S.L. Coe is one of the more frustrating frontmen in German speed and power metal history, because he had the habit of turning up for one great album by a band, then exiting the stage and studio and moving on to the next project. This was the case for Scanner's Terminal Earth, Reactor's Farewell to Reality and Angel Dust's To Dust You Will Decay. I'm not sure whether the guy is just hard to get along with, he's afraid of commitment, or if he set out in the first place to simply serve as a temporary 'mercenary' vocalist of sorts in various projects. It's a shame, really, because it means we've not been exposed to more of what he can do with those vocal chords. He can shriek like a banshee, and he's got that acquired accent which might turn off some fans of the clearer, English-first vocalists, but if you appreciate the character of German metal vocalists, he's not one to miss.
C.O.E. is yet another one-shot in the man's career, an album on which S.L. expands his talents beyond just the microphone to the writing and recording of guitars and bass. The generic titled Metal is the product of his toil, and this and the rather bland girders and 80s logo work of the cover do not exactly ramp up expectations for the quality. He's joined here by various members of the band Morbid Jester, a decent German power/speed metal act of their own right, in addition to some additional studio guests. The music produced here is not a long haul from his work in other bands, and purely targeted towards the fan of melodic German metal, but the incorporation of synthesizers adds a level of modern power/atmosphere that you wouldn't have found when he was with Scanner or Reactor. I was not completely taken in by Metal, but I did feel it was a positive follow-up to his earlier career works, and a confirmation that the guy was still alive, well, and interested in this format.
The C.O.E. project is similar to most other German power metal in that it features a series of anthems with flighty, melodic mute picking and massive chorus parts. I found the album to remind me of some of Gamma Ray's mid-period, stronger work like Somewhere Out in Space, though S.L. does not have the excessively nasal tone of Kai Hansen. I would also compare it to a more matured translation of the debut Scanner record, crash landed on Earth, with the extra mood offered through the keyboard atmospheres. Morbid Jester's Gates to Valhalla (which was produced by Coe) is also not far off. Coe is not the shrieking diva of yesteryear, but here he approaches with a measured restraint, and he's clearly still 'got it' by the year 2000.
My first spins of the album did not reap much in the way of an audible reward, but through the years I've gone back and eventually developed a fondness for a number of tracks. "Iron Sword" introduces a balance of shredding and keyboard fills with spikes of melodic intensity, falling somewhere on the spectrum between Scanner and Stratovarius. I really enjoyed the fast muted picking in the bridge, where it echoes a Helloween/Gamma Ray aesthetic, but it isn't the best of the record. "Warrior" is far more apt to turn heads with its pumping, mid-paced saturation of glistening guitarmonies and memorable gang shout verses: don't be afraid, warrior don't be afraid, don't run away. It really captures the essence of medieval, heroic gloss that one would seek in epic power metal, and the tiny acoustic segue is tasteful, after which Coe belts out some of his most raging highs around 2:45. "Stargate" features fine leads, multi-tracked chorus and lyrics about the film/TV show of the same name.
The thrills don't end there. "Burning the Witches" has some savage, thrash-like verse rhythms and an excellent, soaring chorus, despite the unfortunate choice of 'burning witches, holy bitches' in the lyrics. The ringing melodic tones that eclipse "Slavian Symphony" are tantalizing, "Fate Keeper" has some good leads, and the final track "Holiday in Hell" is also tasty. I didn't really care for the churning, groove metal rhythms used in the verse of "Have a Drink On Me", nor the rather gaudy cover of Guns'n'Rose's "Paradise City", but neither is enough to defecate on the work as a whole. The lyrics are pretty dumb on a number of tunes, but not beyond redemption. The mix is adequate, considering it was largely home brewed. You can hear everything with due clarity, from Coe's silken throat to the hammering melodic leads, bumping bass and drumming.
Metal does not have songwriting at the level of a Terminal Earth or To Dust You Will Decay, and frankly S.L. Coe just doesn't go as crazy with the vocals, which was what made him notable to begin with. He's still a good singer, just don't be expecting his over the top antics. This solo effort is better than a lot of the low and mid-level Euro power metal efforts to arrive through the signing spree of the late 80s (labels all vying for their next HammerFall or Rhapsody), but its hardly a landmark for the style. C.O.E. was most likely a love letter to the rare fan of the man's work, and to that extent I derived some pleasure from hearing it. I just wonder what the man is up to these days, aside form production work. I always wished he had found a home and stuck with it, because he had the potential to hang with some of the best: Scheepers, Dirkschneider, Deris, Wagner and Hansen.
Verdict: Win [7.25/10] (wait for the stroke of fate)