Skull & Crossbones – Sungazer (Massacre Records)

Wednesday, 6th September 2023
Rating: 8.5 / 10

Four former members of German heavy metal act Stormwitch felt the fire to continue forward in this new band Skull & Crossbones. Expanding as a quintet with vocalist Tobi Hübner in the fold, Massacre Records seems like a smart alignment for the debut album release Sungazer. After numerous passes of these ten tracks, listeners who live for a traditional form of Teutonic driven metal chock full of strong power riffs, high energy rhythm section support, plus monstrous, multi-octave vocal melodies that can hit eagle highs as much as shatter steel on impact should have no trouble devouring this material.

Specific main riffs demand synchronized headbanging action – most will be hard pressed to not be swept into the Judas Priest/Accept-like mid-tempo fervor for “Manhunter”, the harmonized chorus from Tobi’s pristine in a Blind Guardian meets Queen manner. At other points, cleaner guitars give chase to massive, mountain-top musical parts that showcase an epic march to glory – “The Invisible Man” similar to the feel of early Queensrÿche, cult act Q5, or classic Dio during his 80’s ascent to arena level attraction, the lead breaks of Volker Schmietow and Tobi Kipp exemplary. The mechanics of drummer Marc Oppold sit between conventional power metal with the flair for intricacy – thorough in his double kick abilities, while entertaining in specific transitions/fill spots to make “Nature’s Legacy” a spotlight effort on his behalf. There are even hints of 70’s-oriented classic rock as far as the calmer clean to electric axe work and fantastic multi-part vocal harmonies in the power ballad “Live Your Dreams”, the additional piano passages perfect for dynamic ambiance. Many will hear Tobi’s star-like qualities – he has a belter-oriented range to confidently hit those falsetto screams (check out “The Drowned” for this aspect) that should earn him praise, applause, and all the acclaim a professional metal singer of his caliber deserves.

The obvious seasoning and experience of Skull & Crossbones as musicians make Sungazer a much stronger effort than most would expect for a debut effort. If you enjoy a mix of classic/traditional heavy metal with immediate musical hooks plus plenty of vocal acrobatics, this should be a no-brainer to add to your collection.

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