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Adorning his head is not a crown of thorns, but a ligature of barbed wire; He resembles a chromium automaton, a humanoid indifferent to life; such was the man singing the woes of his soul (traumatic events such as the death of his wife) on the last Blaze Bayley album Promise and Terror:
“Nothing can numb this pain, nothing can fill this void.
Nothing can heal this wound, nothing can heal this scar.
Nothing is what I have; nothing is all that’s left.
Nothing is what I am, if I am without you.
Looking down at my feet, why do they move at all?
Looking down at my hands, why do they work at all?
I hear the words I speak, why can I speak at all?”
This is someone experiencing a true existential crisis, but there’s hope: after being crucified by adversity, he has been resurrected, as it were. Life’s taste, smell, and all its wonder is returning. That is the theme of this album, with a message that you can persevere, too.
Nor is he donning a royal crown, he is not the self-proclaimed King of Metal as some may and have ignorantly confused the imagery as. Rather, if you hear the first whispered words of the album, “you are the king of metal.” All the fans of metal music are the reigning kings. We choose what to support and what to ignore; a sort of artificial selection in the realm of music is constantly taking place, those that are not fit enough either quit or are lost in the sound. We are, hopefully, the underground usurpers and conquerors of the banal.
The production of the instruments is clean, perhaps a little too thin. They are not very prominent and are merely sufficient, but they are present to serve as a synchronized vehicle for Blaze’s voice. Expectantly, the vocals are prominent and forefront, although not in the usual way of previous efforts. As if singing his humanity, his vitality, out into your living room, Blaze’s voice is crystal clear and, in consequence, every raw emotion and imperfection is audible, turning the passion into something both genuine and palpable. Blaze tells us of reality and its woes but they can, should, and have, for him, been overcome. Themes of being who you are, overcoming challenges, and living life to the fullest are omnipresent. In one way or another, this has been the task of music itself: empowerment of the individual.
In the song “Dimebag,” there is an epic retelling of the tragic event of Dimebag Darrell’s death. It’s told directly, but in a fashion that brings to mind a campfire parable of mythic deicide. In reality, this wasn't the death of a god, but the murder of a living and known human being, which makes it all the more earnest and morose. The instrumentation in the song itself bears resemblance to the Iron Maiden formula (a reminiscence of his time in the band) of a slow guitar intro until the ballad picks up pace and detonates, coming to a diminuendo that evokes the beginning until fading out entirely. “The Rainbow Fades to Black” is a tribute to another god, as it were: Ronnie James Dio, whose untimely passing was somber indeed. We are presented with chugging riffs à la Black Sabbath’s “Die Young.” A coincidence? I think not. Even Blaze’s signing is slightly tuned to the channeling of a Dio-like melody.
The themes and emotions reach a surprising mid-album crescendo and culmination in the moving composition “One More Step,” in which Blaze and the keys of a piano become one, urging “all that you can do is just take one more step.” (At one point, even his voice cracks under the sentiment.) Courageously, there is no preaching of faith as consolation, no religion as an emotional crutch; what we have here is a secular call for the power of solidarity—real human relationship—and the perseverance of the self from within, nothing metaphysical nor supernatural.
With this album, you get to know Blaze Bayley just a little bit more as a human being. This is an opus that peers into the inner-workings of his battered soul. The ending song, a beautiful acoustic piece, is titled “Beginning.” This placement alone should hint towards the mindset of Blaze: for him, it is not the end; the beginning of a new outlook on life has just begun.
Published in Mane Stage: http://manestage.blogspot.com/2013/07/album-review-blaze-bayley-king-of-metal.html
Is it me or is Blaze Bayley starting to go out of his way to secure his reputation as the biggest underdog in heavy metal? In the last two years alone he has ditched the lineup that brought him out of obscurity, put out a reunion album with Wolvesbane, assembled a new team of session players, and shaved his head. Things seem to be even weirder with the release of his sixth studio album as the cover is a black portrait of him wearing a crown of thorns and the title is a modified lift from Manowar that attempts to praise his fanbase in a rather odd fashion. In the words of every other Star Wars character, I’ve got a bad feeling about this…
While Blaze has never been an artist who strayed too far from his dark melodic metal style, the sound and tone on here are noticeably different than usual. The vague thrash influence that appeared on the last two albums has largely been dropped and only pops up on the opening title track. Instead, he opts for a more traditional style that’s somewhere between Silicon Messiah and Blood And Belief.
