Depending on your perspective, Charred Walls of the Damned are either a supergroup composed of metal legends, or a fucking joke. Sure, the band is masterminded by drummer Richard Christy (Death, Iced Earth, The Howard Stern Show), and fellow Death veteran Steve DiGiorgio is on bass. At the mic is none other than Tim “Ripper” Owens, one of the most polarizing vocalists in the genre — to the extent that AMG himself has a legitimate beef with the ex-Judas Priest/Iced Earth frontman. Creatures Watching Over The Dead is the unnecessarily-long title of their 3rd album, their first in about 5 years.
Opening track “My Eyes” is nothing special to these ears, but then on “The Soulless,” Charred Walls suddenly hits it out of the goddamn park. From the blastbeat-fueled intro riff, to Ripper’s soaring chorus vocal, to the Andy-Laroque-on-bath-salts guitar solo, this song is pretty much flawless. Ditto for “Reach Into The Light,” which finds Mr. Owens at the Painkiller-esque edge of his range, over riffage that would make Chuck Schuldiner proud. Moments like this reveal the band’s full potential, and I wish they could write a whole record of this caliber, instead of just two or three tracks.
While I don’t hate Owens’ voice nearly as much as AMG does, I will concede that his abilities are limited. He generally sings in one of two styles: the Halford-esque shrieking that got him the Priest gig in the first place, and a lower range in which he tries to sound menacing and dramatic, regardless of lyrical content. The problem is compounded by the fact that Christy himself handles lyric duties, resulting in some awkward vocal phrasing. “My Eyes” is a prime example, cramming way too many words into each measure. Then there’s the power ballad “Afterlife,” where Owens emotes as hard as he can, but the song’s vocal pattern gives him very little to work with.
The other tracks on Creatures are a bit of a mixed bag. “Lies” attempts a more melodic “modern metal” approach, but falls flat under weak riffs and an annoying vocal pattern. The upbeat “Living in the Shadow of Yesterday” is power metal at its very cheesiest, but damn if that isn’t a really catchy chorus. Closer “Time Has Passed” straddles that line between melody and aggression, and reminds me a lot of Christy and DiGiorgio’s other old band, Control Denied. All of these songs are pretty short, and the entire album clocks in at a meager 33 minutes.
Despite producing a ton of bands I hate (Devildriver, Chimaira, Trivium, and so on), Jason Suecof is an absolutely incredible metal guitarist. His riffing style complements the heavier material perfectly, and even when the band detours into more melodic terrain, like “As I Catch My Breath,” he makes it work. And his soloing is ridiculously good throughout, weaving melodies in between plenty of shredder flash. Suecof also has my gratitude for giving DiGiorgio the biggest, baddest recorded tone he has had to date. DiGiorgio himself delivers a bass masterclass as always, while also finding ways to play interesting counterpoints around Suecof’s riffs.
Regardless of the band’s all-star pedigree, no one in Charred Walls is particularly known for their artistic vision or songwriting prowess. Yes, three of them were in staggeringly good bands, but merely in supporting roles. On paper, “ex-members of Death and Judas Priest” sounds like a metalhead’s wet dream, and there are a few tracks here that pack a considerable punch. But more often, those highlights feel like a product of luck, as if the band is merely throwing ideas at the (charred) wall and seeing what sticks.