In the wake of the surprising comeback album by Satan and the enjoyable new White Wizzard outing, NWoBHM may be a bit more palatable to metal mavens young and old. Striking while the iron is hot, Ireland’s Stormzone roars back onto the scene with yet another ode to old-timey metal in the same vein as Iron Maiden, Saxon and Grim Reaper. I’ve been a big fan since their 2010 Death Dealer opus which really took me by surprise and earned one of the only perfect scores I’ve ever handed out due to exceptional writing and their irresistible old school charm. While their Zero to Rage follow-up had some minor issues, it was still a rabble-rousing dose of “true” metal full of catchy anthems. Three Kings follows the same blueprint and strives to take the listener back to a time when metal was simple, straight forward and fun. After spending time with this and their back catalogue, I’m dubbing them kings of a new genre forevermore known as “gesticular metal.” This is because you feel so compelled to adopt dramatic poses and point at things as you sing along, like so or perhaps thusly. With Iron Maiden being their prime inspiration, the bulk of the material sounds like a mash-up of Fear of The Dark and Blaze Bayley‘s better solo output. While they continue to craft righteous, old school humdingers, they also make the tragic mistake of releasing an album that runs too long and features songs that should have been left on the studio floor, thereby ignoring the sacred rule of LESS IS MORE!
Things open with an insanely dramatic and oh-so-very-Maiden intro with somber sound bites from Winston Churchill placed amid military drums and Steve Harris approved bass/guitar work. Though it borrows more than a little from the “Aces High” intro, it’s so cool that it partially overshadows the lead-in song “The Pain Inside.” However, it’s mid-tempo gallop gives off an infectious, true metal charm, the vocals from Harv Harbinson are powerful and the chorus feels stirring and gesticular.
Things are pretty great on the first eight songs, with “Spectre” and “Heart of Stone” hitting hard with catchy choruses and energetic playing. Both “Alive” and “Night of the Storm” ply the listener with pop-like sensibility like the late 80s Ozzy albums and both keep things rocking. Rounding out the good stuff, “Beware in Time” is a well done ballad and “The Path Loning” is an epic tune with a beer stein swinging chorus and folksy feel.
It isn’t until the back-end that the biscuit wheels begin to fall off the gravy train and while tracks like “Wallbreaker” and “Out of Eden” are semi-decent, they aren’t up to the quality of the earlier songs. Things get worse with “BYH” which unfortunately stands for “Bang Your Head”, and while Manowar can usually pull off these “metal 4 life” anthems, most bands can’t and this ends up sounding silly and dumb. The remainder is generic and leaves me cold. If they dumped the last four or five songs entirely, this would be a lean, mean dose of quality metal. With the filler plagued back-end, it drags the album down and wears the listener out.
As with the previous albums, the strength of the band is Harv’s vocals which can be macho and hard like Blaze Bayley, but soar quite high if the song calls for it. He knows how to ground the songs in the NWoBHM style and he’s always a joy to listen to. Steve Moore and new slinger David Shields provide loads of retro riffage and heroic, arena-style solos and they hit the retro nail on the head with their playing. Graham McNulty’s bass-work is all over this thing and his playing reminds a lot of Steve Harris, especially how he accents the slower segments with his pluckery.
What has always separated Stormzone from other retro acts is their knack for anthemic and truly memorable song writing. While it fails them some on the back-end, when they’re in the zone, they craft songs that take me back to the salad days of my misspent youth and prove this ancient genre can still be relevant and worthwhile.
Still one of my favorite NWoBHM acts, with some self-editing and a conviction that albums should be 45 minutes at most, Stormzone would’ve received another high score from yours truly, but Three Kings is just too long and has too much so-so stuff tacked on what is otherwise a mighty metal album. Since all the good stuff is front-loaded and contiguous, check it out and pretend the album cuts off early. Less is more, chaps, less is more.