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December Wind

Blaze Bayley / Thomas Zwijsen

Taking one step back to take two steps forward - 82%

kluseba, November 23rd, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Blaze Bayley Recordings

Heavy metal singer Blaze Bayley, acoustic guitarist Thomas Zwijsen and violinist Anne Bakker have collaborated on several occasions and built a quite great chemistry over the past few years. After the massive Infinite Entanglement trilogy, Blaze Bayley takes one step back to take two steps forward with this beautiful collaborative effort. His expressive vocals harmonize with the dynamic acoustic guitar play and occasional melancholic violin sounds in some select songs. Seven of the eight tracks are new songs and surprise with intriguing lyrics about Operation Overlord and the Miracle on the Hudson for instance. The passionate rendition of one of Iron Maiden's most underrated songs with the melancholic ''2 AM'' blends in perfectly. As an extra gimmick, the rare acoustic release Russian Holiday involving the same three musicians five years earlier, has been added to the release.

Unfortunately, the release opens with the weakest song in form of the slightly stressful ''Eye of the Storm''. The acoustic guitar riffs are too heavy and quick and Blaze Bayley's vocals sound too domineering and out of tone. The duo however quickly rights the ship and gets better as the album progresses. ''Miracle on the Hudson'' is a wonderful piece of campfire storytelling that easily helps you picture the dramatic events described in the song. ''December Wind'' is a heartfelt ballad performed with conviction and passion. My personal highlight is ''The Crimson Tide'' which is by far the longest new song but never gets boring with its slight changes and variations in the guitar play, emotional and gripping vocals and inspiring lyrics about one of the most important historical events of the past century.

The only downside is that this wonderful record ends much too quickly. I could have listened to the inspiring and almost spiritual acoustic rock songs with occasional violin sounds for hours and hours. If you like acoustic rock and flamenco, you will love this album. You should also give December Wind a chance if you like the works of Blaze Bayley and Iron Maiden or if you are interested in acoustic renditions of hard rock and heavy metal music. After the previous studio records that were quite overloaded and hard to digest, it's refreshing to see Blaze Bayley take a step back and release this heartfelt gimmick for the Christmas season.

In the cold December wind... - 77%

Silicon Messiah, November 10th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Blaze Bayley Recordings

It’s aleady well proven fact that Thomas Zwijsen can make serious magic when he gets into his thing in all the right ways. Toss Blaze Bayley into that mix and things can turn great into awesome, as was evident on the first Infinite Entanglement (2016) installment, with modern classic 'What Will Come'. Since, they’ve continued collaboration on several occasions, mainly in live performances and on some of Zwijsen’s solo cover albums.

More often than not, they turn some of Bayley’s Maiden classics into acoustic pieces that mirror the emotive depth of the originals while taking a new twist and still sounding perfectly natural to their original selves, thanks to Bayley’s vocals. They did a collab in Russian Holiday (2013), but in comparison, this one takes several huge steps up.

As winter sets in, the two release the collaboration EP December Wind, of eight modest tracks, seven of which are newly written, and the remaining a Maiden cover. The style is simple; Zwijsen’s single acoustic guitar, his flamenco playing that oftentimes makes it sound like several guitars at once, and Bayley adding his touch on top. Together they do the acoustic ventures that have taken a twist to the balls of Bayley’s main band’s metallic course.

There was no such track on the final Infinite Entanglement installment, The Redemption of William Black (2018) released earlier this year, however, but 'We Fell From The Sky' from here adds that missing piece. It’s one of the highlights, in large thanks to the extra dimension added by Anne Bakker’s violin, and of course Bayley’s chorus which is catchy and heartbreakingly emotive in equal measure. The final track, 'The Love of Your Life' is the only one that sticks out. It doesn’t really fit in, just feels misplaced and odd in the otherwise really emotive surroundings.

All the tracks here are neat performances. Nothing your average metal fan will write home about, but definitely something fans of classic guitar will like. And fans of Bayley, given his emotive input. Bayley is one of metal’s finest vocalists, and with Zwijsen he’s proved that he can also do the ballads complete justice. His input is simple, not trying to take place and not overdone as they might have been in his earlier days; he has mellowed and matured something colossal with age and experience, and it does his voice a world of good.

All in all, this EP sees the best of Zwijsen, and the most heartfelt of Bayley - and not in a bunch of cover songs, but original compositions. I won’t be blasting this on eleven until kingdom come, but it takes all the right turns that 'What Will Come' did right, and as such I might just start to like it.

Standout tracks: Miracle on the Hudson, December Wind, We Fell From the Sky

Here I Am Again, Look at Me Again - 75%

Twisted_Psychology, November 9th, 2018

Blaze Bayley is no stranger to the acoustic format. A well-established partnership with classical guitarist Thomas Zwijsen has resulted in numerous reinterpretations of the singer’s extensive catalog in and out of Iron Maiden, as well as the occasional ballad on his most recent solo outings. December Wind is a big step forward for the collaboration; aside from a take on “2AM” (Gotta fill out that Maiden quota somehow), this is all original material.

The results are admittedly gimmicky, but the premise certainly wasn’t taken lightly. The songs all keep to a three to four-minute average and the presentation rarely moves beyond vocals, guitars, and Anne Bakker’s occasional violin, but the songs themselves are surprisingly varied. “Love Will Conquer All” and the title track opt for the expected balladry, but the flamenco struts on tracks like “Eye of the Storm” could’ve easily fit the full heavy metal format. The session even shows a light-hearted side with the two-minute singalong “The Love of Your Life.”

Of course, the presentation does get a little rough at times. Blaze’s wailing baritone has the same lack of subtlety as it does on his metal material, sometimes drowning out the softer guitar work and adding a little silliness to tracks like “Miracle on the Horizon.” A little restraint probably would’ve benefitted the material, but Blaze’s enthusiasm is endearing in just about any format. If anything, I find myself wishing that the guitars on “2AM” weren’t so fast; such a somber song needs the breathing room that only a slower arrangement could provide.

Overall, December Wind won’t add too many staples to Blaze Bayley’s repertoire, but it’s a pleasant listen that highlights his sincerity as a performer. With so many veteran musicians trying for the “unplugged” format, it’s refreshing to see Blaze and Zwijsen do more than bank on familiarity. I’d stick to Wino or Dax Riggs if you want the best of metal gone acoustic, but Blaze fans should appreciate this.

“Eye of the Storm”
“Miracle on the Horizon”
“The Love of Your Life”

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