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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/)