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3 Inches of Blood have garnered a lot of negative criticism and dubious glaring from the metal scene ever since their inception. Their claims of being "old-school metal" have caused a few eyebrow raises especially when coupled with their usual appearance and their hardcore singer. Back then I'd say 'Fuck that useless posturing, they play some headbanging metal you elitist fucktards', but now I'm forced to swallow my immature and acidic words because they've failed me on their latest release "Fire Up the Blades". Yes this album is fairly shitty as compared to their gem "Advance and Vanquish" which was nothing short of good metal with a sense of humour about itself; power/speed riffage, exuberant solos, Maiden harmonies, high pitched Halford-esque vocals and lyrics so cheesy it'd kill someone with lactose intolerance just by placing the liner notes next to them. "Fire Up the Blades" keeps the cheese factor flowing as high as ever but sacrifices a lot of the riffage, reduces the overall number of solos to the bare minimum whilst bringing in breakdowns and some keyboards. It hasn't crossed completely into the metalcore region yet but the signs are there and if wasn't for the NWOBHM riffs in some of the songs you'd be right in thinking of this album as nothing but some monstrous hybrid of power metal and metalcore.
As with most metalcore the production is rather highly polished, unfortunately thanks to the meddlesome hands of the Slipknot midget known as Joey Jordison, the drums are far too high in the mix and end up ruining a lot of the perfectly good riffing. Vocals are up front but they don't really detract from the overall sound, and the bass is mostly non-existent unless you really try to listen to it which is pointless since it plays root notes for the majority of the time. The vocalists have always been the point of contention with traditionalists shunning the band for their inclusion of hardcore vocals, at times he can seem out of place but I don't find him completely repugnant although on this release. Their primary singer seems to hit the notes fairly well and isn't complete crap, good for him. The guitar tone is decent, it's not too down tuned nor is it weak.
The songs always manage to start off promisingly; for example "Night Marauders" kicks off with a scream, then moves into a nice galloping riff for a moment then transitions smoothly into a simple metal riff before changing into speed metal-ish riff. At first it's impressive because you can see they've really done their research and probably wank furiously to NWOBHM LPs like aussie teenagers do to late night SBS. The first break in "Night Marauders" isn't hideously breakdown-ish at first, then it chugs a bit but it seems to work I suppose. Luckily it moves into some soloing which is pretty decent and continues right up until the end of the song. Unfortunately from there on out the quality of the album wavers in quality, more often than not far worse than the first song. The only songs that really compare the quality expected are "Demon's Blade" and maybe "Assassins of the Light". "Demon's Blade" manage to use some more basic heavy riffing with anthemic and catchy choruses, "CUT! DOWN! BY A DEMON'S BLADE!" which is fucking awesome whilst "Assassins of the Light" is a Priest-esque number with some top-notch soloing early on into the song. Again catchy choruses and cheese-tastic lyrics galore.
The rest of the album as mentioned is fairly shitty, the song structures are very formulaic and may only vary with the song length and even then that means just chucking in an extra section is extending a pre-existing one; for example the elongated break in "God of the Cold White Silence". Everything seems to follow the structure of; simple opening lick repeated for a few bars, potentially with the other guitar joining in half way through to harmonise, this is followed by either power or speed metal riffing, the chorus is usually a simple couple of chords, this repeats for another verse and chorus before there's either a solo followed by a break or a break followed by a solo, then verse and chorus and outro. The introduction of breakdowns into the songs isn't necessarily terrible but really draws away from the idea of creating a nostalgic traditional metal album and tends to disrupt the flow of a song. Admittedly they lead into these breakdowns well but some of them just feel awkward and far too out of place when placed in juxtaposition with the NWOBHM-styled riffage. The minor addition of keyboards throughout the album is mostly unwelcome, especially in the song "Trial of Champions" which could have been quite a fun and catchy song if not for the horrible keyboards. It starts off nicely with some power metal riffs and then BAM! Terrible synth things... I'm not quite sure how to describe the sound, it reminds me of something I heard when I was younger in an old video game; very artificial and simple, but irritating. Now keyboards can be used effectively but here they detract from the overall quality of the song, the guitars do absolutely nothing underneath these keyboards and during the breakdown they are the forefront instrument which makes the whole thing sound embarrassingly sad. "Great Hall of Feasting" is another song that falls very short of the mark, technically it could be a good song to help break up the monotony of the album but it fails to develop properly and instead we end up with a plodding song with few riffs and ideas. "God of the Cold White Silence" seems to be their attempt at being epic, it works somewhat but the riffing is fairly plain and the lack of a decent lead work or solo section gives the song absolutely no punch. The dual guitar harmonies are nicely executed if very simplistic in nature though.
"Fire Up the Blades" fails to live up the expectations set by it's predecessor "Advance and Vanquish", whilst there are still cheesy lyrics, catchy choruses and power/speed/NWOBHM riffing they've shed a lot of the vigor and energy, plus the prevalence of keyboards and breakdowns causes the songs to become vapid and inconsistent at times. Cynicism dictates that Roadrunner is most likely behind their commercialised sounding record, capitalising on naive youths who think Machine Head are thrash metal and other wank. This album isn't really recommended unless you're a die-hard fan or have a general appreciation of simple heavy metal. There are some redeeming qualities but "Advance and Vanquish" did everything good on this album about a thousand times better.