably well here. With three of the (almost) original members still involved there is fortunately enough of a collective memory to balance the heritage with what they are doing today, which means you get all the advantages that four decades of experience brings balanced with the fact that there have been big gaps in their timeline, so there’s enough freshness and enthusiasm in the camp to carry even a convoluted arc concept off without sounding stale. 

Musically, the big plus is that these songs don’t need you to be too deep into the concept to enjoy the writing and playing, which have the major bonus of pretty much working standalone if needed. Most of the story narrative actually comes from a series of spoken word sections that intersperse the music, so if you don’t care too much you can skip through and just enjoy the tunes. I will be honest – I really find those sort of link pieces jarring. Yeah, I know the concept masterclass “Operation: Mindcrime” did it, and it gives you something visual between tracks live if your show is big enough for that, but they always sound cheesy as hell, and as I said before the story should be the extra reward for the repeat listener, so the skip feature gets used a lot on this record. When you do, it flows much better, and the sheer richness of the song writing and delivery come to the fore. There are some really strong performances here throughout, but vocalist Steve Carlson cannot help but be the centre of your attention with his charismatic and edgy delivery that retains enough NWOBHM edge to balance the power and range in his cleaner stylistic moments although I cannot fault anything that the tightly cohesive instrumentation side delivers, which is so well knitted together that every piece of music flows like wine from a jug. Or warm British beer, if you would prefer…

If you have not come across Fifth Angel despite the length of their tenure, it’s not surprising. They never really got much traction outside of the Seattle / West Coast scene during their original run and managed to miss the whole of the 90’s and the noughties (which I wouldn’t blame any band for wanting to hibernate through to be fair). Their original reboot in 2010 was so brief you probably missed it too, so this band really has reinvented themselves and started from the ground up since 2017 to the point where this is as good a jumping on point as anything. It’s lively, it’s well produced, written and delivered and managed the neat trick of straddling both Atlantic-wide splinters of the Power Metal genre but traditional enough for the usual marmite test to not apply (but do skip the link tracks for best enjoyment). 

‘Resist The Tyrant’ Official Video

01. Descent Into Darkness
02. When Angels Kill
03. Resist The Tyrant
04. On Wings Of Steel
05. We Are Immortal
06. Empire Of Hate
07. Run To The Black
08. Seven Angels
09. Blinded And Bleeding
10. Kill The Pain
11. Five Days To Madness
12. Ashes To Ashes
13. The End Of Everything
14. Light The Skies

Steve Carlson – Vocals
Ken Mary – Drums
John Macko – Bass
Ed Archer – Guitar
Steve Conley – Guitar
Jim Dofka – Lead Guitar


Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.