And since this is the first album that has Blaze actively promoting himself as a solo artist, it isn’t too surprising to say that his vocals are mostly up front and center. There are a few moments where his delivery may be rather over the top but he generally offers the baritone howl that fans have come to expect. The other instrumentalists also manage to be pretty competent and have the same melodic charge as the lineups before them. The bass seems to stand out more than before and the guitars and solid though it’d be nice if the heavier tone had been fully retained.
But even with the old style still in place, it’s only inevitable that the songs themselves would be different due to the changes in the writing team. There’s not really a bad track on here but there are times where the writing seems to be retreading past sounds with a less emotional impact, a move that is made even odder when songs like “Dimebag” and “Fighter” offer some structural complexity.
The changes are best demonstrated by the lyrical content, which is marked by an unfortunate drop in quality. While previous releases, especially 2010’s Promise And Terror, had a bittersweet tone that yielded some excellent catharsis, The King Of Metal boasts a more optimistic and encouraging outlook. The intentions are good but the songs feel a bit more contrived and borderline congratulatory. It doesn’t help that a bunch of songs take the glorification of metal legends to ridiculous heights. Seriously, Dimebag died eight years ago; at least Anthrax had a valid excuse when they wrote that song about him in 2011!
Fortunately there are still some great songs on here. “One More Step” and the ironically titled “Beginning” are oddly my favorites and channel Streets-era Savatage as Blaze is accompanied solely by piano in the former and gentle acoustic guitar work in the latter. “The Rainbow Fades To Black” and “Fate” are probably the most accessible tracks and channel past songs like “Born As A Stranger” with their fast tempos and upbeat guitar harmonies. “The Black Country” is also worth noting as its solid mid-tempo riffs and heavy bass work.
In a strange twist of irony (No pun intended), The King Of Metal essentially serves as the No Prayer For The Dying in Blaze’s discography in that it brings down a streak of perfection that lasted for over a decade. The songwriting feels rather rushed, the lyrics could’ve been better, and the circumstances leading up to the album’s release make it a hard pill to swallow for longtime fans. Then again, the individual performances make the songs worthwhile and the fanboy in me can still find a lot to enjoy here. They can work on their songwriting skills and branch out more lyrically, but in the meantime, I’m still wondering what the last lineup is doing now…
“The Rainbow Fades To Black”
“One More Step”
Orignally published at http://suite101.com
Blaze Bayley has always been one of my favourite singers with his authentic, dark and perfectly imperfect voice that helped him to create a couple of pretty solid records with Wolfsbane, later on with the British heavy metal legend Iron Maiden and lately with his solo band under the banner of Blaze. During the last years, the man that has gone through loads of hard times including the tragic death of his wife, he also changed the entire band around him and started to work with younger as well as less expensive and less professional musicians because he wanted to discover something new but also because he had many personal and especially financial problems. That’s why I didn’t expect a lot from this new team around him including a young guitar player from Belgium that was discovered by Blaze Bayley because he did an acoustic cover of a Blaze song on youtube, as well as three young and arther unkown Italian musicians on guitar, bass guitar and drums. In fact, the album was only supposed to be an EP and Blaze Bayley changed his mind during the recordings that were done in quite a hurry at three different places in the England, in the Netherlands and in the United States Of America and brought to a final product by three different producers. In addition to this weird potpourri come a female Dutch vocalist, a Dutch piano player and an American guitar player as guest musicians. That’s what one could call a true multi-culti product in times of globalization.
To my big surprise, what our good old Blaze Bayley delivers here is simply the best record he has ever done. I realized that this would be a great record when I heard the quite solid opener. One song later I was even more surprised and said to myself that the band put the best tracks in the beginning and that this hectically done record would contain more and more fillers towards the end. After the last closing acoustic guitar ballad I was paralyzed. I was speechless for many minutes and just shook my head. What I just witnessed was a completely unexpectable masterpiece. This album inspired me a lot of confidence. If the broken, old and poor Blaze Bayley was able to create such a passionate epos, I knew that I would also be able to realize my wildest dreams with a solid dose of confidence, faith and perseverance.
Many critical voices may claim that the record was done in a hurry, that Blaze Bayley sometimes sounds out of tone and that the production is not as perfect as it could have been. This is true but I like this spontaneaous and overtly honest attitude. The record simply feels authentic, emotional and vivid. Blaze Bayley has never had a perfect voice from a technical point of view in my humble opinion but he definitely has one of the most emotional voices I have ever known. That’s what I like about him and his music has always been able to touch me.
