You know all those things that people say they hate about heavy metal: the ear-splitting noise, the over-the-top bravado, and the fact that everything is exaggerated to the nth degree, all of the time. Well, those are all crucial components in the wild and whirlwind music of New Zealand speed metal trio Stalker.
Stalker set their unashamed love of heavy metal’s histrionics front and center on their rip-roaring three-song demo, Satanic Panic, which was originally released in late 2016. Satanic Panic is a total blast, and it was my pick for the best NZ metal release from last year. Clearly, a lot people were of a similar mind, because the initial run of Satanic Panic cassettes sold out in a day.
A second batch of Satanic Panic tapes is now available via Stalker’s Bandcamp page. But the amazing thing about Stalker’s seemingly instant success is that there was no hype or hollering about their demo’s arrival. Stalker just turned up one day, unannounced, and then sold all their demos in a matter of hours. And if you’re wondering what the big deal is about three dudes from the arse-end of the world who play old school metal, then read on, my friends.
There are a number of reasons why Stalker have huge expectations and a lot of excitement swirling around them. Musically, the band are tight, and they shred, hard. But a fair proportion of Stalker’s immediate popularity is also predicated on one of NZ metal’s greatest ‘what could have been’ tales.
Back in 2012, Wellington-based speed/power metal band Razorwyre released their blistering full-length debut, Another Dimension, to a rousing reception at home and overseas. Unlike other NZ metal bands that have found success offshore, Razorwyre weren’t avowedly underground or esoteric. They didn’t have a murky or ice-cold sound either. And they wholeheartedly embraced 80s arena-level theatrics, even though they were playing small clubs.
Razorwyre celebrated every hyperbolic facet of metal’s classic years — and that’s exactly why people loved them. Their reputation for scorching live shows was well-established. Their debut LP, released by French label Infernö Records, received rave reviews. And the band were poised for success in Europe and even had a slot lined up at Germany’s Keep It True Festival. Razorwyre’s future success looked set. But then the band suddenly met their end.
Razorwyre never got to capitalise on the groundswell of local and international support they’d received. At least until now, that is. Because much of the excitement around Stalker’s first demo is due to the fact that the band features Razorwyre guitarist Chris Calavrias and Razorwyre drummer Nick Oakes.
Joining Calavrias and Oakes on Stalker’s first demo is vocalist and bassist David ‘Daif’ King, and the trio rocket through Satanic Panic’s three neck-wrecking tracks at turbo speed with amps and enthusiasm set on 11. No question, Satanic Panic celebrates all things metal: riffs, spandex, leather, studs, chains, pyro, switchblades, you name it. And it’s pretty much a dream come true for fans of red-raw and breakneck speed metal, channelling the energy and zeal of bands like Exciter, Agent Steel, Razor, and Raven.
Stalker have a grimmer and grittier edge than Razorwyre, and they’re not aiming for power metal’s ostentatious heights. But Stalker’s vocalist Daif still easily hits those Halford high notes when called for. Satanic Panic’s rollicking title track, and equally rowdy follow-ups “The Mutilator” and “Shocked to Death”, tear through a mountain of riffs that’ll keep any shred-head grinning from ear to ear. And you could throw some of Judas Priest’s verve and Motörhead’s propulsion into the mix too.
Stalker clearly have an acute understanding of (and certainly play to) metal’s dramatic strengths. But what the band show most of all on Satanic Panic is a huge amount of potential. Stalker’s high-powered tunes are stacked with catchy riffs, pounding drums, and driving bass. And while the band definitely hark back to a specific period in metal’s history, they’re also tapping right into what made metal so exhilarating and enrapturing before things went and got so… well, complicated.
Satanic Panic is just pure, unadulterated metal fun. And new thrashin’ tunes from Stalker are promised in the near future. The band have been invited to play overseas already, including a slot at the Keep It True Festival next year. Stalker have clearly got an instinctive gift for writing riveting and riotous tunes, and fingers crossed the band gets to take full advantage of all that talent, goodwill, and enthusiastic momentum surrounding them.
In the meantime, make sure to secure a copy of Satanic Panic. It’s a \m/ as \m/ gets.