I’m getting rather tired of raving about Chris Black and his many musical endeavors (Pharaoh, Dawnbringer, High Spirits, etc.). Not because they don’t deserve the praise, mind you. I’m just reaching the point where I feel and sound like a shameless fanboy, and Steel Druhm doesn’t like that. Not. One. Bit. Apparently, Mr. Black cares little for my critical dilemmas, as he’s now released another winning musical project where he’s joined by Jussi Lehtisalo and Tomi Leppanen of the strange Finnish act Circle. Together this international trio delivers what Lehtisalo refers to as the “New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal (NWoFHM), which sounds exactly like the late 70s rock of Blue Oyster Cult, Thin Lizzy and Uriah Heap. Their Paranoia debut is a short but sweet slice of earworm-y retro rockers with the same stripped-down feel as the recent Dawnbringer opus, but it’s much more upbeat and easy to like in the same way as High Spirits and especially Slough Feg. In fact, they manage to out Feg the mighty Slough Feg here, and that’s no easy feat. I suppose you could think of this as the lighter side of Dawnbringer‘s Night of the Hammer. Day of the Luffa, if you will, and it sounds like an musical exhale after darker enterprises. Damn you, Mr. Black. Here I go again!
Since Aktor shares a deep and abiding love for Thin Lizzy, many of these tunes have the same vibe as fellow Lizz-bians, Slough Feg, but are much more catchy and accessible. You only need to hear “Devil and Doctor” and “Too Young to Die” once and you’re sold on what they’re hawking here: a brainless, hard rocking good time. Then you have ditties like “Stop Fooling Around” that start slow before clobbering you with a super simple but ridiculously catchy chorus.
Likewise, “Six Silver Suns” and it’s Blue Oyster Cult flavor and straight ahead, galloping groove is hard to resist, and for those patiently waiting for a rocked out anthem for the germophobic set, “Something Nasty” delivers it in all its hand sanitizing glory (including the awesome line “here comes those germs again, you better wash those hands!”). And that’s the way Paranoia goes. There’s nothing deep or challenging here, and I think that’s the point. Even more so than Mr. Black’s somewhat similar High Spirits project, these songs roll by effortlessly with an old timey flair and an ear for sweater snagging riffs.
Vocals are handled by Mr. Black and he continues to improve as a singer. While he’ll never be mistaken for Bruce Dickinson, his mid-range sing/shout grows on you and fits the music just fine. The guitar is uncredited but sounds a lot like what Mr. Black has done in the past, and considering his penchant for purloining Thin Lizzy‘s style, sweet solos like the one in “Too Young To Die” are too Thin to be anyone else. The uncredited bass-work is also well done, adding a nice pop to the proceedings and going off its own way at times for some interesting flourishes.
The inclusion of Mr. Black’s more avant-garde Finnish friends does little to muddle the fun. Tomi Leppanen’s drumming is snappy and sharp, and though no one is credited with keyboards, I’m fairly certain Lehitsalo handles those and introduces the album’s only curveballs by way of strange effects and mild doses of electronica and 80s synths. This can be a bit jarring when they pop in, like on “Where is Home,” especially in the body of such simplistic rockers, but they work and add an offbeat texture.
Downsides are few, but the front-half of the album is noticeably stronger and more addictive than the back-end and though we at AMG are big advocates of keeping songs short, some of these feel too short at two or three minutes and end just as you’re getting into the groove.
Now that I’ve been reduced to a mindless Black fanboy, all I can say is the man is on a helluva winning streak. If you haven’t yet heard Dawnbringer or High Spirits, you’re living under a moldy rock. Now you can add Aktor to the list of his projects you’re missing as you sit in mold-encrusted ignorance. Now get out from under that rock and…roll!
Post Script: Mr. Black has informed us that he played bass and a few of the solos.