“The King Of Metal” seems to be a prententious title but it’s not about Blaze Bayley himself but rather a tribute to his fans that are the reason why he’s still there after all he has been through. The fans are the so-called kings of metal and not the booking agents, the managers or the chefs of the record labels. This is a great hommage and I think that Blaze Bayley knows what he’s talking about. When he got heavily criticized for his work in Iron Maiden he surely didn’t expect that he would still be around and be on world wide tours today. In comparison to the sad afte of the other ex-vocalist of that band named Paul Di’Anno, Blaze Bayley can still take a look in the mirror and create ne wthings without only playing cover songs of his past days that will never come back.
Let’s dig deeper into the music. After more thrash and sometimes even slight death metal influenced records, Blaze Bayley basically goes back to his heavy metal roots on this record. Many people might see this as a step back but he delivers in fact his most varied record ever and shows all the different things he is able to do.
The title track “The King Of Metal” is the straightest song on the entire record and starts with a whispered introduction before heavy thrash riffs set fire. The chorus is simple but brutal and efficient. The middle part with distorted guitar sounds, weird spoken word passages and a solid dose of melody and speed is passionating and leads back to the amazing chorus and another surprisingly abrupt ending with a couple of whispered words that close this brillaint opener. Yes, Blaze Bayley’s voice is out of tone a couple of time sbut this just fits to this angry, fast and spontaneous track. A theatralic and technically diversified singer like Bruce Dickinson could never put the same amount of emotion in this kind of song. Blaze Bayley simply seems to know what he does best. I have rarely known a song that was so short but contained so many ideas at the same time. Each time I listen to this track I like a different passage and sicover new things even though the song seems rather simple at first sight. I bet that this song might even work better live and I can’t wait to see Blaze Bayley in concert one day.
“Dimebag” is a homage to the late Pantera and Damageplan guitar player Darrell Lance Abbott that was murdered by gunshot during a concert. Many sonsg have already been written to honour his targic fate and at first sight it doesn’t seem very original to write another track about him more than seven years after his death. But Blaze Bayley proves us wrong and this track is the most emotional homage to someone who passed away I have listened in quite a long time. I thought that Blaze Bayley would never be able to beat his own track “Endless Sleep” that is dedicated to his beloved wife that died a couple of years ago but that’s exactly what he does here. The song is filled with many emotional changes, a diversified and emotional vocal performance, a brilliant classic guitar solo, a pumping bass guitar, a simple but heavy drum play and a highly addicting chorus. Among many outstanding tracks “Dimebag” surely is my favourite one on this record. Another homage can be found on this record that is called “The Rainbow Fades To Black”. This track is dedicated to the late Ronnie James Dio who played in Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Heaven & Hell among other bands. This track is darker and starighter and features many passages that are inspired by songs Dio have been performed in his long career. Blaze mixes elements of a cover song with his own and unique lyrics and a couple of own ideas and the final result works ver well. It’s a great mixture of nostalgic melodies and a straight modern attitude that sounds powerful and not too sad. It seems like a good idea to me that Blaze Bayley wrote a straighter track as a tribute to Dio instead of writing a predictable ballad.
On the other side, there are also two very strong ballds on this record that prove once again Blaze Bayley’s diversity and talent. “One More Step” is a calm and intense piano ballad where Blaze Bayley’s imperfect voice sends shivers down my spine and this in a very positive way. You really can feel that he knows what he sings about and that he has been through all these things he tells us. It’s abeautiful song about never giving up and always continuing to fight for one’s dreams, ideals and visions. This positive message is underlined by a simple but intense piano play. The closing track “Beginning” is an acoustic guitar ballad that also builds a lot upon the vocals. Critics will claim that they are once again out of tone but they are performed with so much emotion that I still admire this hypnotizinga nd atmospheric album closer. I must admit that you either adore these two tracks or you hate them.
I could write something about any track on this record because they all are quite catchy and diversified but still fit surprisingly well together as a whole because Blaze Bayley's vocals connect each little masterpiece on this record. Of course, some songs like "The Black Country" or "Fate" are less amazing than the other ones but they are still at least pretty good and don't pull this record down.
Anybody who’s looking for a technically perfect record with straight modern metal music will be quickly disappointed. But anybody who adores authentic, diversified, emotional, honest and spontaneous heavy metal with a couple of experiments can’t get around this record. In my humble opinion, it’s by far the best album of a not so young year 2012 and even though I have always liked Blaze Bayley and listened to quite everything he has ever released, this still came as an unexpected positive surprise. Despite or because of its clear but sympathetic flaws to me, I really adore this vivid piece of music. While Manowar happen to be the new losers of metal, Blaze Bayley has all the rights to not only call his fans but also himself the actual king of metal.
