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If one knew nothing beforehand about this supergroup, one could suppose this is just another longwinded-named core band. Really, what’s the deal with those extra large monikers? In the end everybody uses acronyms for such acts, so better keep it short and simple pals. But the band in question is no mere bunch of scene kids. We’re talking about some serious metal heavyweights here: Tim “The Ripper” Owens, a man whose range and power led him to step in none other than the Metal God’s black leather boots for seven years, not a mundane feat. We also have (b)ass-kicker Steve DiGiorgio, one of the greatest metal bass players ever, period. And the project mastermind himself, talented Richard Christy, a drummer of exceptional prowess and no shortage of good humor. And standing by the three demigods, all Iced Earth-alumni, we have a guitarist whose credentials might not be that impressive but nonetheless proves that he can deliver the necessary chops to be taken into account here: Mr. Jason Suecof.
First time I learned about the existence of this band, excitement took hold of my very soul as I started to drool like my dog when a savory snack is unintentionally chucked from the dining table and lands a mere inches from his eager maws. Yes, the possibilities in the sound of this band really turned me on. No surprise that they opted for a progressive, percussion-heavy brand of power/thrash metal. I never doubted these gentlemen would add something worthwhile to a somewhat stagnant metal niche, represented by a great majority of Iced Earth/Nevermore clones and few real gems, like German powerhouse Paradox. Whatever minor doubt I had in this project was eradicated with the relentless blasting of opener “Ghost Town”, a thunderous, mighty number that displays the great chemistry these musicians have managed to create together. Owen soars as good as when we was with Priest or Iced Earth, and Jason Suecof shows his abilities put to good use in both rhythmic and lead guitar. But truly, the rhythmic onslaught of DiGiorgio and Christy steal the show.
However, next tune “From the Abyss” tell us this album is no mere showoff and these guys aim is to compose great songs, boasting solid riffing, outstanding and tasty percussion and memorable vocal patterns. That’s a catchy one, more laid-back than the blistering rager before it, but equally compelling and amusing. Each and every one of the nine tracks here showcases the talents of the musicians playing together in perfect conjunction, while at the same time allowing individual shining spots, like Steve DiGiorgio’s bass twiddling intro of “Blood on Wood”, or the varied, aggressive vocal attack of Owens in “Manifestations”, sounding almost Painkiller-esque, while Christy’s maximum intensity can be appreciated at the end of “Voices Within the Walls”. Jason Suecof soloing is also appealing on most songs, most of the time manifesting in short yet forceful outbursts of melody. But he also provides another valuable strength to this debut, and that’s his production and mixing work. There’s no secret that he has great experience in the field, having worked with many bands, mostly death metal acts and popular core bands, such as All that Remains and The Black Dahlia Murder. Whatever you may think about those outfits, there’s no denying in this album potent and muscular sound, granting each and every performer here a suitable prominence.
Lyrics are personal, mildly religious stuff penned by Christy, not brilliant but I’ve certainly red far worse. And while not every second in this record is pure metallurgic perfection, is safe to state that this supergroup earns their categorization as such. At 35 minutes duration, Charred Walls of the Damned leaves you wanting a bit more, perhaps an instrumental closer or a couple of more tunes (although I must add there’s a version with an intriguing bonus track, cult power/thrash band Powermad cover of “Nice Dreams”, which I haven’t heard), but as it stands it’s undoubtedly a good addition to any metal collection. Classic heavy metal lovers, power metal enthusiasts, modernity-embracing thrashers and even fans of progressive death metal will surely find something worthy here. The longer, eagerly awaited sophomore Cold Winds on Timeless Days appeared just a year after this one, but I find the debut a much stronger and interesting beast, as you can read in my review of the follow-up.
There are a number of bands out there where, based purely on who makes up the lineup, will tell you how they sound even before the first note is played. This trend generally follows the phenomenon of the super-band, where all in congress are better known by other existing acts, and the more members come from the same band, the more predictable the sound becomes. Charred Walls Of The Damned, an outfit whose name would normally lend itself to a follower of the metalcore trend, is perhaps the most blatantly obvious of offenders in this category. Nevertheless, even with a really obvious niche that has little variation from a well known American power metal mainstay; this band manages to sound good while being extremely derivative.
To put it bluntly, there are 3 former members of Iced Earth in this fold, all of them serving their tenure in fairly close proximity to each other. The result is an album that comes dangerously close to sounding like a sequel to “The Glorious Burden” with a slightly colder and grimmer feel. Much of the distinction here can be attributed to Jason Suecof (the only person not involved in Iced Earth), whose riff work has a definite thrash feel to it, but generally avoids the galloping clichés that Jon Schaffer often refers to and opts for something closer to a modern melodeath character (think recent Arch Enemy, and with the lead prowess to match). Generally the songs tend to exude that similar sense of gradual, almost painfully slow development, yet with melodic material that can compensate for the formal simplicity and Tim Owen’s Halford inspired wail to paint over the needed detailing.
