Of the current crop of retro-metal bands, Demon Head stand as one of the most interesting. Offering an intriguing mixture of trad-metal with contemporary flavouring, they evoke the same quintessential doom metal bands as many of their peers. What sets apart Demon Head, however, is their seemingly intuitive ability to take these influences and do something genuinely worthwhile with them. The ghost of Pentagram and Saint Vitus hangs heavy in the air throughout ‘Thunder On The Fields’, yet they actually show a refreshing take on a genre which, much like extreme metal of all stripes, seems intent on pushing the outer limits of intensity – often at the cost of cohesion and focus. Demon Head, on the other hand, are a refreshingly melodic band; heavy, yes, but they’re a group that put emphasis on hooks and instantaneous riffs – a quality which made their 2015 debut ‘Ride The Wilderness’ such an appealing listen.
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Structurally, ‘Thunder On The Fields’ is a little more complex than it’s predecessor and thus less immediate; but it’s no great deviation from the band’s established format which, in this case, is a good thing. Demon Head have always had a talent for crafting punchy, memorable songs with razor sharp hooks; and whilst ‘Thunder On The Fields’ isn’t quite as instantaneous as their debut it’s nonetheless an accessible collection of tracks that still has enough to reward those who come back for more. The band trade in a fairly unique brand of scuzzy, determined metal which takes in a range of influence from late ’60s proto-metal to the dramatic, strident mid ’80s heavy rock of Witchfinder General. It’s a set of influences that innately informs the music of Demon Head without stifling the band’s own identity. Though no great innovators, neither are they simple copyists.
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Distortion pedals and heavy groove are the order of the day here; but the band do briefly take a detour into more understated territory. Transposing the dread-laden menace of doom metal onto acoustic instruments is a time-tested tradition but one that remains criminally under-utilised. Whilst doom forefathers Black Sabbath made a routine habit of it, more recent genre mainstays tend to ignore the subtlety of acoustic doom for something more in-your-face. ‘Hic Svnt Dracones’ begins life as just that; a baleful, dark slice of acoustica, every bit the equal of ‘Thunder On The Field’s heavier moments in terms of sheer atmosphere. It’s therefore something of a disappointment when the electric guitars and drums kick in at full force after little more than a minute of the song. It’s not that the electric portion of the song is weak, simply that the acoustic introduction serves as such a welcome sonic deviation that it begs to be explored further.
With ‘Thunder On The Fields’, it’s clear that Demon Head have one goal in mind: to rock hard. The band play to their strengths with the resultant album a rock solid second effort, which although doesn’t reinvent the wheel, does present itself in unabashed terms. It’s a 40 minute blast of simple, propulsive fuzz doom and that’s all it tries to be. Whilst the brief sojourn into acoustic territory does give a tantalising hint at what could be, it’s no surprise that Demon Head decided to stick to what they know best: dirt, riffs and menace.