LABEL: Moribund Records
RELEASE: March 24th, 2023
AUTHOR: Kira L. Schlechter

CATEGORY VI albumrand01. Firecry
02. Valkyrie
03. The Vultures Never Came
04. She Runs With Wolves
05. Heavy Is The Crown
06. Coven
07. The Cradle Will Fall
08. Burning Bridges
09. Barracuda (Heart Cover)

Traditional metal used to always = traditionally male, with all that masculine self-confidence and swagger we’ve come to know.

But the Canadian power/’80s metal band CATEGORY VI takes those customary trappings and lets us women try them on for size, in the person of fiery singer Amanda Jackman. And yeah, they fit really well, as we see on their third album, Firecry.

Jackman and guitarist Geoff Waye (who are also in the thrash band Triskelyon), bassist Keith Jackman, and drummer Brian Downton start in very fine fashion with the title track. A Priest-like tempo and main melody riff, and a splitting wail from Amanda, bring us to the first verse, which looks back at the witch trials, to those who were “executed for the things they never did”. They cleverly paraphrase with the line “Deuteronomy had said: ‘No daughter shall pass through’” – not only is that Biblical passage a prohibition against witchcraft, but it also says one should not “sacrifice your son or daughter as a burnt offering”. So there’s a double message there. The second verse points out that this is still going on – “21st century, witches still get burned / Burnt to the ground but fear not being overturned”. The lyrical progression here is really well done – so the third verse is acknowledgement, a “we see you”“We cry out for those that could not be / We cry out for those who seek liberty” – and the fourth is a vow, “No woman, man, or child will ever have to see / No more pain, pillage, or fire”. The slower, impassioned chorus is the mourning for the “innocent lives” that even the fire that has destroyed them cries. It might be a bit long, but its ending references its beginning – complete with another wail – and it’s a great track.  

Amanda’s voice is an old-school, ballsy, potent bellow ; her pacing of words within the lyrics is charmingly offbeat and unique. It’s wonderful too to hear Keith’s tasty bass lines throughout. The mix, though, is fairly quiet and a bit flat – I kept turning it up but it wouldn’t get any louder. BUT the songs are so good that after a while, that didn’t seem to matter as much.

Every single woman can get behind what Amanda is putting down in Valkyrie. From her opening snarling salvo, “I ain’t got no time for micro aggression / Little man, let me teach you a lesson”, she speaks for every one of us who’ve ever been mansplained to or told to be “more ladylike”, as the bridge describes. “Too loud, too proud / Too loud, sit down little girl”, she taunts, “Too loud, too proud / Don’t make a scene / Too loud, too proud / And don’t forget to smile”. Oh, it’s devastating and it’s dead-on and her delivery is pure pissed off. The chorus is kind of a claim-your-inner-valkyrie idea, that “we will crush you with our rage” because we’re not taking it anymore. The music goes from grind to snap to chug and back again, at just the right points. And when she ends it on the word “smile”, she shatters all the glass ceilings with her impassioned falsetto shriek.

The Vultures Never Came”, set to a solid, thrashy little groove, is a story of loss ; Amanda says in the first verse, “I just could not fathom / That your spirit had sailed on” and in the second, “Queen of constellations / She blazed the skies above / Now with her untimely passing / We will shower her with love”. The little touch of modernity in the line, “But it didn’t stop the Huntress / From giving back to her fans”, is a treat. The real gift here, though, is the terrific imagery in the chorus: “The vultures never came / Because you became the sky / Now a valiant eagle / You will soar and fly”, as if to say you have overcome death and decay. Really well done.

She Runs With Wolves is pure female empowerment, God love her. “The goddess who walks on lakes of fire / Laughs fear in its face”, Amanda says in praise of this woman in the fast-paced verses, one who “grows more powerful / From the stones cast at her with hate”, who “bears battle scars from head to toereminding her of what she’s been through”. The grinding chorus is a powerhouse sing-along, an outstanding fist-raiser in honor of the “leader of the pack (who) will eat you alive”. The solo section is unlike anything I’ve heard, the main melody riff staying constant throughout as the solo comes and goes in fits and starts – hard to describe, but completely unique. So good.CATEGOY VI bandThe laid-back, confident swing of Heavy Is The Crown matches its sentiment as a metaphor for resilience. It notes that “Sometimes our struggles can’t be seen” in the first verse, a general observation, before our character in question is revealed in the chorus, one who wears her heavy crown “like a feather”, who “withstands the toughest weather”. The second verse further describes her, that “every step made her prevail” and “every time she was scorned / She proudly wore her crown made of thorns”. They challenge themselves here by inserting a tricky rhythm change after each chorus and surefootedly making the change back to the swaggering main tempo.

One of those uniquely metal songs about the joy of performing, Coven powers with a fat bass riff right alongside the guitar one to start. Amanda might proclaim herself “a tiny little figure” in the opening line, but her booming voice is anything but small. The chorus has a great elongated rhythm matched perfectly by her phrasing. We are her victims in the second verse, a sacrifice, “fuel for the fire and meat for the crows”. A lone bass line, a lone guitar line and another bass passage lead into a more traditional solo section before the final, almost sardonic last verse – the crowd is “seasoned now” and Amanda cracks, “thanks for the clap”, calling us “easy prey (because) this music’s a trap”. Love that.

CATEGORY VI AmandaThe Cradle Will Fall is a far more serious track with an evil, dark guitar melody and a quiet, sparse mix, sludgy and slow in the verses, more frantic in the choruses. Likely this is a domestic violence scenario as seen through a child’s eyes, one who is “blaming herself for every bruise” and Amanda sings it with tired resignation. The chorus is directed toward the child, urging self-reliance (“You are the only one that will ever protect you”) and pitying this “brave little soldier(who) hides in the shadows hoping mama / Will be alright”. The child herself – “torn out of the womb / And cast out to the dogs” – speaks in the wrenching second verse of the damage that has been done: “My heart broken forevermore / My innocence destroyed forever / These little hands can’t help you win your war”. That loss of innocence is captured in the very title itself, that childhood has ended far before its time. And the ending is tragic and accusatory, the child asking “Mother, how could you?” and crying about the “sirens” and “the light hurts my eyes”.

The angry, spitting closer Burning Bridges hits close to home for all of us who have borne the brunt of women’s cruelty to each other, of “gang mentality at its best”, of “vicious women guised as friends”. Our victim turns the tables in the chorus – “burning bridges is ok when you’re on the other side”, but “now the flames engulf you, girl, and you’re the one who holds the match”. Verse two is even more stinging, with its delectable descriptions of those who “show up ‘round mirrors just to feel less alone”, who “slither ‘round like little groups of hired clones” – ouch. And verse three is even better: “They only want you close / When you’re feeling dark and low / They’ll all start to disappear when you start to grow”. Happens all the time, doesn’t it, my sisters? Amanda gets it.

A bonus is the cover of Heart’s classic smackdown, Barracuda. Talk about a natural fit – metal-ed up a bit, minus the ‘70s shimmer and done to a T. It fits seamlessly with the spirit of the entire album: of women standing up, speaking up and taking what’s theirs. Including traditional metal.