So what’s in the name of a band? There’s often a good hint in a band’s name of the type of music you can expect to hear. Seeing a band called Shaft of Steel put in my mind a horde of pillaging Vikings. It must therefore be some form of metal, most likely the extreme end, right? Well, no, what we have here is a very mild mannered AOR band, but the band did actually start about 15 years ago (as students at Hull University) as a metal band before being converted to AOR a few years back – an unusual path, it must be said. This possible identity crisis is also reflected in the album cover with a very metal-looking logo – but the expected horde of Vikings replaced by a cooked chicken and a prize fish.
This is the band’s first full length album release. Opener Touching You Every Day is a fast-tempo starter with a NWOBHM style riff, a catchy guitar refrain and has the feel of the sort of rocker Styx used to churn out. It’s a good start to the album. However, as the album progresses, there is a dangerous similarity in the sound of the songs which seem to be trying very hard to hit that American AOR soft spot. That American feel could also be influenced by Dennis Ward (who played in Pink Cream 69, amongst others) who mastered the album. There are some exceptions to this tendency to sound the same. Vulnerable Man, for example, has a more interesting structure and an uplifting vocal line from Robert Fenning. Falling Through The Flames also breaks the mould by injecting some much-needed energy.
The best song for me on this album is Body and Mind which opens with a haunting phrase from guitarist Alek Markham, and builds up nicely thanks to a strong melody. This is a top notch song and shows what the band is capable of. The AOR market however is a crowded and competitive one. Shaft Of Steel show promise but as things stand, they fall short of the energy of bands like H.E.A.T., or the ability to write killer melodies of bands like Gathering Of Kings. Having said that, this is a fine first album and if the band can nurture and develop the talent that is clearly there then they may well have a bright future.