This era has its notable releases, including Angel Witch’s self-titled debut and Def Leppard’s On Through The Night (both of which have been covered in this column previously). There are so many bands from that movement that never got the recognition they should have, which makes this month-long feature a prime opportunity to give this all-important era some new life. There really is no better way to jump start this NWOBHM month than by going back to Satan’s pivotal debut Court In The Act.
Court In The Act was late to the party, its 1983 release date coming at the tail-end of the movement. The band had been clamoring for years in the underground, releasing a few well-received demos before Court In The Act found its way to the public. Being released late in the NWOBHM life cycle was a shame, since Satan was much more developed as a band than a good portion of their contemporaries. This isn’t party music or dipped in fantasy themes, but a predecessor to the upsurging thrash metal scene that came around the same time.
The cheesy synth-driven opening track “Into The Fire” notwithstanding, there is little that's groan-inducing about Court In The Act. There aren’t lyrics about sorcerers or getting drunk and nailing every woman in sight, but songs of solders marching to death and hunting down the ones who condemned you to an unfortunate prison sentence. The music is brooding and wicked, the periodic high wail from vocalist Brian Ross a light reprieve from the album's menacing face.
What is most revealing about Court In The Act is not its thrash metal roots, but the various methods which Satan act uncharacteristically. “Blades Of Steel” sneaks in a soulful clean break, where bassist Graeme English gets some lead time in. “Dark Side Of Innocence” soothes the listener with a brief acoustic interlude, which leads straight into the furious closer “Alone In The Dock.” Fury is usually the method of choice for Satan on this album, whether it’s the forceful gang chants on “Hunt You Down” or the mangled pace of “Break Free.”
Much of this album starts and ends with guitarists Russ Tippins and Steve Ramsey. These two purveyors of shred put forth an effort that should be ranked among the greats to emerge from the NWOBHM movement. The dueling guitar leads on “Trial By Fire” are like a gunshot to the ears, blasting forth from an ill-tempered bass introduction. There are far too many instances like this to fit onto this column, but the best representation of their chemistry is the dynamic instrumental “The Ritual.”
Satan would go through various name changes throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, including Blind Fury and Pariah. They have reunited with the same line-up used for Court In The Act and sound just as vibrant as they did three decades ago; watch the clip of “Trial By Fire” below for evidence. Satan never got their just due, but Court In The Act is a fantastic debut with longevity behind it. For being more distinguished and multi-dimensional than typical NWOBHM material, Court In The Act gets the nod for this week’s Retro Recommendation.