"Down Among the Deadmen" is an astounding masterpiece in every regard, a true example of a timeless heavy metal classic. As many have found, Slough Feg's style of heavy metal isn't anything like the bands they take after despite their similarities to many groups like Iron Maiden, Manilla Road, yadda yadda yadda; but some strangely original and bombastic rioting which reeks of a totally comfortable group doing what it wants to do. Most of their albums are at least worth a listen, but "Down Among the Deadmen" is in a galaxy of its own. It is, without a doubt, the pinnacle of Slough Feg's songwriting, artistic ability, and likeability. It is to metal what Breaking Bad is to network television; the one-of-a-kind opus that lures its viewers away from whatever mediocrity they were previously exposed to, consuming them, feeding them, leaving them mesmerized and perplexed, completely chained to its charm.
I guess that means one could call Mike Scalzi the Walter White of Slough Feg, minus the meth peddling and tacky fashion sense. He's the ringleader of the crew, leading the heavy metal monks to victory with a gruff, gritty voice unlike any other. The sort of work Slough Feg churned out on "Twilight of the Idols" is polished and perfected here, leaving the occasional dud song for the vultures. Throughout "Down Among the Deadmen," they kicked up the intensity a bit, dialed back a little on the folk influence (although it's still very relevant), and pretty much wrote the definite Slough Feg album—everything that Slough Feg should represent or sound like is in prime form here. There are thirteen songs in total, not one of them disposable, weak, overdrawn, useless, boring, or undercooked. No, these thirteen are the real deal.
"Down Among the Deadmen" holds the signs of universal improvement on all fronts of the primordial Slough Feg identity. The production issues—particularly with the weak drum sound—and the band's tendency to get a little out of hand with a variety of issues are simply nonexistent; this is a band that is completely focused and alert, all systems go. The exterior qualities of the record, such as the drum sound and overall mix, couldn't be any better than what they are, with a huge, bulky balance between the crispy guitar tone and the forceful, demanding percussion presence. More important, they sound ALIVE and HUNGRY, working long and hard so heavy metal can rise, rise like a phoenix that'll burn the world, rise like a chariot propelled by the gods of metal themselves!
A little much? That's kind of what Slough Feg is like, the exact definition of a group which produces metal for the love of metal. They are never careless or a charade, however, and although the charm and charisma occasionally drive them astray on other efforts, no such tomfoolery is found on "Down Among the Deadmen." As I said, what they captured here is a fantastic band painting its most creative, climatic pieces. Opener "Sky Chariots" is an awesome feat of intense, catchy riffs and features one of Scalzi's finest lead guitar movements, the perfect igniter for an album based on classic riffs and beefy melodies. "Walls of Shame" is mid-paced and folksy, yet undeniably authorized by Slough Feg, for they have a trademark watermark written all over the album—you can't replicate Slough Feg without Slough Feg being present.
I find shamelessly gloating over an album's specific tunes annoying, but this is an exception, because the record is an exceptional collection of material. "Warriors Dawn" runs through a multitude of gallops and excellent solos, using riffs and sections that carry their own weight, pound for pound. "Traders and Gunboats" blazes like a motorcycle out of the gates of Hell, whereas something like "Psionic Illuminations" is dreamy, ethereal, mysterious, and divine. "Marauder" sounds like an Iron Maiden tune penned in the group's golden days; "Troll Pack" is sinfully fun and sinister; and the burning "Death Machine" is a beating whirlpool of general Slough Feg awesomeness. "Fergus Mac Roich" uses only ninety seconds of time, but its gallops stimulate repetitive neck reflexes like a puppet master pulling strings. Annoyed yet? You should be.
So yeah, call it a gushing review if you will, but I feel "Down Among the Deadmen" deserves the ridiculously excessive fellatio. Among the many travels and tribulations the average metal band must face, Slough Feg has remained true. With "Down Among the Deadmen," few words can label the actual structure of its work yet none can articulate its various plunges into perfection, a magnum opus of heavy metal mastery. Don't believe me? Try it yourself and be amazed. Shame on the world for ignoring not only this masterpiece but the battalion of Slough Feg, too. That issue is another tale for another time, so I'll leave you, valued reader, with a piece of advice: "Down Among the Deadmen" is not meant to be missed, and it will gleam in the shine of the sun of time until the sun of time shines no more.