Fortress – Don’t Spare the Wicked (Album Review)

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Spare the rod, spoil the metal!

Fortress is a name been employed by many a metal act in the past, yet it is an apt moniker for the Whittier, California-based quartet that is among the latest folds to carry it, given their lofty and vividly drawn sound. Having already made some respectable waves in the old school metal revival scene with their 2018 debut EP, a by-the-numbers nod to the NWOBHM sound of the early 80s, the stage was set for an evolutionary leap that would make this quartet a more distinct player in the 2020s. Led by the songwriting and guitar prowess of six-string wielding metal warrior Filiberto “Fili” Bibiano and the soaring, theatrical voice of scene newcomer Chris Scott Nunez, a veritable force to be reckoned with would emerge on this outfit’s now unleashed debut LP “Don’t Spare The Wicked,” charging forth with a new assortment of speed and power metal influences and a denser atmospheric aesthetic that is far less common in retro-heavy metal circles at present.

A far-cry from the rustic traditionalism of 3 years prior, the still concise and shorter songwriting approach of this band has been given a massive adrenaline shot, culminating in an album that is notably faster and features flasher guitar work. Some of this likely owes to Fili’s brief tenure with the dark progressive power metal act Witherfall, a band that sports a far more complex style that has some level of resemblance to the craftsmanship at work here. However, the most blatant influences at work here include the fast-paced metallic riffing and dueling leads of USPM trailblazers Riot, the subtle nuances and complexity of early Queensryche, and a tall order of epic flair and lofty keyboard additives common to Dio’s 80s offerings. Throw into the mix a near dead-on emulation out of Bruce Dickinson circa “Piece Of Mind” out of Nunez, a Steve Harris inspired bass performance out of the recently recruited Damian Rejon and the precision-based speed drumming of Robert Duran and what emerges is a brilliant mixture of metallic force and 80s camp that is uniquely their own.
Per Bibiano’s own testimony about the development of this short yet riveting collection of metallic fanfare, this album’s unique sound came about due to having a more technically competent fold of musicians to work with compared to before. Right from the opening thunder of the power metal-infused opener “Lost Forever”, the level of flash between the flowing lead guitar line, pummeling battery of the drums and the soaring vocal work gets dangerously close to the brilliance heard on Malmsteen’s 1986 smash album “Trilogy,” a brilliance that is reprised on the albums equally fast and furious closer/title anthem “Don’t Spare the Wicked”. By contrast, the slow-marching, keyboard-drenched flair of “Children of The Night” takes some heavy cues from mid-80s Saxon, while the heavy-hitting shuffle of “Anguish” reminds of one of the faster numbers off Queensryche’s “The Warning.” Throw in some fancy shred high-jinks out of the Jake E. Lee tradition on “Devil’s Wheel”, a galloping nod to Maiden’s 1983 era in “Find Yourself” and a spellbinding homage to the rocking speed of Riot circa “Fire Down Under” on “Red Light Runner”, and what you’ve got is one of the most versatile love letters to the 80s ever penned.

“Don’t Spare the Wicked” Album Artwork

Given the growing multiplicity of acts taking their cues from the way things were 30-40 years ago, it’s growing all the more difficult to keep who’s who straight, but Fortress has put something together here that will not be mistaken from the Enforcers and White Wizzards of the world here. About the only weak spot that can be pointed out, apart from the album’s notably short length, is the somewhat underdeveloped instrumental respite and solo guitar composition “The Passage”, which does a solid job of painting that same spacey atmosphere that Iron Maiden established on “Strange World”, but gets repetitious for a 3-and-a-half-minute instrumental and doesn’t really explore the dynamic contrasts that would come into play with the rest of the band being involved to some extent. But it proves to be little more than a shallow speed bump on what is otherwise a high energy thrill ride that will sit well with anybody who remembers the early trailblazers of the USPM sound circa 1983-85. Don’t spare this wicked album your attention, or a truly breathtaking moment may be lost forever.

Released By: High Roller Records
Release Date: November 26th, 2021
Genre: Heavy Metal

Musicians:

  • Chris Scott Nunez / Vocals
  • Fili Bibiano / Guitar
  • Damian Rejon / Bass
  • Rob Duran / Drums

“Don’t Spare the Wicked” Track-listing:

1. Lost Forever
2. Devil’s Wheel
3. Anguish
4 Red Light Runner
5. Find Yourself
6. Children of the Night
7. The Passage
8. Don’t Spare the Wicked

Order your format of choice HERE.

8.9 Excellent

Like an ironclad bat out of hell, a recently minted heavy metal revival act from California that made some waves in 2018 via an eponymous EP has upped the ante, drawing from a number of olden speed and power metal sources to forge a more elaborate steel fortress

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 8.5
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