Sound Advice: Chasing the Dream, by Skull Fist
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Sound Advice: Chasing the Dream, by Skull Fist

In its classic-sounding new full-length, Skull Fist proves that heavy metal traditions are worth honouring.

Toronto is home to several great bands that participate in the classic heavy metal and thrash revival that’s thrived in recent years—bands likes Cauldron, Shotgun Cure, Fatality, and Skull Fist. Active since 2006, and with a loyal cult following since its demo No False Metal, released that same year, Skull Fist’s profile rose dramatically in 2011 with the release of its debut full-length Head of the Pack. Since then, the group of hightop-wearing, leather-pants rocking longhairs has toured with the Sabaton in Canada, Grand Magus in Europe, and Solitude in Japan, and appeared in many other festivals and one-off shows.

Fans have been eagerly awaiting the follow-up to that debut—which was infused with the shredding and delightful sleaze that defines the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal—for some time, as Chasing the Dream has been pushed back twice. Original recording plans had to be delayed because of a lack of funds, and then in May of 2013, singer and founding member Jackie Slaughter was involved in a terrible skateboard accident, breaking his neck, cheekbone and orbital bone, fracturing his skull and ribs, and suffering a host of other injuries. Thankfully, the front man made a full recovery, and at long last Chasing the Dream was released on January 10, 2014, through Noiseart Records.

While Head of the Pack was defined by its breakneck speed and vicious, punishing thrash, Chasing the Dream is just a little bit cooler and cleaner, and the change is a positive one. There is a crispness here, a clarity in the sound and a precision to the songwriting that serves the band’s sound well. There’s still plenty of playfulness, as is evident from the wild speed increase at the beginning of opening track “Hour To Live,” but just a touch more restraint has led to a considerable boost in quality.

Speaking of which, the best part of Chasing the Dream is the caliber of the songwriting. Each track on the record is a fist-pounding, headbanging piece of heavy metal designed to get you moving, filled with irresistible vocal hooks and incredible catchy riff structures. There is something urgent in the pacing, mixed with a plaintive and coaxing edge to the vocals, that is wildly infectious. The group has clearly spent more time and energy crafting the melodies and developing the songs into memorable pieces, and that elevates the record above its previous effort. Although it still features plenty of booze-soaked, raucous energy, the touch of maturity that Chasing the Dream displays serves Skull Fist extremely well.