There goes an attempt to express all the first thoughts after listening to the new Warlord album. Yes, this is a one-listen review, so demanding review readers and die-hards be warned!
A bit about Warlord, to begin with. The U.S. heavy metal band released one LP in the eighties, creating a small but loyal following of epic metal fans. That was mainly because of the catchy metal tunes and the obscure appearance and nicknames (Destroyer, Damien King, etc). After some initial success, the guys (including Mark Zonder – Fates Warning’s drummer) called it a day, giving a single live performance. Over the years though, their dedicated fan base demanded their return. In 2002 with the help of Hammerfal’s singer, Warlord recorded a new album that was met with mixed reviews.
"Holy Empire" is a much, much better try than their last effort. Old school heavy metal with epic lyrics and 80’s production. Try to imagine a sound less digital than modern production, more like a live studio performance. Warlord have a cozy, warm sound, much like the first albums of Iron Maiden or 80’s Judas Priest. The album will take you back to the old days, I suppose, dedicated to the fans of Manowar, Rainbow, Wishbone Ash and above all, to Warlord’s fans. I can't remember a recent album so retro sounding, like not a day has passed since their first album in 1984.
The music is riff driven hard rock/heavy metal. Bill Tsamis, the founder and lead guitarist of the band, steals the show with all of his melodies and solos. He has done an excellent job, so many cathcy riffs and melodies, it’s impossible to remember them all after just one listen! This is a grower, all right. Kind of weird, but after listening to Warlord I can’t help but wonder if Tony Iommi will give us so many riffs later this year…
All the songs are mid-paced, although the drums take it up a notch here and there. A special mention goes to the drums that keep it simple but dynamic. You can’t miss Mark Zonder playing, feeling the gaps between the riffs and holding the rhythm along with discreet bass lines. Zonder is the only thing that breaks the “let’s play like we used to, 30 years ago” recipe: I can’t imagine any 20 year old heavy metal kid playing drums like this.
The singer is mediocre. His voice is neither high pitched nor strong, it’s rather mellow and heartfelt. When he tries to shout he doesn't sound convincing, it’s his lighter tones that suit him the most. Then again, none of the previous Warlord’s singer had any edge in their voices. I can’t imagine anybody turned off by the singer, yet it’s also difficult to visualize an ecstatic metalhead raving along the lyrics. He sounds like a middle aged old man from the local church choir, telling tales in a tavern.
At first listen, I liked “70,000 sorrows”, “Glory” and “Night of the fury” a lot. I don’t know how much “Holy Empire” is going to grow on me, but right now it seems that the rating can only go higher after a couple of spins.
For: metal purists
Against: modern times
UPDATE: As promised, these are some new thoughts about the record after several spins. The rating drops to 3 (for the three aforementioned songs which save the day) from the original 3.5, and a bit lower (2,5) for the rest. The reason? I guess retro pleasures tend to fade away quickly when objectivity takes control.
Prediction: After this rapid downgrade, if i am still listening to it one week from today, i'll be surprised. A grade of 3 seems fair and square.