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Them is fightin' words. - 83%

hells_unicorn, March 7th, 2012

From a historical context, Fight is a band that has largely fallen victim to the infamous other project (Two) that Rob Halford involved himself in during the 90s. As such, few people talk about it, save some who were into the early 90s groove/thrash explosion and happened to see this band on the same circuit as Pantera at the time. It’s sort of ironic that Halford’s interest in the newer metal scene created a fissure that eventually led to Judas Priest breaking up in 1992, primarily because when they recruited Tim Owens to replace him, they went in damn near the same musical direction as this with “Jugulator”.

My opinion regarding this era of music are pretty far from favorable given the general lack of depth in the material that it yielded, but there are always exceptions to every rule, and that is precisely what “War Of Words” is, an exception to what was becoming a rather tyrannical rule of bands who became artistically lazy at the behest of the recording industry. This is an album that is more in the style of the transitional Pantera album “Cowboys From Hell”, along with a fair helping of Cro-Mags influences and a small smattering of latter 80s metal along the lines of Armored Saint’s “Symbol Of Salvation”. To put it plainly, anyone who is expecting the successor to “Painkiller” should steer clear of this and pick up the latest Primal Fear album.

Having said all of that, this is not an album wholly devoid of familiarity with Halford’s work with Judas Priest, but it is very clearly locked in a different genre. Rob’s vocals are dirtied up a bit to somewhat resemble the grittier growl of a thrash vocalist, though most of the really deep and harsh yells are handled by guitarist Russ Parrish, but the signature screech that he employed in the past to help define the classic heavy metal character of sound is still very present. Much of the early songs on this album function as something of a bridge between the old and new, particularly the grooving speeders “Into The Pit” and “Nailed To The Gun”, which flirt the closest with that nasty sound that Exhorder first brought to the scene a few years prior and led the way for Pantera to, in turn, lead the rest of them.

As the album progresses, things tapper off into down-tempo land and the groove elements become even more blatant. Particularly in the case of the heavily repetitive and almost plodding “Laid To Rest” which all but predicts Pantera’s slower repertoire on the next 3 albums they would put out after 1993. Even the somewhat Priest oriented mid-tempo rocker “Immortal Sin” is painted into a bit of a “Vulgar Display Of Power” picture with the deep, muddy guitar tone, even though the lead guitar work is leans towards the clarity of the 80s sound rather than the effects-steeped noise Dimebag was starting to play around with. But all of these songs are actually repackaged into something listenable because of Halford’s powerful voice, which refuses to full conform to the comical jock shout and blatant Layne Staley worship that was everywhere at the time. A single listen to the title song “War Of Words” alone demonstrates that although Rob switched sub-genres, he didn’t try to switch his voice along with it.

If the general groove metal scene had continued to follow a model along the lines of this album and a few other early offerings, rather than continually up the ante set by “Vulgar Display” by repeating riffs into oblivion and just being pissed off for little discernible reason, it would have been a lot better for it. This is a style of music that does have some potential for innovative maneuvering and even outright originality at times, but it’s so rarely explored that it’s flat out ridiculous. There are a few clunkers on this album, but for the most part “War Of Words” is one of those albums that mixes things up and keeps it interesting, and while Halford’s voice is the prime attraction, this is a solid collective effort by 5 very capable musicians.