Sahg

II

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Funny how heavy metal in its purest form (or as "pure" as can be determined, this late in its evolutionary process) seems increasingly likely to be performed by side projects, composed of musicians taking time out from other bands involved with some very specific subgenre or another. At least in Scandinavia, this trend is particularly discernible in the mid-'00s emergence of groups like Sweden's Krux and Grand Magus (featuring members of Candlemass, Entombed, and Spiritual Beggars), and Norway's Sahg, which commenced as nothing more than a casual distraction for members of Gorgoroth, Audrey Horne, and Manngard. But the band's debut album, Sahg I (recorded whenever time allowed in late 2005), surprisingly entered the Norwegian charts upon release the following year, wowed consumers and critics alike with its inspired reappraisal of classic heavy metal devices, and virtually demanded a follow-up. Luckily for those fans, the members of Sahg were more than happy to comply and, what's more, creatively up to the task, delivering in due course an even more impressive and consistent -- if unimaginatively titled -- sophomore effort in 2008's exceptional Sahg II. Actually, some may dare claim the traditionalist brand of heavy metal espoused by tracks such as "Echoes Ring Forever" and "Wicked Temptress" is equally unimaginative, but that's like saying all rock & roll is as simple and repetitive as three chords with a chorus on top; it's merely selling the nature of individual songwriting short, and that's something Sahg are very rarely guilty of here. Rather, the group members expertly pluck their basic sonic ingredients from established sources and bake (emphasis on bake!) delicious new recipes with them, capably melding irresistible power chords with singer Olav Iversen's powerful pipes, which somehow manage to bridge the gap between Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Martin. Naturally, all eras of Black Sabbath (and sometimes Ozzy's early solo career) are also quoted within: whether in the energetic drive and muscular, '80s-style production displayed by "Ascent to Decadence" and "By the Toll of the Bell" (both aesthetic siblings to 1987's The Eternal Idol); or the '70s-brewed experiments of instrumental "From Conscious Sleep" and psychedelic ballad "Escape the Crimson Sun" (reminiscent of Sabotage's "Supertzar" and Paranoid's "Planet Caravan," respectively). But Sahg also employ a looser and bluesier approach for the lumbering "Star-Crossed" (more like vintage Pentagram), flirt with '90s stoner rock groove riffs on the mighty "Pyromancer" (the album's fastest number), and sink into billowing clouds of smoke during the hypnotic vastness of closing epic "Monomania." Through it all, the group's thoroughly modern perspective remains unfailingly strong, regardless of influence, and it's therefore only the most narrow-minded of metal heads who are likely to dismiss such excellent songs based solely on a skewed sense of purist principles. There are far more derivative bands out there, than Sahg, after all.

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