Onward – Of Epoch and Inferno Review

Way back in 2001 a very interesting but under-noticed album was released by the Montana-based act Onward. Evermoving was their debut and it was a highly polished platter of classic American power and traditional metal borrowing heavily from the likes of Mercyful Fate, Iron Maiden and Sanctuary/Nevermore. It was a rousing, blood-pumping ride filled to the brim with stunning, neo-classical guitar work by Toby Knapp. The songs were hyper-hooky with playing that was off-the-hook impressive. Evermoving became a much-beloved album and their 2002 follow-up Reawaken was nearly as good. Then they took a lengthy layoff and weren’t heard from again until 2007s The Neverending Sun, which was good but hamstrung by a terrible production. I lost track of the band after that and missed 2014s New Fathoms Down. I’d also assumed the project was dead since Mr. Knapp was busy with other acts like Waxen, Where Evil Follows and Affliktor among others. Therefore I was quite shocked to see a new album by Onward arrive in the promo sump this month. Apprehensive but excited, I quickly seized it and ran into the night thumping my ape chest in victory (read as: wictory). So what does Onward have left in the tank in 2022? Let’s drain it and see.

In many ways, the things I loved about Onward are still in place on Of Epoch and Inferno. Mr. Knapp writes some mean riffs and loads each song with plenty of them. His soloing is a thing of beauty and leaves no doubt about his massive talent level. Opener “Vicious Beauty” serves a dual function. It showcases the core Onward sound with a rowdy, fist-pumping classic metal feast sure to get you throwing chairs, and it also gives Mr. Knapp the opportunity to knock you through the wall with his virtuoso noodling and wanking. Interestingly, said wankery doesn’t hurt the song and manages to fit in well. New vocalist Robert van War (amazing name) has a pretty killer voice, able to sound like a rabid thrash vocalist while also having the pipes to sing quite like Pharaoh’s Tim Aymar. The template thus set, the rest of the album follows suit with a collection of guitar-forward bangers that are heavy and energetic enough to make the landslides of guitarwork go down like fine bourbon. Cuts like “Picasso Eyes” are almost prog-thrash and will make your head spin while keeping you in the pit, and “Silhouette” has a weirdly hypnotic blend of aggression and beauty.

“Ring Around the Rosary” is a riff bomb with lots of similarities to the early (good) days of Annihilator and Mr. Knapp’s style references that of Jeff Waters quite strongly at times. Songs like “Divided We Fall” and closer “Onward We Sail” are both extra heavy for Onward, approaching Overkill and Nevermore levels of crunch and punch. Through it all that blazing guitarwork lights the way, showering everything in sparks and metal shards. The proper balance of shred and clobber is maintained, the songwriting is sharp and tight, and the songs are kept short and punchy. At a scant 34 minutes, there’s not a lot of meat on the bone, but what’s there is good fun. The production however is a bit loud and guitar-forward, which can cause the vocals to get buried. It isn’t as bad as the sound on The Neverending Sun, but it could stand some tweaks.

Any album featuring Mr. Knapp will be a guitar tour de force, and this is no different. The man can burn up the strings and lovingly adorns every track with scads of shredding and tasteful noodling. Oddly enough, it never feels overdone or tedious. He’s got a knack for keeping you locked into his wankery because the songs themselves are good enough to contain them. He also handles bass, though you won’t hear much of that in the mix. Robert van War does a solid job vocally, injecting enough nasty energy and grit into the material while still being able to handle the more classic metal moments that require singing. His style fits what Mr. Knapp is doing here and I’m often reminded of Pharaoh which is a good thing.1

I had muted expectations for this unexpected Onward comeback and I’m pleasantly surprised by what Of Epoch and Inferno has to offer. Much of what I loved about their early albums is still present and there’s a more amped-up, battle-ready urgency which gives this an extra kick in the ass pants. This is a nice surprise overall and leaves me hoping to hear more from this version of Onward in the near future. Now get thee to a record emporium and find their Evermoving album, stat!

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Moribund Records
Website: Too kvlt for the webz
Releases Worldwide: October 28th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. I will always prefer Michael Grant as the Onward vocalist though. R.I.P.
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