(Originally written for The Metal Observer)
The disclaimer first: I am a Blaze supporter. Yes, I like the albums he did with Iron Maiden (which mainly suffer from a bad production). I like some of the Wolfsbane stuff. And I think the solo albums he did after being kicked out of Iron Maiden are amazing.
After he kicked out all of the band members after the 2010 album "Promise and Terror" I already knew this wasn't going to end well. The guys had been ass-kicking musicians and songwriters and I was looking forward to their next creation. Nevertheless, Blaze always had played with good guys and I was hoping that he could still put out a decent album with a bunch of new players.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed.
There are all kinds of things wrong with "The King of Metal". Don't even get me started on the title... yeah, I know, it's supposed to have a "deeper" meaning and everything, but it's still a stupid title (I mean, c'mon, Manowar had the title already minus the "s", how can you honestly think the title is a great idea?).
The album is just a rushed effort. It was supposed to be an EP before the tour, unfortunately Blaze had a change of heart and preferred to put out a new album with only a few weeks of writing and production time - and it is painfully noticable. It feels rushed, spotty, disjointed and mediocre.
Hell, the main songwriter is a guy Blaze found on Youtube playing acoustic versions of Iron Maiden songs, not exactly the best starting point. However talented he may be on acoustic guitar, he clearly was not experienced enough to whip the song ideas into proper shape. The arrangements do not flow well at all.
The style on this album is back to the classic style of the first two albums, somewhat of a regression when you consider the evolution of the musical style of Blaze's solo output. He went from traditional British metal to a more thrash and Gothenburg infused, riff-driven version of metal. Clearly the path should have been to evolve from here, not go back to the starting point.
The songs are quite simple for the most part, as are the lyrics. They are much more direct than in the past, much less "artistic". It just sounds silly in parts ("The father of the unborn girl is dead - but they brought him back to life again"). This was never the case before on a Blaze solo album (not to me at least).
I will admit that there are some nice ideas on the album ("Dimebag", "Fate", "The Rainbow Fades To Black") which are basically ruined by a thin-sounding production. The drums are actually quite good, but the guitars just lack bite and power. I have no idea what the hell went wrong there, but then again, the songs were mixed by at least three different people, which creates the disjointed feel already mentioned earlier.
The biggest problem of the album actually is the singing. I love Blaze's singing on all the other albums he has done. However the production was done in such a short time that the singing clearly suffered. Not enough takes, no producer to overview the process and intervene when necessary. It all sounds like a demo recording, not like a final product. There are a lot of off-key notes on the album. It just drags everything down so much.
Hence, the review title. This could easily have turned out as a decent album, with a better production, more time spent on the lyrics, fixing some arrangements and more takes to get a really great sounding vocal performance on the album.
As this is no real band anymore anyway, the band feel the former two albums had is gone in any case. Still, with said improvements, this could have been a 70% or even 80%. I sincerely hope that Blaze will not make these mistakes again. After all, his past output has been absolutely stellar, a mediocre album was bound to come sooner or later, especially with all these lineup changes. Considering the circumstances, it is astounding that he was still able to put out an album that is at least listenable, albeit a disappointing affair.
The logo at the top and the dreary black-grey cover art may be the same, but don’t be fooled – this isn’t the same band that recorded ‘The man who would not die’ and ‘Promise and terror’. The warning signs came when affable drummer Larry Paterson walked after disputes with Blaze Bayley’s new management, but the sudden sacking of the remaining 3 members a few months later, with the singer pleading poverty, was a hammer blow to those who had followed them since they came together in 2007.
It seemed that Bayley had learned lessons from the farcical collapse of the band’s previous iteration as Blaze, but only a few short years later the situation is almost exactly the same, with a revolving door of touring musicians performing music stolen from under the noses of those who both wrote it and burst their arses touring it in shoeboxes the world across.
All this make it hard to stomach the “most hard done by man in the music business” persona Bayley has been portraying himself as in his lyrics recently, and after ruthlessly chopping the men who helped build him back up from nothing, most of the words that escape the singer’s mouth on the CD leave a sour taste in the mouth.
But ignoring that, the first thing to notice about ‘The king of metal’ is that the production is a lot muddier than the clean but razor-sharp approach of the 2 previous CDs, with the opening title track’s double-bass and fast chugging riffs blurring together somewhat into a disagreeable sludge. The next thing to notice is that this song is a load of crap. Short, underdeveloped, riding only a couple of pithy riffs for its duration and suffering a hilariously stupid breakdown, it is a serious misfire to open proceedings and feels like a bit of an afterthought thrown together to provide a fast opening song.
