Steely D loves him some Manowar. As ridiculous as their persona became over time, they were one of my favorite bands growing up and I still love that kind of epic, chest-thumping warrior metal. Ross the Boss was the guitarist during the band’s golden era and helped write many of their best songs. He left the fold following 1988s Kings of Metal, and since then he’s dabbled in a solo career only in fits and starts. By Blood Sworn is his third album under the regrettable Ross the Boss moniker, and the first since 2010s Hailstorm. This time out he’s joined by bass player phenom Mike LePond (Symphony X, Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins) and new vocalist Marc Lopes (ex-Meliah Rage). With such a solid supporting cast, I expected good things to happen. Even more so after seeing him play a live set of all old Manowar tunes last year, which was a whole lotta nostalgic metal fun. So is this the album that finally puts Ross back on the map as a Boss again, or is it just another broken sword discarded along Loincloth Lane?
The latter, by a wide margin. Despite the talent Ross recruited for this crusade, the writing here is as a flat as a cardboard He-Man promotional cutout run over by a rampaging Panzer division. There’s little Manomagic to be found, though opening title track attempts their over-the-top metal aesthetic with wailing vocals and a “drink wine from my enemy’s femur” theme. The problem is, it’s so generic and ham-fisted it just makes me want to go listen to Into Glory Ride and Hail to England. “Among the Bones” drops the epic metal like a rabid cat for something that sounds like a mashup of Germanic heavy metal and party cock rock like Mötley Crüe or L.A. Guns. The lyrics are pure hair metal, but the guitars have more punch and force. It’s an odd duck and left me scratching my head. Then it’s inexplicably back to metal warrior mode for the faux-epicness of “This is Vengeance,” which is fast and furious, sounding like late era Helstar with Marc Lopes doing a pretty convincing James Rivera impression. While it’s heavy and quite aggressive, it still feels very uninspired and phoned in, despite a few moments where the band’s musical chops are on display.
This problem contaminates the remainder of By Blood Sworn. The Hammerfall-esque power ballad cheese-fest of “Faith of the Fallen” is unappetizing and cringe-inducing, and sits uncomfortably alongside the power-thrashing “Devil’s Day” which sound like amped up Iced Earth or Helstar; bluesy hard rocker “Play Amongst the Godz”; and the Thin Lizzy meets The Misfits hot mess of “Mother of Horrors.” There’s no consistent approach or the slightest thread of cohesion between the songs, and it feels like the band jammed a bunch of random stuff and recorded it without much thought given to how it all would work together.
There’s no doubt Ross and LePond are talented musicians, so it feels like a disservice to their reputations to hear them crafting such weak, generic metal and hard rock. None of the material is interesting, catchy or memorable, and nothing gives me the slightest desire to hear it again. Marc Lopes has an impressive ability to scream like a banshee and can roughly approximate a young Eric Adams at times, but he isn’t much different than the typical metal wailer and his tendency to adopt hair metal vocal phrasing regardless of the song style is deadly, making even the most ballsy moments feel forced.
By Blood Sworn feels like a collection of unrelated songs recorded over a few years and packaged together to make a quick buck1. It pains me to say that, as I have endless respect for Ross and Mr. LePond for past contributions to metaldom. Ross needs to decide what his end game is and whether he wants to play metal or hard rock and then go do that. In the meantime, I suggest you skip this and go listen to Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins, which does heavy metal much, much better than this. And of course, Manowar is always a great option. Sorry Ross, you’ve been demoted.