Death Dealer Union – Initiation


Death Dealer Union started in Los Angeles as a passion project of CC McKenna (drums) and Doug Weiand (lead guitars), but it became something entirely different as soon as they met Infected Rain vocalist, Lena Scissorhands, and invited her to contribute vocals to their debut single, ‘Borderlands’. This garnered over 600,000 views on YouTube in 2022 and convinced them that the chemistry could only be complete with Lena as the group’s full-time singer. Now, they have fifty-four minutes of anthemic heavy metal to unleash with the backing of Napalm Records. Are you ready to be initiated?

It’s inevitable that Lena’s cult followers will transfer their allegiance to Death Dealer Union on the strength of her presence alone. You could argue that her sensual voice is more suited to this type of trad metal than the progressive nu metal of her more famous band. The adrenaline thrust of this record allows plenty of space for her to demonstrate the full breadth of her melodious singing techniques while experimenting with the harsher style that she honed under the tutelage of world-famous vocal coach, Melissa Cross. Nowhere is this more evident than in ‘The Vow of Silence’, where Lena’s A Cappello harmony at the beginning will remind you of En Vogue before the Megadeth riffing kicks in with a hard-rocking menace. This is how you grab the attention of the listener with a forceful thrust of heavy metal posturing and heroic vocal melodies. Likewise, follow-up, ‘Ill Fated’, is just as invigorating in the way it switches between the upbeat thrash of European power metal and the esoteric prog verses of classic Queensrӱche. Listen to the way she holds the notes in the chorus as if pleading for a deux ex machina to rescue her from the tragedy of a lonely fate.

You wouldn’t place this music in Los Angeles if somebody played it to you with no background information. True, you can hear a wonderful Metallica/Megadeth powerplay in ‘The Integument’, and Lena appears to borrow from the vocal lines of ‘Creeping Death’ before she makes it her own with her trademark flourishes. The way the rhythm section transitions to a soothing passage of clean guitar arpeggios and graceful drum patterns in the middle eight will leave you in awe. Is there a better way to introduce a mellifluous guitar solo? Judas Priest fans will pray that their heroes can produce something as extravagant as ‘The Downfall’ if we get another record from the Birmingham legends.

The main thing to criticise here is the predictability of Side B. Almost every song relies on up tempo drums and the standard heavy metal riffing of Accept. Add in the cascading synth patterns as the main countermelody to Lena’s charismatic voice and you have something closer to Nightwish and Within Temptation. Lena’s candour in ‘Love Me When I’m Ugly’ is admirable, but the music behind her is innocuous. Likewise, ‘The Big Blue’ would be nothing without the power of the drums and the stadium brilliance of Lena’s voice to carry it over the finish line. Only on closing track, ‘Beyond Heaven’, do the axemen find their purpose in a technical thrash composition. Lena’s ability to extract a chorus from this puzzle is breathtaking – this is a singer at the top of her game.

It might overstay its welcome by at least three tracks, but Initiation maintains a high level of excitement for most of the listening experience. LA hasn’t produced anything as European sounding since the debut Fear Factory record.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 22/09/2023

Record Label: Napalm Records

Standout tracks: The Vow of Silence; Ill Fated; The Integument

Suggested Further Listening: Arch Enemy – Deceivers (2022), Within Temptation – Resist (2019), Therion – Leviathan II (2022)