On their fourth album, Welcome to the Graveyard, San Francisco metal duo Castle brings some ’80s metal chug to their ominous brand of hard rock. The grit to Elizabeth Blackwell’s harrowing blues-tinged belting, might invokes what would Royal Thunder might have sounded like if they had been around in the ’80s. This is a shade darker than that, though, and Castle carries a rougher edge to what they pound out. At times they sound like jammy version of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The question raised during the first few songs is what separates them from the rest of the vest-metal pack that rose to power five years ago?
One place in which Castle separate themselves from the vest-metal crowd (White Wizzard, Blood Ceremony, Christian Mistress) is their guitar solos, which tend to be more blazing examples of rock gods in action than just using a retro guitar tone as a fashion statement. The beginning of “ Down in the Cauldron Bog” takes a more introspective and darker turn, that makes the guitar solo in contrast more explosive. Meanwhile, the verses to “Flash of the Pentagram” meld Motorhead’s aggression with a Judas Priest-like guitar melody. When in doubt, they fall back into the old metal gallop, which was the go-to for any band before grunge came in and messed things up. Castle sound like they slept through the grunge years and didn’t wake up until nu-metal had thankfully also run its course.
The production is right where it needs to be and everything is mixed tightly together to give you the impression this is what they sound like at band practice every Tuesday night. In 2016 a band like this can be a bit of an anomaly as there is nothing blackened, grinding or remotely crusty to their sound. With a more roughed-up, reverb-heavy cavernous production job that might have changed, so it speaks to the clear vision this band has of who they are and what they sound like. At the end of the day, sub-genres be damned, this album doesn’t aspire to be much more than a lot of fun and makes for an enjoyable listen with some stellar moments.
This brings us back to the question of what separates Castle from other retro-leaning metal acts? Never at any point in this album is there a hint that they might have at one time been in a punk or indie rock band. They remain unapologetic when it comes to their old-school metal influence; you will never hear them in an interview trying to make excuses or pass them off as garage rock. This album won’t make you want to grow out a mullet and ride around in a Camaro for the irony of it. It will however hang around with you after a few bong hits until you find yourself going back for repeat listens.