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Mission Accomplished! - 82%

hells_unicorn, May 14th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, Digital, iGrooveNext.com

Though probably not the most common cliche in a metal band's lifespan, there is a growing trend in younger projects to begin as one thing and morph into something a good bit different in fairly short order. Usually this will come in the form of a one-man studio band or otherwise smaller, studio-based project morphing into something more formidable, though the peculiar case of German heavy metal outfit and newcomers Bloody Times, things managed to go from extremely humble to full blown super group over the span of two albums. Originally the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Simon Pfundstein, this band fielded a fairly humble offering in 2016 dubbed The Fire Of Immortality by handling most of the recording himself and having former Iced Earth drummer Raphael Saini, fresh off recording said band's unfortunately lackluster 2014 album Plagues Of Babylon, performing in a session capacity. The passage of time, however, has seen Pfundstein's stock rising a fair bit as he returns from the studio with a respectable collective of guest musicians and the full time vocal services of a long lost icon of the twilight of American thrash metal's original run in the early 1990s, namely vocalist of the iconic sophomore Iced Earth outing Night Of The Stormrider John Greely.

Despite the fairly sizable collection of Iced Earth alumni on board, this fold's second LP On A Mission finds itself taking a majority of its cues from Manowar, as was the case on their previous album. Though he has passed guitar duties onto several others, including original Manowar guitarist Ross The Boss, Simon Pfundstein manages to make himself the center of attention by delivering a highly engaging, technically proficient bass performance that both imitates and occasionally rivals Joey Demaio's wild 4-string and occasional 8-string work during Manowar's 90s era, complete with that raunchy, distorted tone that could all but pass for a heavily down-tuned guitar. In like fashion, Greely proves fairly adapt in this more traditional meets epic metal capacity, delivering up a combination of dense baritone croons and gravely barks that straddle the line between Eric Adams and Blaze Bayley, so much so that there are only a few occasional moments where one is reminded that he is the same guy who rivaled Rob Halford in his prime back in the early 90s. In comparison to these exemplary performances, the guitar work largely plays second tier to the bass and vocals, though when the guitars are given a chance to truly cut loose during the solo sections, it's a more than adequate display that's somewhat more restrained than David Shankle.

From one heavy-ended anthem to the next, Bloody Times basically runs the gambit of old school heavy metal possibilities, occasionally blurring the lines between traditionalism and power/thrash by allowing the band's latent Iced Earth tendencies to fully take over, and resulting in a series of impressive individual songs that run into some issues when approached as parts of a whole album. Things start on a notably down-tempo, epic throwback to mid-80s Manowar with some late 80s detailing in the keyboard department dubbed "Alliance", which is a bit long for an opener on an old school album, but an instant winner from start to finish. This formula reprises itself in the more compact, lullaby turned pounding stomp of "Future Secret" and the bass-happy, intricate stride of "Curse Of Genevieve". On the opposite end of the spectrum are more thrash-tinged anthems like the shredding Judas Priest with a Manowar bottom end cruiser "Die In A Hole", which also sees Greely trade in his lower gruff for a howling display that sounds eerily similar to Matt Barlow's work on Horror Show, complete with the Halford-like shrieks. The absolute coup de grace, however, is foundin the blazing speed fest that is "The Revenge (Until Blood Boils, Part 2)", which sees Greely fully revisit his Stormrider days and shattering glass for an entire, bone-crushing three and a half minutes.

A somewhat disjointed overall pacing aside, On A Mission is a pretty solid affair that will likely sit well with Manowar fans who are getting tired of the band only putting out an album of new material every six or seven years, not to mention flooding the market with re-recordings of classic 80s albums. It has a bit more of a modern projection that more closely compares with recent outings of the aforementioned USPM godfathers (i.e. Warriors Of The World Unite), but it definitely hits a lot of ground that goes back to the Sign Of The Hammer days. The typical Iced Earth fan might find the overall package a tad slow and overly focused on bass gymnastics relative to their usual poison, but this is about as close to a classic rendition of Greely's original run with said band that's been seen since, and fans of the old Barlow-fronted albums may find this a tad closer to the original than the Stu Block material of late. It's short of being an outright classic in the same vain as the material that it seeks to emulate, but when compared to most of the recent output of where many of these musicians came from, it definitely holds its own.