SPARTAN WARRIOR, Spartan Warrior (1984, Roadrunner)
I must say, this is a brilliant cover, and I mean that sincerely. For starters, it’s a lovely painting, executed with a skill miles beyond what 99.999999% of metal cover artists can offer. But beyond that, it’s a fantastic composition, anchored (for me) by the bird sitting on the skull. He’s pictured with his head under his wing, probably cleaning himself. It’s something birds do all the time. But, it’s something birds on album covers never do. You ask for a bird, and you’re probably going to get a majestic raven, wings spread, beak agape. Here you get some ordinary little songbird, cleaning himself atop a bleached skull. Life moves on. The skull, human life, are nothing to these birds, nothing to the world. Of no more consequence, at least, than a rock or a stump or any other convenient spot to perch and groom one’s self. All those black metal bands with their winter desolation and washed-out monochrome skulls haven’t been able to summon even a jot of the nihilism of these two little birds and their incidental meeting place.
By 1984, NWOBHM was losing its focus and some of its thrill. There were still plenty of good bands working the form, but bands in the US had taken the first few years of new wave and run with it, leaving the British latecomers to look a little stodgy and behind-the-times. Basically, as the years went on, it was harder to sound “new” and “metal” while at the same time sounding enough like the better bands of 1979 to warrant a space under the NWOBHM umbrella. One of the greatest paradoxes of NWOBHM is that it basically produced only one band that sounded like Iron Maiden: Iron Maiden. The biggest and most important band from that scene evolved so rapidly that any group that could that quickly incorporate Maiden’s innovations would no longer sound like a NWOBHM band! Now, this is of course only an issue to us in retrospect, as a matter of nomenclature, but at the same time, I think it’s no coincidence that while NWOBHM as we know it ran well into the mid 80s, success for any band was only cult-level at best. All the heroes of the movement came out of the first year or two, and after that were only weaker imitators who were never as metal as the state of the art for whatever year they came out. Spartan Warrior (to get to the nominal subject of this review) are a great example of the almost instant obsolescence of a would-be new wave band in 1984. They’re a fine band, and certainly more rehearsed and polished than a lot of the groups that came before them, but even for 1984 this music feels kind of old fashioned, as if there were still no more inputs to heavy metal than Deep Purple and Judas Priest. The riffs are too slow, the lyrics too corny. There just wasn’t room enough for two Saxons, I guess. That’s all to say that it’s clear why Spartan Warrior never broke it big, but of course they can be (or still are) pretty fun to listen to, even as they illustrate in the starkest terms how the NWOBHM, after an initial burst of creative and commercial success, produced primarily dead ends, and instantly at that.
— Friar Johnsen