Castle, Deal Thy Fate: Can’t Escape the Evil

castle deal thy fate

All Castle do is kick ass. That’s their whole thing, and they do not veer from that central purpose. They’ve been at it for nearly a decade. Deal Thy Fate is their fifth album in that time as well as their first for Ripple Music after releasing 2016’s Welcome to the Graveyard (review here) as a return to Ván Records out of Germany, which also released their debut in 2011, and the latest work continues to highlight the point of just how brutally underappreciated they are. It is nine songs — eight and a “Prelude” leading to “Hexenring” on side A — and runs a clean 36 minutes recorded live at least in its basic tracks with the core duo of bassist/vocalist Liz Blackwell and guitarist Mat Davis joined by touring drummer Chase Manhattan in Hallowed Halls Studio with Billy Anderson at the helm. That is not a new band/producer collaboration. Castle have worked with Anderson on the three albums since 2012’s Blacklands, that being 2014’s Under Siege and the aforementioned 2016 outing.

And as far as capturing their sound goes, it’s not by any means a broken system. Easily parsed into two vinyl sides, Deal Thy Fate captures eerie vibes and classically metal tones with a natural underpinning born of the developed instrumental chemistry between Blackwell and Davis, who in the band’s time have relocated first from Toronto to San Francisco and, for this album, from San Francisco to the Mojave Desert, where they wrote the songs. Perhaps though where they ultimately reside is moot, since they spend so much time on tour anyway. One way or the other, their sound is defined more by their own pursuit of truth in heavy metal rather than geography — that is, they didn’t move to the desert and start making desert rock. They’re still Castle, which for the steadily growing cult following they’ve amassed by delivering their sharp, thrash-informed riffing to listeners one gig at a time, should only be a relief. If you’ll pardon me for saying so, that cult should probably be bigger — hence “underappreciated” above.

The reasons to take that position run from the hooks of opener “Can’t Escape the Evil,” “Wait for Dark,” and “Haunted” to the eerie atmosphere that “Prelude” sets for “Hexenring” and the sharp turns later in “Red Phantom” ahead of the dynamic and spacious closer “Firewind.” To look at the tracklisting, with only “Hexenring” hitting five minutes long, its intro at 32 seconds and everything else somewhere in the four-minute range, Deal Thy Fate is deceptive, because while the runtimes are similar, what Castle does in each changes. Structures are largely straightforward, but as “Skull in the Woods” unfolds its central riff that seems to be trying to run away from itself after the brash moshfodder of “Can’t Escape the Evil,” a subtle sense of breadth begins to take hold. Davis by then has already tossed off however many pro-shop solos, and Blackwell‘s vocals have arrived in deftly-arranged layers, so the stage is well set, but the atmosphere continues to deepen as the album plays out subsequent to that, and in that way, Castle reveal perhaps their most distinguishing factor.


Blackwell is nothing short of a metal hero as frontwoman, and Davis plays the quiet conjurer well, leading the way through tight, headbang-ready grooves that not only remind of when denim and leather brought people together, but also of the many seasons spent in the abyss. But what they bring by working so much in concert as they do — and especially with Manhattan, a real live drummer able to drive forward each of the album’s varied progressions — is a spirit of creepy-worship that goes beyond skulls in the woods, hauntings and phantoms. It goes beyond horror themes to the very core of the band itself, and in that, it’s difficult to pinpoint but all the more enticing for that. There’s something dark in their work that comes through almost on a subconscious level, and I’m not exaggerating. As familiar as some of their sonic elements inherently are — thrash isn’t new, and classic metal, by its very nature, is a known commodity — there’s a twisted layer of the psychological beneath. Something in the personality of the band that’s as intangible as it is grim.

It runs deeper than the busy iconography of the Patrick Zoller cover art, though perhaps that speaks as well to the complexity of the message across Deal Thy Fate. “Wait for Dark” rolls out a fist-pumper nod after the mostly-mid-paced mini-epic “Hexenring” and soon gives way to the title-track opening side B. From there, “Haunted,” “Red Phantom” and “Firewind” only affirm the fierce grip Castle have on their approach and their raw, unpretentious take on what metal should be and could have become. Maybe that’s it. Think of Castle not as a vision of what heavy metal is, but as a vision of what heavy metal could have become. It’s not about splitting into subgenres of subgenres, though one could tag any number of them to Deal Thy Fate, and hey, that’s fun, I won’t argue with it. But if you take the totality of what their work over the last decade does and more crucially what this album does, with the “Looks that Kill” riff of “Haunted” and the quiet start of “Firewind,” the razor’s-edge guitar slices in “Skull in the Woods” and the determined sweaty push of “Deal Thy Fate” itself, it does for metal what so much heavy rock does in providing an alternate modern interpretation of those classic forms.

Castle are outliers. They’re not retro thrash. They’re not trying to revisit the NWOBHM. They’re not strictly doom. They’re metal. And the metal they play isn’t about joining a side to the exclusion of all else, but about celebrating what brings — or could bring — it all together. Their metal is encompassing, and in that, it provides an alternative look at what might’ve happened had the development of metal — the umbrella-genre of it — grown to take everything in rather than splinter into various extremities. Is that their conscious intention? I have no idea. But it’s how Deal Thy Fate plays out. It’s the album’s fate. And we know from their past work as well as their current that Castle are nothing if not self-determined, so take it as you will.

More important even than their lack of pretense or the natural state from which their material seems to arise — that is, they’ve never sounded overly showy or dramatic about what they do and they don’t here either — is the fact that Castle are happening right now. It’s 2018, they’ve got five records out, and they’re the kind of band who, whenever they actually call it a day, are going to be more missed than people know. They’re reaped critical acclaim for a long time, and have worked hard to translate that into audience appreciation to the degree they have, but Castle deserve to be heard by as many ears as possible, and until the next one arrives, Deal Thy Fate is the best way to go about it. Young or old, their metal should be your metal.

Castle, “Deal Thy Fate” official video

Castle, Deal Thy Fate (2018)

Castle website

Castle on Thee Facebooks

Castle on Instagram

Castle on Bandcamp

Ripple Music on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Twitter

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

Ripple Music website

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply