by Andreas Andreou
You were called by the Gods, their powers to wield. Guard well the Secret of Steel...
...it was the year MCMLXXXIII when Manowar unleashed upon humanity the album Into Glory Ride and the quest for the Secret of Steel started in the world of heavy metal. For the brothers Enrico and Riccardo Paoli, the journey began exactly that year in Piombino in Italy. Enrico on guitar and Riccardo on bass, were joined by Stefano Mazzella on vocals, Agostino Carpo on guitar and Carlo Funaioli on drums. School kids at that moment, they started rehearsing but actually, in the very beginning, they mostly started learning how to play. The passion was there, something that became more serious when they decided to quit playing cover songs and started composing their own original material, leading to the year 1986 when under the name Domine, they recorded their first demo, sometimes referred as Domine, others as Demo 1986, including the songs "Lords of War", "Let the Lightning Strike", "King of All the Kings" and "Eyes of Medusa".
During their early school years, bands like Black Sabbath, Saxon, Kiss, Thin Lizzy and Queen were the ones they were listening to, but Enrico Paoli was also influenced by sword 'n' sorcery novels, horror and authors like Michael Moorcock, H.P. Lovecraft, Paul Anderson, J.R.R. Tolkien, even the Homeric epics and mythology, leading to the epic side of heavy music and the glorious bands of the era like Manowar, Virgin Steele, Cirith Ungol and Warlord. And while band names like Destroyer (inspired by the album of Kiss) and Bloodlust were also used, Domine was the final name they chose, establishing a complete epic aesthetic for the music, lyrics and art. What most people don't know is that the origins of the name come from Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" song but in Latin the word "Domine" definitely sounds epic and perfectly suitable for the band's music.
Enrico Paoli, seeing Manowar live in 1986 and Ozzy Osbourne with Jake E. Lee, believed that the band should be stronger on stage and Domine performed a few live shows supporting bands from Italy like Dark Quarterer who had released their same-titled debut album in 1987 and The Etruscan Prophecy in 1988, and were also based in the same area. In April of 1989, Domine decided to record a professional demo at Much More Studio in Florence, where Italian bands like Sabotage and Death SS were using, since Enrico Paoli never really liked the 1986 demo. Named Champion Eternal, the new demo included "The Mightiest War", "Doomed Lord Dreaming", "Stormbringer, the Black Sword", "May the Rainbow Shine on You", "The Eternal Champion" (a suite in 7 parts) and "Kings in Darkness". Performing a few more shows in Italy and spreading the demo in a few countries like their homeland, Greece and Germany, Domine started building a small underground fan base.
One more demo was recorded in 1991 but this time, Domine didn't travel to Florence for the recordings so the result was a very rough output, mostly recorded live without a proper mixing procedure. Named Bearer of the Sword, the third demo included the tracks "Introduction", "Dark Emperor", "Midnight Meat Train", "Ghosts, a Poem", "The Ship of the Lost Souls", "Blood Brothers' Fight" and "Uriel, the Flame of God".
At that point, with the Champion Eternal and Bearer of the Sword demo tapes, Domine already had their own style. They didn't sound like the European heavy / power metal bands but they also didn't sound like the heavy / power metal bands from the United States. Maybe you could find a few similarities with bands like Virgin Steele but Domine's epic heavy metal was something different, a league on their own, that was based in songs composed in a way that could highlight and expand the storytelling, something that was very important for Enrico Paoli, the main composer.
Lyrically, Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné series is the key influence but Paoli definitely added more stories in the songs, like "Midnight Meat Train'' that is based on Clive Barker's horror story from the first part of Books of Blood collection. For those interested, there is a same-titled film directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (check also his film Versus) in 2008 with (the now famous) Bradley Cooper in one of his first roles, and Vinnie Jones. Paoli himself is a huge fan of horror movies.
The purpose behind the low-budget recording of Bearer of the Sword demo (in a period where recording didn't have the digital and social media world's convenience) was mainly to save money in order to have a properly recorded official release, a 7" single, or a split mini LP , but it didn't happen. Actually, the following period didn't go as Domine probably wanted since a record deal never came but instead, the departure of singer Stefano Mazzella in 1992 and guitarist Agostino Carpo later, is what followed. Despite some negative reviews over the years, Mazzella was a close friend of Paoli and he always believed that he would be improved. Mazzella didn't really want to move on a professional level and that was always Paoli's goal. From that point on, Enrico remained as the only guitarist and the new singer was Simone Gazzola. That line-up recorded the Demo '94 including the tracks "Intro", "The Mass of Chaos", "Rising from the Flames", "Freedom Flight" and "Army of the Dead". Even if this demo is often considered "official", it was a recording that wasn't spread or sold like the previous ones. Gazzola's vocals didn't satisfy the band who kept those recordings as a preview of songs that wanted to properly record for the debut album. However, they already sent a few copies to friends, just to listen to the songs and that's how that demo was spread in the tape-trading years.
