Suspended Sentence

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Shortly after returning from a successful tour of Europe in support of their impressive 1983 debut album, Court in the Act, heavy metal band Satan were dealt a losing hand when their infamously restless singer, Brian Ross, quit abruptly to rejoin his previous band, Blitzkrieg. Into the breach stepped one Lou Taylor, who somehow convinced the Satan lads to adopt the name of his now defunct former group, Blind Fury, and proceed to record a rather bland hard rock album entitled Out of Reach, before also moving on and leaving the remaining quartet to pick up the pieces. Which they eventually did with the help of yet another lead singer named Michael Jackson (not that Michael Jackson, of course), and a return to the fairly abused Satan moniker for 1987's Suspended Sentence album -- are you still with us? The good news is that, despite all of these confusing travails, said album came off surprisingly well thanks to: first, new addition Jackson immediately proving his worth as Satan's finest vocalist ever; and second, the band's rejection of its recent commercially geared misfires in order to re-embrace its pre-thrash, New Wave of British Heavy Metal roots and update them with a more muscular late-'80s metal aesthetic, stopping just shy of power metal. Neck-snapping first-half highlights "Who Dies Wins" and "Suicidal Justice" are epic buggers, to boot, positively reveling in varied tempos and complex riff arrangements so that it seems like the always formidable lead guitar duo of Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins are dueling to the death. For the album's second half, Satan let loose with blazing speed metal onslaughts like "S.C.U.M." and "Calculated Execution," pausing only for the astoundingly good balladry inaugurating "Avalanche of a Million Hearts," which then gradually builds into an imposing eight-minute heavy metal tour de force. And don't leave out Suspended Sentence's Queen-like opening snippet, "92nd Symphony," which, unlike most cockamamie metal album intros, actually leaves one wanting more of its layered six-string orchestration...ah, well. Frustratingly, Satan would squander any momentum they might have gained from this masterful gem of an LP, by once again changing their name (although, not their singer, thankfully) before their next album, which they released as Pariah.