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Learning To Howl With Halifax's Black Moor - 88%

CHAIRTHROWER, December 14th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, Digital, Independent (Amazon)

Any music lover worth their salt is familiar with the NWOBHM. The British heavy metal revolution of the mid 1970s to mid 1980s introduced the World to a highly melodic brand of hard music and to this day continues to inspire aspiring metal heads Worldwide. But what about a more recent explosion of talent west of the Atlantic and North of the 45th? Yes, my friends, I'm talking about the emergence of top level Canadian heavy metal, which I'll euphemistically refer to here as the "NWOCHM". Included in this growing class of Canuck shredheads are bands such as Cauldron, Sanktuary, Striker, Phantom and the nation's very own heavy metal champions, Vancouver's 3 Inches Of Blood. Today I'm going to focus on a band from the Maritimes I've been keeping tabs on for the past few years, as I knew it was only a matter of time before it came unto its own. That time has finally come for Black Moor, as their third and most recent release, Brave To The Grave, is their most promising so far. It's also put the province of Nova Scotia on the map as far as traditional heavy metal is concerned.

Kicking things off in a blaze of furious finger work and a tell-tale "Whoooaaaaah!" on behalf of vocalist/ rhythm guitarist Erick "Hammerfist" Hanlin is Brave To The Grave's title track, which serves as a terrific opener and paves the way for one of the album's strongest cuts, "Running With Wolves" (hence, the title of this review) and a "girthy" bass intro on behalf of Robert Nickerson. While Hanlin appears to be shouting off the cuff throughout the first track, he's at the top of his game with the following:

"Take a ride in a vast machine
Sucked in the speed that you've never seen, oh yeah!
The one they want is you
Defeaning with a deadly howl
Determination to all around
Has come-
You know what you've been through
Run headlong with the wolves at your side
Run faster than the light!..."

Pardon my lame rhyme, but lead guitarist Evan Frizzle cooks up a sizzle on this track with his extensive soloing, which is of an undeniably hyperactive and melodic nature. You know how Ritchie Blackmore often pulls off a particular lick (with minute variations of course) within his solos which makes him instantly recognizable? Well, it's the same deal with Frizzle (what a name!) and his lead playing's signature flurry of off kilter notes smoothly linked together. This endearing trait ties in perfectly with Hanlin's contributions as well as the rhythm section made up of Nickerson and Kenny Myers on drums (ex-Orchid's Curse). On Black Moor's sophomore release, 2012's Lethal Waters, two tracks in particular stick out: "Hellraiser" and "Lost In The Shadows". This release ascribes to the same level of energy and heavy metal enthusiasm as those as well as fellow NWOCHM trailblazers Cauldron and Striker, (from Toronto and Edmonton, respectively) and other well established bands of repute such as Montreal's NWOBHM influenced Metalian, Sanktuary (similar to Striker in many ways and originally from Whitehorse -Yukon Metal!- but now also based in Halifax) and another cool band I recently came across, Calgary's Riot City (with a name like that, you'd think they were from Vancouver...).

The third track, "Black Wings Rise", is much more tame but allows the listener to catch their breath as it's sandwiched between the two best, the aforementioned "Running With Wolves" and the enigmatically titled "Crossing The Rubicon", which features "Hammerfist" Hanlin's razor sharp riffing as well as sharper vocals than usual. On drums, Bobby Webb swings the hammer down mightily as he puts his head down, tearing through this one with tremendous precision and zeal. Gunn's bass is on fire here too, gradually picking up the pace and throwing down some surprises as well. At the risk of sounding cheeky, I'll simply say Black Moor has definitely passed the point of no return with this instantly compelling track. Actually, it's such an awesome song the band should have saved it for last. This brings up my only criticism: one of the best songs precedes the only one I consider filler, "The Magician". On top of its corny title, this track is way too long at seven and a half minutes. Thankfully, "Born Into Battle" follows suite as the band's prerequisite, three minute face melter in the spirit of Cauldron's "Young And Hungry" or Striker's "Forever", thus overshadowing "The Magician's" doomier pace, which doesn't quite fit in with the album's flightful tone. As well, on this shorter track Frizzle the Sizzle even lends his buddy Hammerfist a hand with the backup vocals. (It's creating sentences like this one which makes writing reviews that much more rewarding). In any case, I've been waiting for this release ever since I glimpsed live, concert versions of "Running With Wolves" And "Crossing The Rubicon". Despite their poor audio quality, I knew right away Black Moor was a band I'd totally get into.

Now, "Garganthoclops" is somewhat along the same lines as "The Magician" in terms of its slower pace yet it picks up midway as the guys switch gears and unwind what could be built-up tension left over from "Born Into Battle". Expect more epic riffing and explosive soloing on behalf of Erick and Evan. "Killing Tomorrow", with Hanlin's soaring vocals, Rob's galloping bass line, and Kevin's frantically elaborate drumming, is another sure-fire winner. From this point onward, I no longer had any misgivings in regards to Hanlin's vocals. Moving along, Frizzle provides some classical influenced barnburners on "Extermination Squad"; it's also another drum and bass dominated track, in line with "Running With Wolves" and "Crossing The Rubicon". Like I said, Brave To The Grave is solid through and through, except for "The Magician". As for the grand finale, Black Moor honours that influence of all influences, the legendary Iron Maiden, with an extensive, nine minute long epic in the same vein as "To Tame A Land" or to a certain extent, "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner". At one point, acoustic guitars take over and provide some refreshing levity to an otherwise turbo charged production (I'm not talking about JP's definition of "turbo" either). All in all, this release ends on a high note.

Taking in consideration Brave To The Grave's playing time of just under fifty minutes, as well as the huge improvement Black Moor has brought to their musicianship and overall sound, I feel 88% is a just and appropriate score. OK, I know Hanlin's "young buck" shouting approach might not float everybody's boat but I think his voice suits the music at hand. Besides, he does have his moments on top of exuding congenial, pro-active heavy metal charisma in the same vein as Striker's Dan Cleary or Cauldron's Jason Decay. In a nutshell, Black Moor is right up my alley and should be up yours too if you have an affinity for top-grade traditional heavy metal, wherever it's from.