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Almost ten damn years. That's how long it took for Marshall Law to get their 5th studio record, "Razorhead", up and going. The final result is definitely a mixed one. "Razorhead" does what their second album, "Power Game", did: it tries to appeal to fans of all different sorts of metal sub-genres and in the process loses its identity and a sense of consistency. It also does what "Metal Detector" did wrong, in that there's too many damn songs on here. In this case, we have FIFTEEN fucking songs! Is that enough, guys? Fuck! "Razorhead" is like watching an orgy: there's too much going on, but if you look closely, there's a few really interesting things to be witnessed.
Let's start with the lineup. Andy Pyke is back on vocal duties and he still sounds pretty damn good. He doesn't wail like he used to, but his more aggressive vocal assaults are still mean and top-notch. Dave Martin returns, but unfortunately without Andy Southwell at his side. Southwell instead has been replaced by newcomer Dave Rothan. So as one can imagine, the solos and riffs aren't quite as memorable and scorching as the old school duo, but the two pull off some pretty nice work in all fairness anyway. The bass of fellow newbie Tom Dywyer isn't much to sneeze at. It's hard to hear in the album's crunchy, modern metal production and is essentially just not as special as Roger Davis' bass. Current Winter in Eden drummer Steve Hauxwell rounds out the cast; his work is probably the best drumming (excluding the drum machines, as they don't count) the group ever had. He's a bit basic, but really energetic, tight, and at times technical and kinda thrashy. No wonder he was already snatched up by another band.
As previously mentioned, "Razorhead" does what "Power Game" did so long ago. The group tosses out a bunch of different sounding metal songs to appeal to a broader demographic of listeners while at the same time attempting to keep true to traditional heavy, power, and speed metal. Groove metal tendencies abound here, particularly in the quasi-hardcore "Headtrap" and one of the worst songs on the album, "Another Bullet", which attempts at being catchy and results in being pretty embarrassing. Then in a weird turn they reach out to fans of progressive/symphonic metal with "Nothing Lasts Forever", which is not a bad song (kind of Nightwish meets modern Iron Maiden with Pantera sprinkled on top), but is really out of place. Then we get some passable filler with stuff like the groove-ish "Divides Us", which is forgettable aside from the decent main riff. The epic "The Chamber" is also okay, but could've used some trimming. "Premonition" is a solid enough faster tune, but really isn't very memorable after the fact. Then we get totally useless nonsense like the instrumental "The Summoning" and the one minute time-wasting interlude,"Devil's Anvil".
Well, what the hell is worthwhile on "Razorhead"? Well, the title track is pretty killer, a cooking, vicious speed metal attack with a brutal, bullying chorus and a scorcher solo in that classic Marshall Law way. Then we have some really good mid-paced efforts in "Gods of Deception" with its swaying grooves and hooky chorus, and the moody, booming "Night Terror". Album finisher "Necromancer" is quite cool, probably one of the more fun songs on here with its pacing flirting with being both slower and faster. We get near thrash levels of intensity with "Blood And Pain", one of my favorite Marshall Law songs. The riffs are attacking and urgent, and the chilling chorus is so hooky you'll need a thousand dollar back hoe to scoop it out of your grey matter! "Desperate men, call my name, 'cause all they find, is BLOOD AND PAIN!!!"
Overall, Marshall Law's latest is a mixed affair. The immense amount of songs and misfires in deciding on song styles kill the pacing and consistency, resulting in a confused, bloated final product. There's too much filler and not enough direction. But even still, everyone mostly gives it their all, the crunchy production is good, the atmosphere is dark and occult, and the stronger songs on "Razorhead" are, frankly, among some of the band's best. Marshall Law is in yet another difficult place right now. As I type this, they have no drummer and long-time vocalist Andy Pyke seems to be gone, leaving yet another new bassist and the two Daves on guitar duty. I really like these guys and I can only hope for the best from them. "Razorhead" isn't fantastic, but it's often pretty good, and here's to hoping for a sixth album, which I hope will be even better.
British power/speed metal veterans Marshall Law are another of those bands who have been sticking it out since the late 80s, having endured a hiatus and a dying and now revitalized metal scene. Personally, I'm glad they've stuck to their guns, because Razorhead is an excellent 4th album, and with 15 tracks, it's also quite a value.
