The world needs more bands like Axehammer. Pure, unadulterated heavy metal is a surprisingly hard genre to pull off properly without sacrificing identity and energy, but these Los Angeles, California natives manage to do everything right on their comeback release, "Marching On". Clocking at 40 minutes, the album is filled to the brim with great riffs, soaring vocals, and classic heavy metal attitude, producing a sure winner for all fans of traditional and power metal.
Formed in 1981, Axehammer drinks deep from the same well that spawned Jag Panzer, Helstar, and perhaps even Manowar. While the band's recording output has been sporadic at best, the quality of material on "Marching On" compares favorably to their more prolific peers. The guitar playing is straight out of the glory days of classic American metal, tastefully performed yet showcasing Jerry Watt's ability to shred as well as any axeman out there. The rhythm section is solid, with bassist Horacio Colmenares stealing the show with agile and prominent bass lines straight from Steve Harris' closet ("The Dragons Fly" is a great example). Vocalist Kleber Mandrake has a classic metal voice channeling equal parts Bruce Dickinson and Harry Conklin, and while he hits a couple of questionable notes, his delivery helps to sell the songs.
The album's eight tracks tend to hit hard without overstaying their welcome, sounding familiar yet at the same time fresh. Axehammer manages to simultaneously pay reverent tribute to metal classics, and to have a distinct sound. At times, the riffs may straddle a little too close to the band's influences – for example, the intro riff to "Swing the Steel" had me double check that I was not listening to Metallica's "Ride the Lightning", and the main riff in "Fire Away" has pronounced similarities to Iron Maiden's "2 Minutes to Midnight" – but most of the time Axehammer maintains its own identity.
Lyrically, the band remains firmly in the fantasy camp, with a typical retinue of dragons, demons, and warriors featuring prominently amongst the songs. There are no deep philosophical revelations to be found here, but one does not need to contemplate the meaning of life while listening to Axehammer. "Marching On" is a fun, well-executed release that retains retro sensibilities without sounding hopelessly dated, and those are reasons enough to recommend it to any fans of classic American heavy metal. Sometimes it is OK to let your hair down, put on your denim jacket, and raise horns up in the air for a trip to heavy metal Valhalla.