For the most part, the radio-friendly song lengths tend to work well for this band, as the formulaic nature of the songs tends to work against any pretentious Iron Maiden styled epics. “Creating Our Machine” and “Manifestations” are the shortest, and ironically enough, the sweetest of a fairly brief musical encounter by power metal standards, conjuring up a nice variation on a sound that would otherwise share more in common with 90s In Flames. “The Darkest Eyes” gets even nastier in its presentation and almost seems to be offering a Judas Priest meets The Crown format that, while not nearly as intense as the latter outfit, definitely bends the rules of standard power metal conventions. Any lack of variety from one song to the next is well tempered by an overall potency of passion, particularly on the part of Owens who perfectly injects that strong 80s vibe into a very modern and brutal reinterpretation of a contemporary style of the time.
As is the case with the material hatched between 1998 and 2004 in Iced Earth, this is decent music for any modern trustee of catchy yet extreme metal Florida style, though it doesn’t really break into the territory of being game changing. Much of what is heard on here was done about 10 years ago in Scandinavia, but with a toneless growl substituting the for the archaic banshee screeches. Iced Earth fans may definitely want to give this thing a listen, particularly ones who were partial to Owens over Barlow. Its power metal removed from its generally heroic tendencies and placed in a fatalistic, socially conscious sphere more readily extreme progressive styles and thrash metal, thus perhaps not suited for the older school USPM fan.
Okay, here's the deal on this one. This band was created by Richard Christy, former drummer of Acheron, Death, and Iced Earth who has been on a metal hiatus for about five years since joining the Howard Stern show as a personality performing prank calls, song parodies, and all kinds of other bizarre stuff. That's quite the career. The name of the band is a reference to prank calls made on the Howard Stern show to a tradio show on a Christian radio show in which the host prayed for Christy's soul where he would be put in his "nails in the charred walls of the damned".
Despite the recent comedy background of its founder, this is serious music. Christy formed this band and recruited some of the musicians he regards as the best in the world: bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Sadus, Death, Autopsy, Testament, Iced Earth, etc.), vocalist Ripper Owens (Judas Priest, Iced Earth, Beyond Fear, Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force), and guitarist Jason Suecof (Capharnaum, producer for Trivium, All That Remains, etc.). That's quite the eclectic group of musicians, although three were in Iced Earth at one point, so that seems to be the jumping-off point from which this band's sound is derived.
The music on this album for the most part falls into the same general power/thrash metal as Iced Earth, but there are aspects that distinguish it. For one thing, the drumming and guitar riffs bear a closer resemblance to melodic death metal in parts. Indeed, oftentimes the only characteristic the music shares with power metal is the vocals of the very talented Ripper Owens, whose multi-octave range made him an ideal replacement for Rob Halford in Judas Priest at one point. The idea behind the music seems to be to combine some of the riffing style of more extreme metal with the power of early speed and traditional styles of metal. It works fairly well.
Richard Christy displays a remarkable gift for songwriting on this album. Despite being a very well-regarded and capable drummer, he has never really been the focus in a band before. The lyrics are well-written and do not venture into the silliness that Richard has staked his second career out of in recent years.
The guitar riffing of mostly metalcore producer Jason Suecof is another big surprise on this album. The only band he has spent considerable amount of time with from a music standpoint is the little-known technical death metal band Capharnaum with his brother and Trivium axeman/singer Matt Heafy. He displays his considerable ability for death and thrash metal inspired riffs on this album as well as strong solos.
Steve DiGiorgio and Ripper Owens are both known quantities and perform as well as expected. DiGiorgio is a big-name bass player in many old school death metal bands and brings this sensibility and playing style to the band. Ripper Owens's vocals are extremely powerful and melodic. He has had difficulty landing a long-term job, which is unfortunate as he remains one of the most gifted singers in modern metal.
This is a well-played, strong album from start to finish. It tends to drag a little bit in the second half, but it is fairly short meaning that this slight drag does not detract too much from the listening experience. It will be interesting to see where this band goes from here. Will they tour? Will they create another album? Or is this it for Charred Walls of the Damned?
Many metalheads were shocked when Death/Iced Earth drummer Richard Christy put his music career on hold and joined the staff of the famous DJ Howard Stern. About as many were surprised when it was announced that Christy would be returning to the metal scene with an entirely new project featuring vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens, bassist Steve DiGiorgio, guitarist Jason Suecof, and himself on drums. As if that wasn't enough to get people interested, it was also announced that the project would feature songs entirely written by Christy. Needless to say, the results are pretty intriguing...
