It would be easier to fault Eternal Legacy's devotion to old-school heavy metal if they didn't sound like they were having so much fun. As they romp and rampage through the 11 tracks on their new album, Lifeless Alive, they sound like they're having the time of their life. Six of the high-energy tunes hurl past the five-minute mark but build up so much momentum they don't feel long. While some tracks, like "Souls of Prey" and the instrumental "Braindead," are pure power metal straight from '80s-era Iron Maiden, others, like "Abbadon" and the slightly gothy "The Dead Matter," are broken up with atmospheric passages and, in the latter, hollow-sounding vocals that contrast with the sharp and piercing yet gritty vocals of the rest of the CD.
The quartet of lead guitarist Shaun Vanek, rhythm guitarist/lead singer Jason Vanek, bassist Tim Fredrick and drummer Steve Dukuslow gelled last fall when Fredrick joined. Previously a five-piece, they had a more prog-rock sound on their 2007 debut, The Coming of the Tempest. They've retained some of that epic prog sweep and moody change-ups while reverting to an earlier sound that the Vanek brothers and Dukuslow had played in their previous band, Mercenary. That was partly because the group learned more about its own proclivities and partly because of feedback it got when it played in Germany in 2007.
"When we first started Eternal Legacy, it was a phase we went through — music with more keyboard-oriented sounds," says Shaun Vanek. "Our trip to Europe was the first time we got a lot of people's feedback. The ones that weren't keyboard- driven were the ones they liked the most. And they're my favorites as well as Jason's. We were like, Why don't we write more like that? The keyboard stuff was fun, but live it lost a lot of energy."
"With this [CD], we found who we are and what we do best," he adds. "It's a lot more focused. On Tempest, there were songs with keyboards, songs without — we didn't know who we were yet."
Jason points to Fredrick as a key factor in the band's backward evolution.
"The past members were great musicians, but it felt like something wasn't quite there," he says. "When we started playing with Tim, it felt everything was coming together."
"It's unbelievable what Tim has added to the band," says Shaun. "It sounds fresh. His playing style is more along the lines of [Iron Maiden bassist] Steve Harris. He's into a lot of Geddy Lee, Cliff Burton. He's a very versatile player."
Even before Fredrick joined, the band had grabbed the ear of Bill Peters, head of local label Auburn, who considers them the spearhead of his "Auburn the next generation" push. He heard in them a connection to Auburn's revered '80s bands like Breaker. Unlike many young Cleveland metalheads, the Eternal Legacy guys weren't all that aware of his background.
"I'd heard him being mentioned but had no idea he was affiliated with any label," says Shaun. "He approached us and invited us down to his radio show. We got into long conversation about metal in general. He really liked our attitude. He said, 'I'm doing this show. You want to play?' I guess it went over really well and he thought we fit in well with everybody."
Peters encouraged them to put a few of their older songs on Tempest, and after the response they got, it pushed them back in that direction. With Jason at the helm, the band recorded Lifeless Alive in his studio in Avon. (He's quick to point out they are really from Parma). The band already has more new material and plans to go back in the studio as soon as possible.
"The next one is going to be even that much better," says Shaun. "It will be the first one with everyone playing together. We're not trying to be an arena rock band. We're just trying to cater to ourselves, and our fans. Metal is not about being perfect, it's about having that energy when you listen to it."