The singer's spot was many times what a few reviews found as the weakest part of those demo tapes, something that Paoli has also stated in the past. Gazzola didn't last but drummer and founding member Carlo Funaioli also left Domine, and then the Paoli brothers moved to Florence (they were born there before moving to Piombino). When Paoli started looking for members in Florence, drummer Mimmo Palmiotta joined them, already known from Death SS since he performed in their albums ...in Death of Steve Sylvester (1988) and Black Mass (1989), he was a personal friend of Enrico and they knew each other from the underground metal scene and also played together in the short-lived Italian band, Masterstroke. And then, they were lucky enough to have Morby (born Adolfo Morviducci) joining them as the lead singer after refusing the first time he was asked, when Mazzella left. Previously known as the singer of Sabotage, Morby also sang in Time Machine's Shades of Time EP and we already have reached 1997, the year that Domine's debut album Champion Eternal was finally released.
For better luck, when Enrico Paoli moved to Florence, he started working for Audioglobe, a major distribution record company in Italy and then he founded Dragonheart Records, a division of Audioglobe, and Domine's debut album was released by his own label.
Recorded at Planet Sound Studios in Florence, with songs that were already written during the previous years, Champion Eternal starts with "Hymn", the intro to Domine's world and then... Legions of black cloaks are gathering to "The Mass of Chaos", a song inspired by the horrors of Lovecraft and similar minds, speaking about a sect that summons a Demon God of another dimension through a sacrificial ritual. "The Chronicles of the Black Sword" starts with a small instrumental part named "Doomed Lord Dreaming" and the narration "My name is Elric and I bear the Black Sword" is the beginning of the main part called "Stormbringer (The Black Sword)", an epic and dramatic song about Elric of Melniboné and the sword that drinks the souls of his enemies. "The Freedom Flight" starts with the screams of Michelle Pfeiffer's character named Isabeau in Richard Donner's noble fantasy film Ladyhawke (1985), while she falls off a tower and transforms into a hawk. That epic song about freedom and hope, leads to the "Army of the Dead", a dark epic suite in 5 parts, inspired by sword 'n' sorcery stories, where a city of immortals becomes a city of the army of the dead.
What Domine have managed to do and what separates them from the majority of epic heavy metal bands, is that their stories build the songs. The storytelling becomes the song. An intro that set the mood, a riff that becomes the character, a melodic passage that becomes the character's feelings, the performance, the vocal lines and the way Morby sings, the bass guitar that's always there like the shadow of the guitar that has its own ghostly character, the drums and every beat that could be a clash of swords, marching of warriors, and in the end a redemption or just a dark fate.
"The Proclamation" is a narrated part introducing the "Dark Emperor", a J.R.R. Tolkien inspired story. All narrations of the album are courtesy of Richard J. Burton, an old friend of the band who also narrated in the demo years, while Steve Sylvester of Death SS offers a few backing vocals. There are certain moments where keyboards are really important for the atmosphere and in "Dark Emperor" this is more than obvious since there is a ritualistic aura of terror. "Rising from the Flames" starts with a doomy Sabbathian riff to become another epic that's often overlooked. Being mainly an epic heavy metal band so far, the horror element is very strong in the early Domine years. We've seen it in previous songs of Champion Eternal but in "The Midnight Meat Train" that element is a prowler who few people find slightly out-of-place since it brings terror in the modern era and New York's subway. Still though, who can ignore that deadly riff, Palmiota's speedy pounding and Riccardo's maniacal bass? And finally, the storytelling we mentioned before finds its true essence in "The Eternal Champion", a suite in 7 parts, an iconic epic metal song, an immortal tale, a heroic saga.
The rest of the Domine albums also came out by Dragonheart Records, a few of the older songs of the demo years appeared in them and Domine more or less became a power metal band keeping also the "epic metal" element. There aren't many European epic and power metal bands with such a strong discography but that debut album always has a special place in the heart of those who lived the later demo years and were expecting that album to finally be released. I still remember the day I bought it upon its release and I still remember the first moment I listened to it. And since then, I never stopped following the 8-arrowed symbol of Chaos and what Domine's music represents.
This sword is the backbone of the life that I know...
...listen to the wind, it tells the story. The same year Champion Eternal was released, another band was forming in Gallarate, in Italy, using the name DoomSword. Actually, the idea of forming the band, came when the guitarist of the extreme metal band Agarthi (known as Vali) met Maurizio Chiarello, the owner of the Underground Symphony record label, during a visit in a record store in Milan and everything begun during a conversation about Cirith Ungol. Vali said that he wanted to form an epic metal band inspired by Warlord, Medieval Steel, Cirith Ungol and similar acts, and Maurizio told him that if he does it, he will release the album.
Vali called Avenir, his fellow guitarist from Agarthi and started completing what he said, immediately. Inspired by the cover art of Warlord's Deliver Us MLP, Vali became Deathmaster handling vocals too, and Avenir became Guardian Angel, handling drum duties too. With the addition of Soldier of Fortune (they all used pseudonyms) on bass, Sacred Metal demo was written in a few days and recorded in a few hours, including the tracks "Swords of Doom", "Sacred Metal", "Foredoomed", "Warbringers" and "On the March".