The formula is simple: phenomenal, catchy riffing and well-crafted lead work highlighted by the charismatic and cutting vocals of Andy Pyke. Though the band bears more in common with 80s style speed/thrash and melody than the more pompous anthems of modern power metal, I believe fans of both will find a lot to enjoy here. After "The Summoning" intro, the title track blazes forward, with a catchy gang shout chorus and some nice clean choral vocal touches. I also like the keyboards used here, they function as pure atmosphere. "Premonition" is another excellent tune, with catchy guitar melodies opening into a salvo of memorable thrash riffing under Pyke's wonderful tone. There are a number of slower-paced, groovier thrashing tunes on the album like "Head Trap", but they are just as catchy and also reminiscent of the late 80s where classic genres like thrash and power metal were often indistinguishable. "Gods of Deception" is an excellent, slower track which once again is introduced with infectious guitar lead melodies. The album is just littered with these.
I could go through this entire affair track by track, but I think you've gotten the point. The tones of the album are captured well...a crisp production which should appeal to the modern audience but has all the nostalgic ambiance of the late 20th century. Song titles and lyrics are all pretty standard fare: "Blood Lines", "Hell on Earth", "Necromancer". The album is superb and it has rekindled my interested in their earlier work. If you are into melodic metal that isn't exceedingly complex or tongue in cheek, you should certainly acquire this! It is fantastic.
For Marshall Law it always seemed to be a case of the wrong place at the wrong time. 1987 was an unfortunate time to form a heavy metal band in the U.K. as the NWOBHM finally died on its arse, leaving only a few hardy survivors and sell-outs still functioning as tastes moved on to either more extreme or altogether less metallic movements.
Reforming in the mid-90s after the almost inevitable split among the waves of indifference a few years previously, they toughened up their sound to some extent, ditching some of the traditional speed metal elements for some groove dabbling that fortunately stayed generally on the correct side of credible. But as the turn of the century came and went everything seemed to come to a gradual halt again, just as the continent was starting to embrace melodic metal bands like Hammerfall and Nocturnal Rites. Originally slated for release in 2005, a succession of label and line-up problems – including an inability to hold onto a drummer and the loss of founding guitarist Andy Southwell (part of the band's 'Tipton/Halford/Downing' triumvirate) means 'Razorhead' now comes an unbelievable 9 years after its immediate predecessor and is in fact only Marshall Law's 5th full-length release overall.
With so long in the development stages, the Law have had a long time to accumulate material, and have in the end probably put too much on the one CD. At 71 minutes long, they seem to be attempting to make up for lost time, but for the style of music in question it really takes something special to justify a CD of this length and 'Razorhead' unfortunately does not qualify.
While just about staying inside of the confines of power metal, it should be made clear that this is the heaviest and most modern-sounding CD Marshall Law have ever done. The guitars are tuned down to ridiculous levels, giving the songs a real growl, but this probably causes as many mishaps as it does successes. Certainly the title track, opening the CD after a worthwhile intro piece, benefits tremendously from this. One of those 'big scary monster with a stupid name' songs, it has lyrics in the same vein as Priest's "Jugulator", (thankfully with much better all-round results), and the roaring guitars tie in perfectly with Andy Pyke's ferocious vocal display.
Like the rest of the band, the frontman turns in his most aggressive performance to date, comparable perhaps to Charles Rytkönen on Morgana Lefay's 'Aberrations of the mind', with similar vicious half-growled vocals clawing at the listener throughout. That CD actually makes for a pretty good reference point for 'Razorhead' as a whole, as this is another long-running heavy power metal band that have finally gone all out in the aggression stakes.
This incessant hostility has a downside though. An adage I always planned to use if I ever got round to reviewing Kamelot's 'The black halo' (note: I didn't) was that you can't make something darker without losing a bit of colour, and that certainly rings true here. The tooled-up heaviness is certainly something unexpected and sometimes welcome, but it has been done at the sacrifice of some crucial melody. The excellent mid-CD epic ballad "Nothing lasts forever" goes some way to making up for this, but also really rams home to the listener what has been missing in some of the other songs.
Sadly, a combination of the protracted length and some questionable songs all landing together near the end means that 'Razorhead' more or less wears out its welcome by its conclusion. "Another bullet" is basically an out-and-out 90s groove metal song that should never have made it past the demoing stage, and the otherwise excellent "Hell on earth" is scuttled by an ugly aggro guitar break towards the end. Similarly, Pyke goes a bit too far in "Bloodlines", and descends into some sub-Anselmo scowling to take the shine off the rest of the song. The closing track, "Necromancer", thankfully patches things up a bit for the conclusion and ends the CD on quite a strong note.
Seemingly back on track, after all their setbacks, Marshall Law will be looking to finally get that break that has eluded them for so long. These veterans have a lot to offer, but if they stop writing each CD like it could be their last and lighten up the production style just a shade it will be to their own benefit. A shorter, more traditional-sounding 'Razorhead' would have been superb. As it stands it is merely satisfactory.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)