Reviewing Blaze Bayley records at the end of the year has become a new tradition for me. As a long-time fan, I have been heartened by Bayley’s most recent output. Infinite Entanglement, which marked part one of the trilogy of the same name, was a solid outing with a classic metal band that worked well. The production wasn’t great, but the record was filled to the brim with great riffs. Its follow-up, Endure and Survive, was an improvement over Infinite Entanglement. The songs were tighter, the production was better, and the story started to make a bit of sense. Then, in March of 2018 Blaze and company dropped part three of the trilogy, this one with the title of The Redemption of William Black. And continuing in stride, Redemption is better than even its predecessor.
The Infinite Entanglement Trilogy is meant to be an old-fashioned concept record. Each album is one act of a story with characters voiced by actors. Whether this is successful is a matter of debate. I like the idea but it has posed significant challenges to the production of these albums. Digital recording tech has made shoestring operating budgets possible, but voice actors don’t come cheap. There’s a B-movie vibe that emanates from The Redemption of William Black that could drive people on the fence to turn the record off. But while this might seem like a pretty brutal problem, it leads in actuality to about two minutes of awkward squirming as the album’s cartoonish villain monologues (“Immortal One”). And like the last two albums, Redemption is bolstered by another 46 minutes of the thing these guys do well: write great classic metal tunes.
The Redemption of William Black is loaded with great songs that show Blaze sounding damn good. His voice is throaty and still sounds undisciplined at times, but he shines in his baritone range nailing choruses with the power of a natural born metaller. He’s always at his best when writing choruses and Redemption features some of his sharpest hooks yet (“The Dark Side of Black” or “Prayers of Light”). Even where he’s had issues in the past—on the acoustic tracks featured on each of these albums—Blaze sounds great (“Human Eyes”). Yes, he’s melodramatic, but I think he’s a good lyricist and these albums show him continuing to grow in his repertoire.
But the reality of Redemption is that if guys with great metal chops didn’t write it, it would fall short. Blaze cowrote and co-produced this album with Chris Appleton of Absolva. The band—filled out by bassist Karl Schramm and drummer Martin McNee—puts in an excellent performance on an album littered with guest musicians including Fozzy‘s Chris Jericho, former Blaze Bayley member Luke Appleton (Iced Earth) and what I surmise is the brothers Appleton’s dad on the epic “Eagle Spirit.” Aside from “The Dark Side of Black,” which finds Blaze singing “The Launch” over a different chord progression, these guys don’t miss a beat.
I missed this one because I think I intended to do a three-album retrospective where I listened to the Infinite Entanglement Trilogy is a whole. Alas, life intervened. But The Redemption of William Black is an album that finds Blaze Bayley—the unit—coalescing. While I know that technically the Absolva guys aren’t in the band, the writing team of Appleton and Bayley is something that I hope to see again and again. These albums are increasingly good, and they are starting to remind me of another little Blaze band that could from some 18-odd years ago.
Songs to Check: “Prayers of Light,” “Already Here,” “Are You Here”