The prospect of revivalism, as we’ve discussed on the site many, many times before, is a double-edged sword. With every attempt to recreate the magic of older bands or scenes that have fallen by the wayside comes the possibility that the alchemy falters; any time eyes are turned firmly backwards, the importance of the present and its context withers and falls away. Nostalgia is the effigy of a white whale. Nostalgia is a curse, far more so than a blessing. It is a tantalizing wishfulness that corrodes and degrades whatever it grasps.
However, to say that looking backwards is only ever a recipe for failure is equally as stupid as engaging in the act of classics-worship for its own sake. A tactful eye for the aesthetics of the past can, more than just re-creating something for the sake of resurrection, elevate something beyond what it used to be. Revivalism, in the hands of those with the mind to move art forward, is equal parts necromancy and pure artistry. At any given time, there are a handful of metal bands performing this sorcery, and they all deserve the highest commendations.
At the risk of throwing down the gauntlet far too early in this piece, here is my claim: Legendry should be indisputably considered part of this group, because The Wizard and the Tower Keep is easily one of the best heavy metal albums of this decade.
Although their skeleton is undeniably simple – this Pittsburgh trio falls solidly among the camp of bands inspired by sword-and-sorcery greats Manilla Road and Pagan Altar – it’s how Legendry employ a select pool of influences to add considerable musculature that elevate them beyond their brothers in arms. Make no mistake, their riffs are good as hell, as good or better than anyone else in the game right now; one spin of the explosive second track, “Vindicator,” confirms that Legendry are beyond competent at making ripping, chest-thumping heavy metal. However, the acoustic opener “The Bard’s Tale” and “Vindicator” are simple in a way that obscures the true power that Legendry unfurl on this album. The title track, the album’s third song, is where the band finally start to play their hand: a lilting melody, led on by an ethereal, airy mellotron, signals quite the sea change. “The Wizard and the Tower Keep” becomes a lush piece of symphonic progressive rock, more early King Crimson than anything metal, only picking up on its final lap, and even then not shedding any of its beauty.
Any previous fan of Legendry knows the band’s love of older prog and psychedelic rock, but The Wizard and the Tower Keep goes above and beyond anything the group pointed to on Mists of Time or Dungeon Crawler. The latter half of “The Lost Road” is a scorching lysergic jam session featuring a heaping helping of Hammond organ, and the truly epic “Sorcery’s Bane” features some live violin that goes above and beyond in its execution, to the point of being genuinely moving in addition to setting the tone perfectly. Without spoiling anything to be found in the monolithic eleven-minute closer, it’s enough to say that “Earthwarrior” is a stunning, heartfelt conclusion to an album that is as pristine a labor of love as any foundational text in this genre.
The production choices also help Legendry immensely. While fans of heavy metal’s more muscular side may balk at how relatively thin the guitars are here, and how comfortable the percussion is at remaining in the background at most points, the comparatively “soft” production of The Wizard and the Tower Keep allows all of the elements that would be relegated to the background, like the aforementioned Hammond organ and mellotron, to shine through and become as much a part of the record’s DNA as any of the more fundamental pieces.
It’s strange and somewhat disarming that a true heavy metal classic, as good as anything from the 1980s, is coming out in 2019, thirty years later. But here Legendry are, with The Wizard and the Tower Keep, showing that the genre – which has already been turning a corner the past few years into beautifully fertile new ground – is as powerful and vital as ever. This is one to play loud, often, and unapologetically, for years to come.
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Legendry self-released The Wizard and the Tower Keep on November 1st. I’ve been spinning it pretty much every day since then, and you should be too. You can stream or buy the album, plus shirts, CDs, and LPs through their bandcamp page.