Review Summary: A flawed debut that will still grab you by the balls and squeeze till you scream along.
American author and generally controversial di
ckhead Robert Greene once said in his book "The 48 Laws of Power" that you should avoid stepping into the role of a great man. You will be endlessly compared to your predecessor whose accomplishments will become canonized to a point of being superhuman, making it impossible for you to step out from his shadow. In summary, it's a lot like people comparing you to your dad and not in a good way.
Nowhere is this more true than in the world of rock and metal vocalists. Finding a good vocalist can be like pulling teeth. Finding a great one can sometimes feel like digging for buried pirate treasure in the middle of Utah. It should come as no surprise then that unfavorable comparisons are the order of the day in a genre notorious for its carousel of line-up changes day in and day out in every band across the spectrum.
Case in point, Ripper Owens. Ripper started out in a few small-time bands, cutting an album with Winters Bane that while being pretty good, didn't really burn up the charts. He auditioned to fill in for Rob Halford in Judas Priest and that's when the comparisons started. Ripper was always realistic about his position, knowing that he was only standing in until Rob rejoined the band. But that didn't stop people from putting him in Rob's shadow and refusing to judge him on his own merits. The matter was made only worse when he joined Iced Earth, thus replacing Matt Barlow whom many metalheads were ready to go totally gayballs for.
Ripper's main complaint with both bands was that he was never given a lot of chances to write and stretch his creative muscles. To rectify that, he created Beyond Fear with another Winters Bane alumni John Comprix on guitar, fellow Iced Earth musician Dennis Hayes on bass, and newcomer Eric Elkins on drums. The debut album followed a year later.
Now, let me get this out of the way. I've always liked Ripper and thought he got a raw deal from the fans. I'm pleased to see that he's making his own way now, but years of living in the shadow of other vocalists has probably caused his creative strengths to go undeveloped and it does show on this album.
The main problem here is that Ripper is trying a lot of different ideas and not all of them stick. I think we can all agree that his raspy, banshee howls are a trademark of his, and let me tell you, they really come alive on this album! The trouble is that he's doing some weird things too that just plain don't work. For example, The Human Race
and Words of Wisdom
both suffer from him doing this awful nu-metal-esque shout that completely robs his mid-range of its usual majestic snarl.
John Comprix worked heavily with Ripper in writing the album, so I have to pick on him a bit as well. It's clear he and Ripper both have a great love of classic metal along with plenty of thrash/speed influences and just a dash of Alice In Chains. The problem is that the mix doesn't always work. Coming at You
, while not a bad song, has the vibe on an 80's metal tune but when mixed with the sneering vocals and shrieks and the chunky guitar riffs, we get something that has the big hair and tight pants, but its balls are too freakishly large to make that spandex work.
Other nits to pick would be the overuse of echoed vocals and start-stop riffs. Songs like Save Me
and I Don't Need This
sound a little uncomfortably similar. And Ripper uses the AABB rhyme scheme to the point of abuse. On those same-y songs, the lyrics tend to suffer in the same way, generally being the same observations on the flaws of the human condition and it's self-destructive aspects.
And some things are just mind-bogglingly bad decisions such as the end of The Faith
. The song was poised to be a really good closer to the album, and then that fu
cker of an awful passage kicked in, completely destroyed the flow, and seemed to mock my pain with all the glee of a child stepping on an anthill.
All that said, we still have a really damn good album on our hands. Let me illustrate by describing my four favorite songs on the album.
is about one of metal's old lyrical love affairs: the giant robot that wants to destroy us all. Banshee cries and thrashing riffs dominate the song with a catchy chorus and wild solo. This song is essential metal.
And... You Will Die
is a creepy little number that shows Ripper able to smoothly transition between his falsetto and mid-range for some delightful verse melodies that put you in mind of foggy streets and a faceless stalker.
Dreams Come True
is the obligatory ballad on the song. However, this isn't a case of a Dragonforce ballad where it's just tacked on as an afterthought. It's actually one of the more lyrically interesting songs on the album for its contemplation of death. We also get one of the coolest bass lines on the album in this song, showing that Dennis really can do more than just follow the guitar.
And finally we have Your Time Has Come
. It ain't Iron Maiden's Hallowed Be Thy Name, but it stands on its own quite nicely. This is also one of the most musically interesting tracks on the album, with some insanely catchy riffs and drumming, especially in the slower section at the end.
Keep in mind that these are just my favorites, and not simply the only good tracks. All of the songs are at least okay with the exception of Telling Lies
, which is ultimately rather forgettable. There's enough energy to each composition that you will often find yourself over-looking the problems you have with an individual song, putting your head down, and just letting your tresses of metal warrior-ness rock.
Taken all together, Beyond Fear's self-titled debut is a creditable effort marred only by repetition and some experimental efforts gone awry. Musically and lyrically it's interesting enough to warrant a strong recommendation, but I can't decide on whether or not to rate it higher, partly because I'm losing my taste for numerical ratings, but also because the album is constantly taking one step forward and one step back.
Regardless of all the complaining I've done about this album, if you're into classic, thrash, or speed metal, I seriously advise you to check it out. You could certainly do a lot worse (i.e. Iced Earth's latest opus).