150 copies of that demo were supposed to be pressed but actually 150 covers were made and the manual copying of the tapes stopped after 30-40 copies because the band lost a whole bunch of covers. During the tape-trading circuit, hundreds more were spread-copied to underground metal fans building immediately a strong fan-base. Just like the Domine demo tapes, I remember myself trading (copying) demo tapes of Greek metal bands and getting a tape having the DoomSword demo and a few more goodies of that era.
Prior to DoomSword, there is a brief story lost in time, when Deathmaster was in another band with Guardian Angel and Mario Degiovanni. Formed in 1993, the short-lived band of Warhammer recorded just a few demo tracks and split because Mario wanted to follow a path devoted to Manowar while Deathmaster wanted to add more elements and follow a path devoted to the Asatru period of Bathory. Mario joined Wotan in 1998 and while the third DoomSword album Let Battle Commence (2003) is the most Bathory-inspired album of the band, Deathmaster (using the name Vali) formed Gjallarhorn releasing the album Nordheim in 2005 keeping there all his Nordic and Viking music elements that were closer to Quorthon's music, so DoomSword would never lose their own identity.
Epic metal was very strong in the Mediterranean where Greece was always the leading force of fans back in the '90s, followed by Italy, even if the "epic metal" term in Greece was spread already by a specific editor of Metal Hammer magazine. It doesn't matter if the term was probably occasionally there, it was spread by the articles of that magazine helping building a foundation of underground metal fans that later distance themselves from the mainstream press. Looking back in history, nowadays "epic metal" definitely can be seen as a subgenre and not just a set of mood because of the lyrics. Sometimes it is epic heavy metal, sometimes epic power metal, sometimes epic doom metal but the same-titled debut album of DoomSword is one perfect example of a pure epic metal album.
Recorded at Alex Studio in July-August 1998, the line-up was Deathmaster on guitar and vocals, Guardian Angel on drums and guitar, Dark Omen on bass and Nightcomer on lead vocals. Guitar solos were performed by Deathmaster, Guardian Angel and also guests Gianluca Ferro, Paco Trotta and Alex Festa. The band never performed live with that line-up or during the period of the debut album but singer Gabriele Grilli (Nightcomer) joined DoomSword on stage during their show at Keep It True Festival in 2008. DoomSword's same-titled debut album was released in March 1999 by Underground Symphony.
Opening with "Sacred Metal", the album sets the epic metal mood at once. You know what's going to follow; stories of glory, steel and legends of the past. The chanting of Deathmaster on the intro passes the torch to lead singer Nightcomer and the most natural epic metal feeling one can imagine dominates the album. After the anthemic opening track, they raise the banners higher with the sword-wieldin' metal of "Warbringers" and with "Helms Deep" the battle is raging. Along with writers like Michael Moorcock, Robert E. Howard and J.R.R. Tolkien, the lyrics of DoomSword were also inspired by the writing of Quorthon and Mark Shelton, building small stories within the songs. After the Tolkien-inspired "Helms Deep", in "One Eyed God" DoomSword speak about the Asgardian All-Father and in "Return to Imrryr", the dragon with the black sword, Elric of Melniboné. The songs are epic and melancholic but they don't have yet the barbaric wrath and the dramatic storytelling of the following albums.
In the next albums, DoomSword presented more solid lyrics about mythology, legends, medieval themes, Viking saga and Celtic legacy. Deathmaster also is going to handle all lead vocals from the next album Resound the Horn (2002) where the band had already finalized their epic metal style. But the debut album is a pure and passionate release, an album inspired by specific bands and records and Deathmaster knew that he wasn't ready yet.
DoomSword offered an album by fans for fans. One of the most important releases of the underground metal scene of its time. So important that it was a scene-defining album for epic metal. True and original like very few, just like the excellent version of "Nadsokor", a Cirith Ungol cover taken from the One Foot in Hell album of 1986. This album is a rare case that stands on its own and it doesn't matter where one will place it in the band's catalogue. "We're the ones, the chosen to wield the swords of doom", they continue at "Swords of Doom" and indeed, DoomSword knew that the SWORD will guide their heart and that was just the beginning; the SWORD was forged.
Closing with "On the March", we're getting a glimpse of the future and the following albums. That song brings upfront the dark epic side of DoomSword, the epic doom metal element that was also present in the future and lyrical themes of siege, vengeance and death.
Thor Battering the Midgard Serpent painting of Henry Fuseli (German: Johann Heinrich Füssli) that is used as the cover art of the DoomSword debut album. In 1790, Fuseli became a full Academician, presenting that painting as his diploma work.
The author of this blog and Deathmaster, Anno Domini MMX (Up The Hammers Festival 2010), agreed that Hammerheart is the greatest Bathory album.