Okay kiddies, gather around Uncle Steel, Witchfinder General and Keeper of the Sacred Banhammer. It’s time for another metal history lesson. Once upon a time there was a little band called Heir Apparent. They played what we now might call prog-power and they were heavily influenced by the early works of Queensrÿche and Fates Warning. Their 1986 debut, Graceful Inheritance is a forgotten gem, featuring a dated but highly impressive take on proggy melodic metal, full of hooks and overflowing with talent.1 Long story short: The band only managed one other album (1989s One Small Voice) and then drifted into metal obscurity. Fast forward to present day, and what do I see in the noxious promo sump, but a brand spankin’ new album from Heir Apparent! How could this be? Where have they been hiding? Is this some pathetic cash grab? Will this piss on their small but notable legacy? So many questions that need answers.
Within seconds of opener “Man in the Sky” kicking off, it’s clear the band’s sound is right where they left it in the 80s. The music and overall vibe feels like it belongs in 1986, and I mean that in the best possible way. You’ll immediately think of early Fates Warning or Rage for Order Queensrÿche, and that’s a plus. New singer Will Shaw (ex-Ayreon) has a big, prog-friendly voice and sounds like Sebastian Bach mixed with Geoff Tate if you can get your head around that one. The song is slick and has that warm 80 prog-power sound with hooks and just enough over-the-top drama, and a few minor concessions to modernity appearing via references to early Dream Theater. The band steps it up considerably for followup cut “The Door” which could be on the latest Queensrÿche platter (or Lethal‘s excellent Programmed). Shaw lets it all hang out and the chorus is simple but huge and hookstactic. The song’s urgency and energy are great and it’s hard to believe this is coming from a band that’s done absolutely nothing since the 80s!
The View is a tightly written and concise 45 minute platter, and every song has something good going for it. Things flow effortlessly from melancholy power ballads like “Here We Aren’t,” which is steeped in 80s moods and dynamics, to aggressive, direct rockers like “Savior” which could have appeared on Operation Mindcrime or any Liege Lord album. When the band goes big as they do on the epic “The Road to Palestine,” everything is lush and expansive, aided by first-rate guitar work and outstanding vocals.
With three original members back in action, Heir Apparent kept their overall sound intact without making it sound as dated as their debut does now. Will Shaw was an essential hire, as his vocals propel the material to that next level. The man has a big set of leathery lungs and though he can do the expected high-range wailing, he’s surprisingly restrained and picks his moments to unleash the air raidy screams. He’s very much the polished prog metal singer but he keeps just enough grit and menace in his delivery to keep things edgy. Terry Gorle impresses on guitar just as he did back in the 80s, slathering the material with rich, tasteful, and refined leads and flourishes, but he’s able to get down in the dirt when needed to punch a song like “Savior” through your face. Derek Peace plays a mean (and audible) bass and at times he gives Steve Harris a real run for his money. These cats are very talented and the 30 years of expected rust seems to have come off as if by some dark sorcery. Tight, slick stuff.
I certainly never expected another album from Heir Apparent, much less one this freaking good. Whether you’ve heard of them before or not is entirely besides the point. The View From Below is a helluva good prog-power album, nostalgia factor aside. It seems talent isn’t as perishable of a skill as I thought. Hear this, then go back to their debut. Prog-power fans will not be disappointed. Lesson concluded, kids. Now get off my lawn.