Owlbear- Chaos To The Realm (Self-Released)Monday, 7th August 2023
For Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts, the band name alone will clue the listener in on what to expect.
Or will it?
Without even listening intently to Chaos To The Realm, one can easily lump Owlbear, led dexterously, uniquely, and proudly by obscenely talented and well-traveled metal polymath Katy Scary (oh yeah), into the popular NWOTHM movement, but that would be a mistake. Not that the genre doesn’t have its merits (I’m certainly in deep with it), but all too many of those bands find themselves lost in the mire of derivative worship and nothing greater. Owlbear, on the other hand, are devout enough yet are not blind disciples themselves, putting their own stamp on the types of metal they love, molten red branding dies pointed to the heavens so as to stand out amidst the flock.
That “T” stands for “Traditional” of course, and Owlbear are, but only on their own terms. Replace the “T” in NWOTHM with a “B” for “British” for a moment. Mind you, it’s what “trad metal” used to be called years ago. Imagine an Ebony records mix instead of that modern but fully welcome sheen, and you’ve got a band who would’ve been hyped by Neal Kay circa 1979-1981 and whose material would’ve inspired Metallica later on. They’d have packed The Soundhouse in Kingsbury.
Now listen to a track such as “The Voyage of the Wraith” and take in the hearty gallop, the “epic” vibe of battles long ago, the thrilling, trilling guitar soloing. You’re still in the 1980’s, but you’re a little further in. Noise Records has signed them, and they’re German and the riffs are…Running Wild. You’ll time travel some more with the title cut, but in this case, the princely power metal of Gamma Ray and early Nocturnal Rites has the floor.
Opener “Fiend of Fire” will deliver thee unto Swedish territory, acts like Heavy Load breaking free of icy tombs, resurrected momentarily in the present day while enrobed with a speedy Children Of Bodom-ish ethic. Fast-forward to “Cult of the Serpent” and find yourself in a mania that could only be conjured by ferocious 2000’s stalwarts Wolf, vocals seething and crystalline, guitars prowling, racing with a predator’s cunning zeal underneath a silver moon’s glow. At record’s end, you’re back in the mid-80’s, except you’re in Holland, “Fall On Your Blade” invoking that nation’s own legends in Picture with its equine pace and night-warrior drive.
The musicianship, handled by Skelator, and Adamantis alumni, is deadly accurate and precise, this team of snipers with solid resumes rising to the sword-waving occasion with the type of excellent performances such intelligent, masterful, reverent songwriting demands. Nectarous harmonized twin leads grown in the gardens of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Wishbone Ash, Carcass, and olden days In Flames abound with glistening might, Katy Scary’s effortless vocals commanding the fray with a steel fist, alternating between the eagle’s cry of Helloween belter Michael Kiske and the haunting, otherworldly chant of Cirith Ungol’s Tim Baker and back again without stumbling.
It could be quite easy to overlook Owlbear given that they’ve landed in a rather crowded region of the metal hemisphere, but to do so to their immediate classic of a debut album would be a crime, Chaos to the Realm being an arrestingly cornucopian witch’s brew crafted in a cauldron seasoned with the spirits of groups of many styles and eras both famous and obscure.
Free that icosahedron from its pouch and give it a roll. Owlbear deserves a turn and a campaign of their own. If high metal fantasy is what you seek, Owlbear has it.