Over the last decade and change, Powerwolf have cemented their place as one of the best power metal bands going. At once upbeat and fun, yet satisfyingly dark, their take on religion and legend has become a mainstay of the scene, highlighted with many European tours and festivals, a near-myth spoken of by a chosen few for Americans and Aussies. It’s been three years since Powerwolf’s last offering, and a fix of heavy metal majesty feels overdue. Luckily, on July 20, we’re finally getting blessed with ‘The Sacrament of Sin’.

Right away, ‘The Sacrament of Sin’ demands your attention. Opening track and single Fire & Forgive is bombastic yet focused, fast, and wickedly catchy.  It’s pretty much destined to become a power metal mainstay, and hopefully a live classic. The lead single Demons Are A Girl’s Best Friend is a heavy, yet fun, danceable take on the good old myth of the incubus, another song that will hopefully be in heavy rotation on concert and festival setlists. Killers With The Cross is majestic, pulling the listener straight back to dark cathedrals and creepy legends. The whole start of this record showcases why Powerwolf are so enduring – they’re strong writers, and their unique aesthetic is woven seamlessly into every song they put out. There’s not much to say about the production on this album, but that’s a good thing – all the elements are well balanced to let the band’s songwriting and playing shine.

As the album continues, it’s clear that even though this is LP number seven, Powerwolf are still experimenting.  Incense and Iron kicks up their traditional gothic sound with folky pipes, and it’s a welcome addition. Their first ballad ever, Where The Wild Wolves Have Gone marks a significant tonal shift, and is surprisingly mostly successful. The lyrics are good, and the music is evocative without being cheesy. The only misstep is in the vocals – vocalist Attila Dorn’s powerful voice is wonderful in the chorus, but almost overkill on the softer verses in this song. It’s a minor detail in an otherwise excellent song, though. Towards the end of the album, Nightside of Siberia is a shift in the other direction, a grim march from Hell. Drummer Roel van Helden anchors this track with the most aggressive drum line I think I’ve ever heard in a Powerwolf song, and everyone else piles on with their darkest stylings. It’s fantastic, and I hope its inclusion on the album is a sign of things to come in the future.

Experiments aside, though, Powerwolf generally sticks close to their classic sound, with choirs and organs in heavy rotation accompanying upbeat riffs. One can’t really complain, when familiar is so darn good, though. “Stossgebbet” feels powerful and stately like a march into holy war. The Sacrament of Sin, Venom and Venus, and Nighttime Rebel are a set of fast-paced power metal romps that should probably come with a warning: may induce headbanging and fist-pumping in public places. Fist by Fist (Sacralize or Strike) is a one-two punch of a finisher that leaves the listener wanting more.

Epic, majestic, powerful, but always engaging, ‘The Sacrament of Sin’ might just be Powerwolf’s best work ever. On July 20, run, don’t walk, to your record store for this one.