Metal’s greatest underdog returned this year stronger than ever. Three years after crowning the Infinite Entanglement trilogy off with The Redemption of William Black, Blaze Bayley returned to the studio to record once again. The result was this album, a definitive reminder of his talent, work ethic and ability. The album returns to more traditional heavy metal territory to great effect. While the Infinite Entanglement trilogy was certainly great, after a trio of science-fiction concept albums, a little variety is much appreciated (especially when it results in an album of this caliber).
Things commence with the title track, heralded by some furious riffing that soon gives way to a more balanced approach as the vocals kick in. And speaking of the vocals, I am happy to report that Blaze can still totally deliver the goods. His singing is strong and confident and the whole album leans into that. Most songs feature powerful chorus melodies that will stick in your head for days to come. Just about every song on this album is really memorable and the prevalence of these powerful metal hooks is but one of the reasons why.
But back to “War Within Me” briefly, though the song itself takes on a little more than most of the other songs on the album, most notably with the multi-stage chorus, it sets the stage perfectly while still leaving some unexplored avenues for other songs to play with.
Songs like “303”. Regarding the Polish and Czech pilots of R.A.F. squadron 303, the chugging, riffy verses tell an engaging story backed up with stellar instrumentship. But to me the moment that really takes “303” from a great song to an amazing one is the brief tonal shift before the solo. Going slightly softer for a moment and incorporating some ‘oohoohooh’s, it keeps the song fresh deep into the listen and sets the solo up perfectly to knock things out of the park. And knock it out it certainly does.
“303” gives way to “Warrior”, a song that starts out a little softer than the rest but makes sure to really kick in when it does so. It is, notably though, one of the least memorable songs on the album. It is, however, telling of the album’s quality that this song is the one that’s a little overlooked, because in the end it’s a good song that’s just betrayed by better ones everywhere else.
But as if to solidify this album as the career classic that it most certainly will be regarded as in the future, song four is one of my favorites on the disc. “Pull Yourself Up” is the word ‘power’ distilled into five minutes. The chorus bombards you with metal and positivity, a combo that absolutely works. And then we get to the guitar solo. I have to commend the second half of the songwriting duo behind this album: Absolva’s Chris Appleton. I’ve been so busy extolling the virtues of the other bits of the songs that I’ve neglected praise the fiery note-fests courtesy of the great guitarist. As if the songs weren’t good enough already, just about every one has a killer guitar solo. And to top it off, just like “303”, “Pull Yourself Up” features a short soft section, this time just before the final chorus, that ensures that said chorus goes to 11 at pure metal enjoyment.
Not letting up for one minute, we find ourselves besieged by “Witches Night”, keeping the intensity at maximum. Though it’s a little more bloated in the back half than some of the other songs on the album, the incredibly powerful chorus (already established as an album specialty) absolutely makes up for it. You will find yourself mouthing the words along to it, if not outright chanting them.
Song six continues to keep things fresh, boasting probably the best riff on the album. Though most of the other songs feature solid riffing, they’ve usually incorporated it into the bigger picture with the rest of the song, but not “18 Flights”. We get the headbanger right up front, and the rest of the song makes sure to live up to the riff. And the lyrics chronicle the time an earthquake struck Chile while the band were playing a show there. You won’t find that anywhere else.
As the second half of the album now gets into full swing we now get to a trifecta of songs based on famous historical figures. The first is “The Dream of Alan Turing”. It’s a shorter number, and boasts one of my favorite moments on the disc. It’s a small thing, but the juxtaposition of the uptempo verses with the brief melodic reprieve that leads into the chorus really just hits the spot. Now moving on, the middle child of this trio of songs is “The Power of Nikola Tesla”, and it’s just some good ol’ heavy metal. It doesn’t shake up anything with the album’s established formula but it certainly doesn’t need to.
And the third song is the one simply entitled “The Unstoppable Stephen Hawking”. It’s one of my favorite song titles ever and the song 100% lives up to the title. It’s the epic, the centerpiece of the album and the second to last closing statement of this heavy metal magnum opus. Everything that made the other songs great is here in spades, and it even features its own little addition with a melodic intro a la latter-day Iron Maiden.
And lastly the album relaxes a little and ends with “Every Storm Ends”. Half soft and half heavy, it’s the perfect choice to close out the album. While it’s not the most remarkable song on the album, nor is it the best power ballad in Blaze’s career, it’s the right way to finish the disc. The short moment with the double tracked acoustic guitar is the highlight to these ears.
This album rocks so much, and if you do go on to buy this album, I highly recommend the CD edition. Not only do you get to look at that awesome cover art on demand, but you also get some of the best liner notes I’ve seen in a long time. Along with the lyrics, as usual, each song also has a few words from Blaze on the inspiration and/or recording of it. Plus, where applicable, a close-up the relevant Easter egg section of cover art forms the page background for each song. So to conclude, there’s no doubt about it, Blaze Bayley just released the best album of his career (so far).
The verdict- 5/5 stars
I tell you, Iron Maiden have their work cut out for them if they want album of the year.