Album Review: DSG (David Shankle Group) – Still A Warrior

Manowar has always been a joke in heavy metal circles, but in recent years, they’ve gone from cheesy fun to ridiculously awful. Their last album, “The Lord Of Steel”, might be the worst sounding metal record I’ve ever heard from a band that should know better. It was the worst of a string of bad decisions that has rendered the band a joke to everyone who knows anything about good taste. Lost in that haze is that former members of the band, once they escape the clutches, have managed to do some good work. Ross the Boss has put out a few decent records on his own, while David Shankle has flown so far under the radar that I’m not even sure how I’ve kept tabs on his career. DSG produced two solid metal albums, with entirely different bands, and was easily the best Manowar related material of the last fifteen years or so. Take that with a grain of salt, because the bar wasn’t set all that high.

DSG is back for their first album in eight years, yet again with a new band backing Shankle. This time around, he continues in the spirit of “Hellborn”, with plenty of raging seven-string guitar action, and an obsession on making the music as heavy as humanly possible. To a degree, this works, as “Still A Warrior” is filled with punishingly heavy guitars. On the other hand, those guitars are so over-saturated in distortion that the moments that are supposed to be heaviest are washed out because the speakers don’t have time to recover from the air being pushed out. Yes, it’s possible to have too much gain on a guitar sound, and Shankle does that here. He also, as he has on all three DSG albums now, covers his solos in a wet sound that not only makes it sound like he’s playing underwater, but doesn’t at all fit the mix with the rest of the album.

So from a production standpoint, this album comes out of the gate weak. But songs are what matter the most, and on that level the album is a bit more successful. Shankle does have a knack, when not indulging his shred tendencies, for kicking out some catchy riffs. His playing is busy, for sure, but the songs pound along with enough force that they’re interesting. New winger Warren Halvarson does what he can, but his voice isn’t charismatic, and his writing chops aren’t up to snuff. The melodies on this album are simplistic, but more than that they’re boring. The entire emphasis of the record is on guitars, which I’m sure is exactly how Shankle wants it. The problem is that he doesn’t provide enough to make that decision pay off.

The record includes the “Demonic Solo” he contributed to a little-seen horror movie, and while it does sound demonic, it also has no redeeming musical value. The notes fly by in a blur, but there isn’t a single melodic figure to be found, which makes me wonder why anyone would ever want to listen to it. Later in the record, “The Hitman” spends nearly nine minutes indulging Shankle’s love of shred, an instrumental piece that is all solos, and yet didn’t impress me in the slightest. Sure, Shankle can play faster than I can dream of, but his playing lacks any sort of melodic phrasing to grasp on to. He plays long strings of notes that are utterly incomprehensible, and comes out looking the worse for it.

I find that amusing, because the songs where Shankle restrains himself are actually pretty good. No, they don’t do the job as well as anything on “Hellborn” did, and don’t even come close to approaching something like “A Raven At Midnight” from the debut, but they’re enjoyable. Unfortunately, over the course of three records, Shankle hasn’t learned the lessons to put himself and his band in the best light possible. There is a way that DSG could be a solid metal band, but “Still A Warrior” isn’t a step in the right direction. It’s a pedestrian record that doesn’t even sound professional enough for this day and age. It might still be better than Manowar, but it’s easily the least compelling of the three DSG records. After eight years, I was expecting a heck of a lot more.

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