Armagh- Exclamation Po​!​nt (Album Review)

March 18, 2024


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Polish heavy metal band Armagh formed around since 2012, but the release of their first two full lengths in 2019 and 2022 has really helped them to pick up steam.  As creators of what they dubbed the “First Wave Only” movement, their material has often straddled the lines between 70s/80s hard rock, NWOBHM, speed metal, and some of the earliest black metal around.  The band’s third full length Exclamation Po​!​nt sees them return with an entirely new lineup as well as a refined and expanded approach their take on heavy metal and hard rock.  It’s a far more seamless effort than before, with more fluid transitions and plenty of riffs that stand out upon repeat listens, making this a must-listen for anyone who loves that classic sound from the 70s and 80s.

What’s so exciting about Exclamation Po​!​nt is how much ground it covers and the seamless nature of the transitions.  Take opener “Rough Edges” for example, which starts off with a faster speed/heavy metal attack with pounding drums and scorching guitar work but injects some warmer 70s rock melodies into the mix as you get further in.  The balance of metal’s aggressive edge and that warmer yet still power-driven tone of hard rock from decades past is fantastic, and where the two sides sometimes felt at odds on some of Armagh’s previous material that’s no longer the case here.  The instrumentals do a great job of giving you high flying leads that stand out on that first listen as well as nuances that don’t jump out until a few times through, and every song offers something just a bit different from the last.  Whether it’s the punchy hard rock of “Aftermath” or the black metal meets psychedelic tinged rock of “Rapid Str!de”, there’s plenty to unpack on Exclamation Po​!​nt and listeners are sure to enjoy doing so.  Armagh’s written a strong album from front to back, but the longest songs continue to be some of the biggest highlights for me as they jam so many standout riffs into that period of time.  “Masters of Time” is the longest at seven minutes, but in that span of time you get material that sounds like a cross between Venom, Hawkwind, Thin Lizzy, and a slew of other bands, while “The Portal” has a warmer tone and emphasis on grooves with some heavy metal flourishes at key points.  It’s the type of album that feels like it was tailor made for my tastes, and despite covering even more ground the material feels more cohesive than 2022’s Serpent Storm with bigger hooks.

One of the big differences between Armagh and a lot of the other groups out there going for a speed metal or proto metal sound is the vocal work.  Typically with this type of music you’d expect gruffer singing or even screaming/yelling, but Armagh opts for the opposite end of the spectrum and utilizes lighter, airier singing that hovers over top of the crunchier foundation.  That’s not to say there aren’t some shifts into some slightly rougher pitches, but the core approach reminds me more of Blue Öyster Cult or Ashbury as it has that similar warm and inviting tone that amps up the energy when it’s needed.  This stands out the most on some of the dips into black metal, as the singing soars over the blasting drumming on “Rapid Str!de” in a way that feels different for the style.  Like the instrumentation, there are subtle variations to the vocal work that stand out upon repeat listens and different people are likely to hear different influences at work depending on their own tastes and experience with bands from across the hard rock and proto metal spectrum.

This incarnation of Armagh has reached new heights, as they continue to explore everything from metal’s earliest days alongside first wave black metal, heavy psych, and everything in between but do so in a more coherent manner.  It’s still a wild ride with some unpredictable transitions, but the fluidity of these shifts speaks to how the band has grown since their earlier days and they have even stronger leads to back it up.  I can’t think of too many groups that can throw so many different elements from decades past into a blender and make them work this well, much less to make them sound as fresh as they were back then, and that’s kept me coming back for more.  Expect to hear about this one when best of the year comes around, especially within the heavy metal and hard rock space.  Exclamation Po​!​nt is available from Dying Victims Productions.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg