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Tim Owens has always been a bit of an oddment in the metal scene since he hit the big time with Judas Priest in the late 90s. A phenomenal vocalist, it’s hard to challenge the man’s talent, or indeed to grudge him a second of the success he has enjoyed after seemingly missing the boat with Winter’s Bane at the beginning of his career, but at the same time it’s probably fair to say that he has yet to sing on a truly excellent CD since ‘Heart of a killer’ came and went way back in 1993.
The debut from his own band Beyond Fear a couple of years back was a mild disappointment, as Owens’ first forays into writing songs proved as inconsistent as the work he had done up until that point with Priest and Iced Earth, but after SPV more or less forced his hand into recording the next CD as a solo project with an impressive assortment of guest musicians and writers, it looked like this might finally be the time for him to take the step up.
Sadly, and sometimes almost painfully, this has proved not to be the case, and only a couple of impressive songs and guest performances save ‘Play my game’ from being an unreserved disaster. The same setback that inflicted itself on the weaker moments of the Beyond Fear debut is spread all over the place here; Owens simply does not know how to write a good riff, and unlike the preceding CD where John Comprix provided some agreeable songwriting, most of the assembled collaborators have failed to do so either. Simplistic, repetitive grooves make up the biggest part of the music in a sea of sluggish midtempo songs that very rarely offer any of the metallic riffing expected from a vocalist whose biggest career influence is purported to be Judas Priest. Despite opening and closing in reasonable fashion, and with a couple of average to decent songs in between, a full half of ‘Play my game’ is unreserved, abhorrent crap.
Things get off to a deceptively promising start with “Starting over” – though totally unsuited as an opening track, it’s atmospheric, washed-out guitar sound (actually quite reminiscent of Saxon’s “Crusader”) and an emotional performance from Owens give, in retrospect, a fleeting glance of what could have been. It is a bit of a damning indictment of the CD as a whole though that a song like this is shoved to the very front to cover for the lack of quality in rest of the material, and exposes the writing process for it is – an unconnected bunch of songs written with no thought to continuity or cohesiveness.
The following song, “Believe”, is a reasonable effort, though already a little short on real inspiration and reliant on too few ideas to be in any way memorable. Certainly in a collection of higher quality songs this would probably stand out as one of the more forgettable ones, and again, that really tells its own story.
“The cover up” is the first indication of some of the nonsense that is to follow – it opens on a typically stunning, but more or less completely unconnected solo by Jeff Loomis, then quickly settles into a song absurd in its childlike simplicity and wince-inducing lyrics. Loomis pops up again at the end to add another coat of sheen, but all efforts at resuscitation are in vain.
The rather average “Pick yourself up” follows on from this and is at least a bit of an improvement, but from then on, you can more or less write off the next 25 minutes or so, as the odd moment of quality aside, things just get progressively worse and worse until a slight fillip towards the end.
By the time it gets to “The light” your teeth ought to be grating in frustration as yet another song makes its intentions clear from the very outset as the next in an endless queue of lazy grooves unwraps itself and drags on and on and endlessly on. I’m not even going to bother reaming off the endless list of musicians that contribute to the individual songs – just like on Annihilator’s 2007 ‘Metal’ CD, half of them just seem to have been roped in to add something to the advertising campaign rather than for any sort of unique contribution. After all, when the tag on the front of the CD advertising the assembled guests is actually part of the (bloody awful) cover art rather than stuck on the jewel case, the alarm bells start ringing.
“The world is blind”, to be fair, offers a brief respite in the middle of all this sludge – just a decent song at best, really, but one where the guest musicians offer something that actually makes any odds to the quality of the song, with the great Billy Sheehan offering some wandering bass playing that differs from the norm just a little, and former Dio guitarist Doug Aldrich peppering the song with a clutch of impressive solos. It’s just as well really that this song crops up next to the ballad “To live again”, because things then hit an all-time low with both “The light” (lazy, groovy, etc) and the utterly wretched title track. This is actually one of 2 songs co-written with Comprix, and it’s disappointing to see the usually reliable guitarist lending his name to what is a handy summation of all the worst aspects of the CD in just 4-1/2 minutes.
But just as things begin with a reasonably strong double-hander, the, er, sandwich is completed with another decent pairing at the conclusion. “Death race” finally, finally hands in a ‘Defenders of the faith’-style riff and the CD just about gets out of first gear for the first time and Owens at last sounds like he is fronting the right band. It’s a pretty decent effort that would probably be more appreciable if it was surrounded by a few more of its brethren rather than a collection of red-headed stepchildren, and it is pretty sad that a decent song is more or less neutered by the ineffectiveness of the preceding amorphous mush.
The closer, “The shadows are alive” is a bit more of a perplexing affair. The music written by Chris Caffery is suitably dark and menacing, and of course his solos are nothing short of magnificent, and along with “Starting over” it is the only song to properly distinguish itself from the rest of the CD. It is Owens who turns in a strangely off-the-pace performance where he sounds as though he isn’t really sure what he is supposed to do with music of this sort, resorting to blasting at his usual top volume when guile and subtlety have escaped him. Still, compared to most of the stuff that precedes it, the song is a masterwork and at least ends the CD on some sort of positive.
Trying to pinpoint exactly what went wrong with the writing of ‘Play my game’ is as infuriating as actually putting the damn thing in the CD player – most of the cast of writers are genre stalwarts, and experienced collaborators like Bob Kulick have to take as big a share of the blame as Owens for the shoddy assortment of C-rate trash to be found here. What once was sympathy for Tim “Ripper” Owens’ perpetual status as an underdog is beginning to turn into frustration at his continuing misfires. Assuming he goes back to Beyond Fear after this calamitous misadventure, things are going to need to improve quick sharp for him to convince he has anything to offer as his own man in the music world – and going by this evidence he’s going to need to surrender the writing of the music to someone else.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)
Tim Owens must have no free time after including his participation in the various projects the ex-Judas Priest vocalist now commands: Yngwie Malmsteen and Beyond Fear on Mondays through Wednesdays, Charred Walls of the Damned during Thursdays, and Hail for the weekends. But hold the John Schaffer jokes, because here we have ANOTHER Ripper project: Tim Owens. Talk about merging the land of the dead with the land of the living! Regardless, “Play My Game” shows our man at his independent helm, writing songs on his own – which was the point of Beyond Fear, but I’ll bite anyway – with a number of well-established musicians in his depository. And you know what? It’s not complete horseshit! However, that’s not to go without saying “Play My Game” has its reeking moments.
So “Play My Game” revolves around a very simple structure musically: traditional heavy metal with groove influences. Hooray. Perhaps it may lean on the Neanderthal base sure, but there’s a surprising amount of good riffs and patterns popping up from an idea that usually becomes self-destructive. The instrumental foundation for nearly every tune is repetitive, catchy, predictable, and the opposite of pretentious, yet there’s a strong sensation that the job is done and done well. I found it quite unusual to enjoy something that this reviewer typically avoids like disease. But then, the foreseen meltdown of Ripper’s solo-project: kicking the dead horse of groove/heavy metal. “Play My Game” just plods along aimlessly like an insomniac nodding off for hours during four or five cuts after the first three tracks or so, drowning in modernized, alternative filth braced in crunched production and then stamped ‘heavy metal’ despite the atmosphere slowly degrading more and more. Then, a few songs revive the feeling a little, but it all just feels mediocre overall. As for Tim, he’s still got the highflying, mandating edge that awed the original Painkillers way back when; once again, we have a fantastic demonstration from one of metal’s most valorous priests, screaming like a banshee with blessed pipes of gold. Although I must say a solo project for Ripper makes no sense whatsoever, as that was why Beyond Fear created itself. But then again, the music is anything but the main point.
Simply put, this little guy revolves more so on Ripper’s vocals rotating on catchiness and almost pop structures than the straight-to-the-heart approach Beyond Fear practices; not really balanced musically, yet heavily orientated on Tim’s voice, and that’s the sole alteration beside a lapse in solid content. Overall, I’d say this formula is risky business once up against Beyond Fear. The album’s opener for instance, “Starting Over,” is actually a well-endowed anthem that rotates on this scale wonderfully with Tim’s voice leading the verse-chorus orientation to great, soothing levels. Several tunes within this whooper also act identically, although it ain’t as sweet: the scribed-in-stone set sometimes leads to monstrous repetition of poor riffing, substandard choruses, and flaccid tunes. Honestly, the ratio moves back and forth between good to utter shit like a pendulum swaying between awesomeness and defecation. One could justify “Play My Game” as a hit-or-miss offering simply by this analysis. Beyond Fear, on the other hand, applies opposite ideas which easily match passable cuts and eliminates something like “Pick Yourself Up” from ever exiting the womb.
As for some other aspects of “Play My Game,” we have a few. The only slight objection that truly stands in defiance away from the album’s nature is “Death Race,” a much-needed speed metal contribution that really dishes out spellbinding riffs and musical balance; I can’t even describe how fast and healthy the tune is from start to finish, which makes it the record’s highlight without competition. The lyrics aren’t the work of poetic immortals that forged Zeus’ library as you might have guessed, yet musically speaking, the tongue-in-cheek approach completes something like “The Cover Up,” creating a fun, catchy atmosphere that’s as unremarkable as it is intentionally unremarkable.
But then again, the massive spotlight on this bloated list of guest musicians – all failing to actually contribute their own individuality to the record, mind you – does precisely dogshit to the album’s final cut overall. However, Tim’s effort as a vocalist surrounding this vocal-orientated texture proves to be fun for what it is, albeit quite lax throughout an alarming amount of tunes. In contrast to many artists leaning toward the solo option, I think Sir Ripper has achieved an equal level of potency and volume representing metal’s status quo of mediocre results, making “Play My Game” good for a few listens before retirement. Not “Holy Diver 2.0” obviously.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com
I'm not even sure where to start on this one...
Without giving you a history lesson; I'll say that I've followed Owens' career with great interest after his departure from Judas Priest. I listened to his work with Iced Earth and Yngwie Malmsteen and felt that neither really allowed him to demonstrate his full capabilities. I had hoped someday that he would get the good sense to just assemble his own band, play to his strengths and kick out some old school screaming heavy metal.
That brings us to this album... After reading that Owens was releasing a solo album with big name guest musicians, many of whom I enjoyed in other bands, I had huge expectations for this record. I thought Ripper was finally off the leash and was going to release something that actually utilized his vocal potential! Unfortunately, I was in for more disappointment.
I was left speechless at the overall lack of heaviness, memorable riffs or anything worth noticing period. The problems began with the first song! I was certain that Ripper Owens was going to open his solo album with something approximating the title track to Painkiller: pounding double bass, hammering pedal tone guitar riffs and higher than high pitched vocals. I mean that's what we all want to hear him do, right? Doesn’t he know that's what he's best at?
Nope, guess not.
Nothing like that to be found here! Nothing like that on the entire album! I can deal with being wrong, I can deal with artists trying something different but this man sang for Judas fucking Priest! These were just generic cheesy assembly line "radio rock" songs; where's my classic speed metal?! I scanned every track on the album for a hidden gem and came away with nothing.
Maybe that initial disappointment made me prejudiced against the rest of the album but everyone I've spoken to seems to have shared in my experience. I'm listening to the album while trying to write this review but the music is so bland and full of cliches that there really isn't much to say... I'm a fan of Ripper but I'm starting to question why he repeatedly fails to hit the target even with some of metal's greatest guitarists behind him...
Having made a name for himself as a hired gun vocalist for bands such as Judas Priest, Iced Earth, and Yngwie Malmsteen, Tim "Ripper" Owens has won an extensive fanbase thanks to his own vocal talents and a pretty solid resume. Now with a little help from his friends, Owens has set out to prove himself as a solo artist with some interesting results.
Seeing as how some of these songs were probably intended to be included on a second Beyond Fear album and a good number were co-written with guitarist John Comprix, it's unsurprising that most of them sound like Beyond Fear outtakes. The guitars are reasonably downtuned, the riffs tend to go on a solid mid-tempo pace, the vocals range from drawn out wails to more aggressive shouts, and a few random samples have a tendency to show up before the songs themselves come in. A few exceptions to the rule do manage to occur within the balladry of "Pick Yourself Up" and "To Live Again," the more complex "The World Is Blind," the slow and menacing work of "The Shadows are Alive," and the appropriately faster pace of "Death Race." I also found "Starting Over" to be a fairly interesting track, for the guitar melodies sound a lot like something that could've come out of Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath...
While you've also got to give credit to Owens for the well known musicians that he's recruited for the album's writing and recording, it is something of a double-edged sword. Such names as David Ellefson, Simon Wright, and Jeff Loomis are quite fun to read off on a list of credits, but they do make one question the practicality of having so many famous names on a SOLO ALBUM. Tim, you're a great vocalist, you don't need so many big names to back you up. Not to mention there aren't too many stand-out performances anyway...
Unfortunately, one flaw that has carried on from Beyond Fear's self-titled effort is the lyric writing. Granted that the Ripper is slowly improving his abilities, they aren't quite up to a great quality just yet. It really becomes evident when he attempts to move beyond the slightly pedestrian introspective and determined themes that make up the bulk of the album. "The World is Blind" seems to be the biggest culprit with its overall theme of reaching out to the less fortunate. While the groovy riffs and melodic bridge make it a musical highlight, such poetic lines as "Pollution is so bad that when it snows, the snow is black" make the whole thing seem a little Spinal Tap-ish despite the good intentions. A few other noteworthy tracks include the intriguing but slightly cheesy Roswell themes of "The Cover Up" and the Metal Monster aesthetics of "The Shadows are Alive."
All in all, this is a fairly decent album in spite of its flaws. Worth checking out for the Ripper's fans as they wait for the next Yngwie Malmsteen or Beyond Fear album to come out, but I'd suggest that anyone else just stick with the bands that hired him.
1) As expected, the vocals sound pretty damn good
2) An interesting guest list
1) A significant number of lesser songs
2) A few pointless samples
3) For as many cool guests, there aren't too many stand-out moments
4) The lyrics leave room for improvement
"Starting Over," "The Cover Up," "The World is Blind," "Play My Game," and "The Shadows are Alive"