Friday, July 14, 2006

a cry from the past

omen - 'battle cry'
released: 1984
running time: 36'37"
metal blade

songs: 1. death rider 2. the axeman 3. last rites 4. dragon's breath 5. be my wench 6.battle cry 7. die by the blade 8. prince of darkness 9. bring out the beast 10. in the arena

Time for some classic heavy metal! Quite frankly, you don't get any more classic than omen, who are, strangely enough, one of the severely overlooked bands of the genre's richest period. Over time, they have become a sort of a cult thing, name-dropped by every connoisseur worth his salt, and for a reason. The main problem with Omen is that they never really took off after this great debut. The sophomore record, 'Warning Of Danger', was still quite interesting, but the following records of their career (which included an 8 year hiatus in the 90s) have been less than essential. So what makes 'Battle Cry' so special? And whatever it is, does it still hold 22 years after its original release?

These questions are actually quite simple, no need for elaborate reviewerspeak here. What's special about it is simply good songwriting. Ignoring the silly spoken word that introduces 'The Axeman', you could think of a subtle Manowar, if those two words in the same phrase don't make your head hurt too much. In an age of over-the-topness, Omen cleverly avoided all the unnecessary excesses of other contemporaries. Taking the basic Iron Maiden template, these 10 songs throttle along, mostly mid-paced, building up memorable choruses, agile guitar leads and compelling charges. 'Death Rider' is a good opener, setting the tone for the rest of the 36 minutes, which include other highlights such as the title track with its heavy bass intro and the rousing storytelling of 'In The Arena'. It doesn't take big fancy orchestras to be epic, that terribly overused word nowadays, it just takes a good use of dynamics and powerful melodies. And, truth be told, a good vocalist. J.D.Kimball (who sadly passed away in 2003) deserves a mention for his brilliantly understated singing - at times gravely and rougher, at times crystal-clear, always strong and melodic, with no screaming histrionics or useless rock clichés, he would have deserved greater notoriety for his undisputable talent.

And yes, it still sounds great after 22 years. Sure, there's the traditional dragons/swords/wizards lyrics, but the aforementioned maturity of the songwriting is well complemented by a surprisingly good production that many a current band could use.

'Battle Cry' is not a bastion of originality and omen did not change the world, but they do deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the more illustrious classic heavy metal bands of the 80s.

the good: withstood the test of time through great songwriting and a memorable vocalist
the bad: rather unimaginative fantasy lyrics, doesn't push many originality boundaries


  1. I actually never heard Omen although I do remember them. I considering buying one of their once like twenty years ago, but didn't. Great review for sure. I had to laugh at the song title "Be my wench" though.

  2. hi mark, nice of you to pass by!

    you should give this record a go, i listen to it very often.

    and if you think the title is silly, wait until you read the lyrics to that song, and also to 'bring out the beast'. testosterone-filled lads they were, for sure. :)