Musically more accomplished, but lyrically criminal, “Dimebag” comes next and continues the worrisome opening. Quite what inspired such an unusually personal bout of grief in Bayley the best part of a decade after Darrell Abbott’s murder is quite the mystery, but regardless the lyrics are a shockingly literal “Smoke on the water”-style “and then this happened, and then that happened” account of the incident followed by some distasteful self-insertion that give the song that same uneasy, self-important feeling much of the CD suffers from.
After such a poor opening, that old sinking feeling was setting in, but in truth the CD – while a definite step down from its predecessors – is actually not all that bad. There are a couple more clunkers before proceedings end, but on the whole Thomas Zwijsen, the touring musician picked out to write the biggest percentage of the music, has done a sturdy job and is a talented enough guitar player.
There are a couple of attempts at broadening Bayley’s musical scope, and while some are successful, it overall gives ‘The king of metal’ a disjointed feel that was absent on its 2 straight-ahead predecessors. While the piano ballad “One more step” is a bold attempt at something new, it just doesn’t work. But while it feels clumsy and overly sentimental, the closing acoustic track “Beginning” is far more successful, and Bayley’s subdued thunder plays out well over the delicate chiming.
Jase Edwards, again on mixing duties, is the co-author of “The black country”, and while the rocking groove of the verses feels somewhat out of place (almost as though it were a leftover from the recent Wolfsbane comeback CD...), the inspiring melodies give ‘The king of metal’ a solid boost after the dismal opening salvo.
The rest is a reasonably successful facsimile of the style on the 2 previous CDs under the Blaze Bayley name, and generally make for similarly agreeable modern metal fare. Newcomers and casual listeners will probably find it more agreeable, but those who watched a band come together from nothing and build a solid platform for themselves will be less forgiving after watching one member throw the other 4 under the bus to use that platform for his own gain.
I usually try to avoid getting so personal when reviewing, but as someone who invested in the Blaze Bayley band, ‘The king of metal’ feels like a betrayal – not of the fans, who in the end can vote with their wallets, but of the 4 hard-working musicians who made us fans in the first place. It’s not a bad CD, but it’s a morally bankrupt one.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)
Originally posted on my reviews blog as heavymetalspotlight.blogspot.com
A lot of my friends have followed Blaze Bayley's solo career post Iron Maiden with a great deal of interest, and often enjoyment. Most of my friends, in this instance, tell me, through grief-infused tears, that the album is far from enjoyable. Prepared for the worst, I donned my chainmail, picked up my laptop and rode out to meet the creature head-on.
You can never judge a book by it's cover, or indeed, an album by it's artwork. You can, however, have a reasonable guess. The cover, while smooth, doesn't immediately shout much for the album's quality, and, sadly, neither does the first song, "The King of Metal"; It's memorable enough, but is lacking in many aspects, not-fucking-least in character. A couple of riffs cobbled together, with no real lead guitar whatsoever, aside from a random single note at a seemingly arbitrary position, and very rushed sounding vocals. In my ancient review of "Promise and Terror", the predecessor to this album, I held Blaze's singing as above that which he produced in Iron Maiden. This time, sadly, the reverse is true. It doesn't really sound like he's putting as much effort as he could into it. After this initial disappointment, the following songs remain roughly as bad, but have more lead and structure, for what it's worth. "Dimebag" is an oddly sterile account of the shooting of Dimebag Darrel, written in an "On my trip to the zoo I saw lions and tigers and elephants and penguins and ducks and monkeys..." style. More goes on in these songs, but they still feel very hollow and unexciting.
From a technical standpoint, the musicians are competent - The drums are fine, and the guitar at least sounds functional, when it's actually doing anything. It has a particularly subdued tone in many places, and as the album progresses, lead guitar blends with it quite nicely, which probably saves the album from utter echoing oblivion. One of the frustrating things is that many of the songs hold little gems of promise. The guitar on "Fate" sounds promising for a little while, before so many of the songs, plummeting like a starling tied to a brick. Badly written and repetitive lyrics are something of a letdown, and is almost completely un-ignorable. The previous albums were tight, vibrant, and to an extent, quite unique, but sadly, this album doesn't follow in any of these respects. If anything, it sounds like a collection of songs which didn't make it onto the other two Blaze Bayley albums. It has it's occasional moments, but all in all, it's disappointingly half-arsed.
I must admit, I had no idea that Blaze Bayley had a new album just out until today, and I can sadly say that it's a definite decline from the past efforts. Perhaps it's not the nuclear apocalypse that was Illud Divinum Insanus or Lulu, but it's certainly a small tactical warhead aimed at the fanbase.