Retro-Review: Blaze – Tenth Dimension

Blaze - Tenth DimensionTenth Dimension got name-dropped in my “Top 15(ish) of the 2000s” from 2010 and I have mentioned it from time to time on the blog. Every time a few readers show up and say stuff like “Oh man, yeah! Such a sadly overlooked record!” And while it is sad that it’s been overlooked, Tenth Dimension was released in a pretty difficult context. Blaze Bayley was basically a musical leper who got signed to SPV because of his name and connections to Iron Maiden. The story of his first post-Maiden band is one where everything was stacked against them, including signing with a label that obviously didn’t expect the band to amount to anything. BLAZE‘s debut album, Silicon Messiah, got released on the same day as Brave New World, and (shock) no one heard it. Yet it was hard hitting, modern and conveniently in a key that worked for Bayley’s voice. It was also produced by Andy Sneap and was thick and heavy. Two years later, the band turned around and dropped a concept album called Tenth Dimension, which not only features some of my favorite artwork ever, but ranks among my favorite heavy metal records of all time. With a review of Blaze Bayley‘s Infinite Entanglement in the pipeline, it got me thinking about this amazing album again.1

Sadly, Tenth Dimension is a bit of the “beginning of the end” in the history of BLAZE. Meant to be a full-fledged concept record, complete with spoken dialogue, the rest of the band vetoed Blaze’s desire for that level of commitment to the story. But it’s precisely this tension within the band over visions for their sound that makes the material from BLAZE so good. The band, which played what one unnamed roadie for Porcupine Tree was called “good, honest heavy metal,” was made up of ‘locally grown’ British musicians. Guitarists Steve Wray (now in Soldierfield) and John Slater both seem to have been influenced by a healthy dose of thrash and heavier alternative rock. Their love of Metallica and Soundgarden shows through in the writing, which is groovy, chug heavy, and laced with wicked hooks. Bassist Rob Naylor—the first to leave—and drummer Jeff Singer (who would go on to play in Paradise Lost), were an excellent rhythm section. Singer is a truly gifted drummer whose technical skill and feel adds a much-needed backbone to this music, while Naylor’s songwriting, playing and tone were first rate. These guys were an extremely tight unit and I think you can reasonably say that Blaze got lucky to fall into this incredible mix of musicians after getting out of Maiden. It helps that one of the guys2 knew Andy Sneap, and so Tenth Dimension benefits from an excellent mix from a guy who would go on to become the guy in the mid-aughts. Hell, it’s even a DR8.

Tenth Dimension is an excellent concept piece and flows with the ease of the very best of its kind. It isn’t littered with “standout” tracks, but instead it maintains a high level of consistency from the opening strains of “Forgotten Future” to the dying strains of “Stranger to the Light.” The down-tuned, groove-oriented writing builds a base for dynamic variation and from that BLAZE delivered. While “Kill and Destroy” and  “Leap of Faith” burn out the gate, with a classic thrash undertone and ripping solos, they’re offset by tracks like “End Dream,” which reminds me of Alice in Chains, or mid-paced groove like “Nothing Will Stop Me.” Tenth Dimension even has a down tempo lull right in the middle, flowing through a perfect ballad—in the classic sense, not the cock rock sense—on songs 7 and 8 “The Truth Revealed” and “Meant to Be.”

Blaze 2002

Ostensibly a classic heavy metal band, BLAZE is a far cry from most ‘trad’ or power metal you’ll ever hear. The band was obviously influenced by classic metal, thrash, and alt rock, but it’s the combination of these different influences with Blaze’s very different vision and direction that makes the whole thing feel unique. While the band chugs, thrashes, and grooves, they also break out classic Maidenisms, lacing songs with beautiful dual guitar leads and epic solos. The choruses are big and memorable and the songs are sharp. The hooks stick and feature impressive and subtle guitar work not laden with the clichés of modern power metal or newer NostalgicWoBHM bands. Rather, BLAZE was unapologetically forward-facing. The idiosyncratic and epic feel of these songs helps to perfectly pace an album that clocks in at 52 minutes. Closer “Stranger to the Light” shows off the band at its best on all fronts: groovy, melodic, heavy, and the thematic repetition of the title track shows just how deeply these guys thought about the whole.

The album has an interesting concept, about a professor who sees the world as interconnected,3 based on the (fairly out there) idea that in order for some of the theories of quantum physics to make sense there would need to be ten dimensions. This scientist wants to make sure that this kind of discovery doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, and the whole album is a blend of very classic heavy metal topics—independence of thought, freedom, struggles with authority, etc.—with a science fiction touch. With gorgeous cover art and really cool thematic booklet (designed by guitarist John Slater), Tenth Dimension is a truly immersive experience. The record features some of Blaze’s best lyrics and performances, as well. Sneap really knew how to get the best out of him and he sounds really good—not too high in the mix, not too dramatic, and with a convincing performance.

Taken as a whole, Tenth Dimension is an exemplary record and one of my all time favorites. While the whole album flows perfectly and is the kind of record that I can’t stop after pressing play, songs like “Tenth Dimension,” “End Dream,” “Stranger to the Light,” and “Meant to Be” stand out to me, while “Leap of Faith” is probably my favorite. More importantly, Tenth Dimension is a snapshot of a band that really was firing on all cylinders. This album will be 15 years old in 2017 and it has aged remarkably well. The sound is fat, the writing is excellent, and it still gives me a feeling of listening to lightning in a bottle. Looking back, freedom really was there in the Tenth Dimension.


traybackOn a personal level, writing about Tenth Dimension woke some feelz for me. I remember taking to the Internet looking for Blaze Bayley’s newest project and finding low-fi pictures of the band performing at a tiny club somewhere in England. I spent ages on the Blaze BB, managed to get Lukara (if you read this I owe you £15 and a beer still) to send me a copy of the Tenth Dimension special edition when it was released. I was never really one of the core members of that forum, though, ’cause most of them were going to shows—one even traveling from Brazil to England in the middle of winter for the Big Bash which would end up being As Live as it Gets. Working my shit job and going to school I never had money to make it to England to see the band play and I think there’s nothing more that I regret from this period of my life than that.

Between Silicon MessiahTenth Dimension, and (most of) Blood & Belief, the institution that was BLAZE was a truly excellent, talented, and unique band that never got its due. Ironically, this is largely, in my opinion, because they were fronted by the former Iron Maiden vocalist Blaze Bayley. What should have been their “strength” actually became their greatest liability. Their real strength was based in that this was a real band, not just a backup project for a post-Iron Maiden vocalist. All five of these guys were necessary to make this formula shine; creativity existing at the borders of disagreements and different visions for the band. This fact shines through their truncated discography. Going back and listening to this album (again and again and again…) reminds me of just how special these guys were. I wish that I had been able to witness it all firsthand, but I feel lucky to have seen it happening from afar. I reveled in the band’s successes and when it started to crumble, I really felt it. All these years later, I feel happy to have these albums to go back to.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. And rather than wax 800 words about it as an ‘intro’ to my review of the new record, I thought I’d give it its own post.
  2. Steve Wray, I’m pretty sure…
  3. Blaze Bayley was writing about the theory of everything before it was cool.
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