Cleveland-based Auburn Records, which drove the city's '80s metal scene, is unleashing a new generation of bands that reveres that classic '80s power-metal style. Leading the parade are Lick the Blade, a dynamic quintet whose debut album Graveyard of Empires comes out this week. Their album pays homage to their major influences — Iron Maiden and Judas Priest foremost among them — and fits right in with Auburn's first-generation bands, like Breaker and Destructor.
"It comes down to you've got to be happy with what you're doing," says guitarist Tom Mowcomber, explaining why the band has a sound some might considered dated. "What makes us happy is playing the classic stuff that influenced us. It seems like everything that can been done in the realm of heavy metal has been done. So we do what we like rather than trying to be modern or trendy."
Formed in early 2004, the band kicked around the clubs for a couple of years, putting together some low-budget demos, "just to have something to pass out." Then, back in 2006, says Mowcomber, he got an e-mail from Auburn head Bill Peters.
"I think he checked out one of our shows," says Mowcomber. "He said he'd be interested in putting out a CD for us. I had been a big Breaker and Destructor fan, and me and my buddies had been listeners of Bill's on the radio. So it was kind of surreal."
Shortly after that, Peters came to one of their practices "to see how things were going, how we worked," says Mowcomber. They scheduled studio time, but suffered a setback of several months when drummer Greg Behnke broke his hand.
"That actually served us well," says Mowcomber. "We took the time to write some more songs."
Finally, the band entered Breaker drummer Mark Klein's Noise Floor Studios and made the album with Klein engineering. Mowcomber and his bandmates — Behnke, guitarist Brian French, singer Ted Anderson and bassist Mike Kurtz — crafted an album that does their forebears proud. With most tracks ranging from a generous but not indulgent five to six and a half minutes, the band has room to build the thundering sonic structures classic power metal is known for.
"Resistance, Rebellion, and Death" moves at a raging gallop that builds and builds relentlessly, riding on the back of pumping, churning guitars and draped with Anderson's piercing vocals. The title track demonstrates how seamlessly the band can switch things up, moving from a careening pace to a more measured and deliberate one, capped with terrific yelps. Whether it's the stormy "Red Warning" or the sweeping "Chaos to Pandemonium," Lick the Blade show they have learned their lessons well.
"We want to match the sort of epic nature of the music with comparable lyrics," says Mowcomber. "Every song I write, the lyrics are based on a piece of literature, a story or whatever. We don't blurt out lyrics just to have a vocal line. We want to have as much stuff in our music as we can without it being overkill. We don't want to be a progressive metal band. We want to find a balance between keeping continuity in the music but having enough going on to keep it interesting."
Lick the Blade have already played in Germany — a stronghold for old-school metal — at this past summer's Headbangers Open Air festival. They have modest, realistic hopes for their future now that they have an album out.
"We just want to get our name out there as much as we can," says Mowcomber. "Bill's done more for us than we could have done in a million years on our own. It could escalate from here or stay where it is. We have so much fun doing it. None of us are expecting to become big rock stars."