As expected with the musicians that are on board for this project, Charred Walls of the Damned plays a style of dark power metal that kinda sounds like a cross between Iced Earth and Control Denied. Ripper makes frequent use of his signature wails, the drums are packed with plenty of double bass and active beats, the guitars churn out complex melodies and solid chugs, and DiGiorgio manages to stand out several times with his signature fretless bass lines. There also be seems to be influence from death metal in some spots with "Ghost Town" standing out in particular with its slightly cluttered intro.
The songs are decently constructed and have a good amount of variation. While most of the songs seem to be routed around mid-tempos and chugged riffs, there are some exceptions. "Blood on Wood" and "Manifestations" are probably the most energetic song on the album with its upbeat tempos, "From the Abyss" and "In a World so Cruel" bring in a lighter atmosphere, and "Creating the Machine" and "Voices Within the Walls" are particularly technical songs.
While there are plenty of good moments to be found on this album, I must admit to feeling somewhat let down by the material at hand. The performances are great and all but the songwriting doesn't seem to be as developed as it could be. There are several times when I wish for more memorable hooks and song structures, faster tempos, and direct guitar riffs that are more direct. That and the 35 minute duration seems to be rather short despite nine songs being an ideal tracklisting...
In a way, this project is a lot like Beyond Fear's debut album and last year's "Play My Game." The performances are all great but the songwriting doesn't seem to do as much justice to the hype that was set up for this comeback. It's definitely good for a debut album and there is potential to be found but there are still some things that need to be developed on future efforts. Maybe I just need to go through it a few more times...
1) Great performances from an amazing line-up
2) Good production
3) A few great songs
1) Songwriting isn't as developed as it could be
2) A seemingly too short duration
3) Doesn't completely live up to the hype
My Current Favorites:
"Ghost Town," "From the Abyss," "Blood on Wood," "In A World So Cruel," and "Manifestations"
Were you torn up inside when vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens confirmed he was no longer a part of Iced Earth? Well, have no worries! Charred Walls Of The Damned are here to remedy this situation with their debut self-titled album. Given the name of the band and the artwork, a Power Metal act is something you wouldn't expect. Perhaps more of a Death Metal or Black Metal band. The name of the group actually comes from drummer Richard Christy, who explained it comes from a series of radio prank calls that were made, ending with the preacher of the radio evangelist shows asking forgiveness for them to avoid the "charred walls of the damned". So, with a rather unfitting name, and every member's past band history linked to one specific act except guitarist Jason Suecof, it's safe to say this band is good, but highly unoriginal at this point.
Let's be blunt, Charred Walls Of The Damned sounds like Iced Earth. Period. There is no denying it. This is mostly because three of the members have served time with that band, with only guitarist Jason Suecof not being in this metal trinity. The only track on here that doesn't quite fit the formula would be the track "Creating Our Machine", which is a much slower ballad-esque track that seems to break formula. Now, this isn't to say the album is horrible because of this. In fact, it's really good. The vocals on here are well performed and nowhere near over the top as far as the higher notes are concerned, coming out a little more controlled but far from restrained. On top of that, the music on here is very well done, and either heavy, catchy, or a combination of both. Take the lead single "Ghost Town" for example, which is a superb track that will stay lodged in your brain for a long while and sets the tone of the album perfectly.
While a good chunk of this album is very impressive and a welcome breath to Power Metal fans, it's only the first half of the album that is really the most impressive. The latter half, after the ballad "In a World So Cruel" is where things start to feel a little more weak and show cracks in the finely polished surface, with "The Darkest Eyes" being the only real treat for listeners. For instance the track "In a World So Cruel", which is a straight out ballad track. The problem with it is that, while the music is actually good, the controlled vocals do come off as restrained, unlike the rest of the material on the album, and don't quite work with the song in general. "Manifestations" is a great track off the release as well, but the drumming at the very end seems a little clumped, as if it was done at the very end for fun or there was some sort of seizure involved. Then there's "Voices Within the Walls" which is just not as memorable a track as anything off the first half of the album. The closer track "Fear in the Sky" is another good track, but doesn't quite deliver the impact it should to close it out as "Ghost Town" had to start everything up.
All in all, with the exception of a few issues towards the end, Charred Walls Of The Damned is a very entertaining album that rides the coat tails of Iced Earth. If you're someone who cannot look past bands that mimick the sound of already established acts, then this is not the release for you. If you can look past it, then you'll be greeted with some impressive tracks that will find this disc collecting very little dust. As time goes on, some of the songs may lose it's luster, but there's plenty on here that will still kick you as hard as they did the first time you put this disc in the player. This self-titled album from Charred Walls Of The Damned is definately worth your time.
Originally posted on Apoch's Metal Review