I hate when artists known for a role in some famous/semi-famous band feel the need to feature their name prominently on subsequent endeavors. It always looks cheesy (Vinny Vincent Invasion), usually feels a bit desperate (Paul Di’anno’s Battlezone) and generally smacks of chasing faded glories (Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody of Fire?1). Steve Grimmett’s Grim Reaper is the newish band led by Grim Reaper‘s vocalist and the vehicle by which he hopes to recapture former accolades and ancient laurels. I don’t mean to sound cynical, and I’m not looking to bash Mr. Grimmett whose work I always enjoyed, but I’m really jaded toward this kind of crass, name-dropping commercialism (legal requirement or not). Anywho, The “new” Grim Reaper features no original members besides Mr. Grimmett, but their style is essentially the same – simple NWoBHM inspired metal with roots in hard rock and designed to be accessible, catchy and anthemic. I’m sure there was a strong temptation to pen a “See You in Hell (Again)” or a “Fear No Evil (Slight Return),” but to Steve’s credit, Walking in the Shadows features 12 new tracks over which he wails and warbles lustily. It’s been 30 years since the last Grim Reaper outing, so their fan-base is surely all atingle (though steadily dwindling due to nature’s cruel attrition).
For we the still living (cue the “we happy few” speech) a potential problem is the absence of original guitarist and lead song-smith, Nick Bowcott. I’m the first to admit the “classic” Grim Reaper albums were spotty and inconsistent even with Mr. Bowcott on board, usually featuring 2-3 gems and a lot of filler. Walking in the Shadows avoids the dizzying highs and crushing lows of the Bowcott era, and in their stead is a run of merely adequate tunes light on “standouts” and offering nothing near as memorable as “See You in Hell.” Opener “Wings of Angels” is 100% inoffensive old school metal from the 80s, barely heavier that what you’d hear on classic rock radio these days. The song wouldn’t seem out of place on any NWoBHM release from 80 to 85 and I suppose there’s a certain comfort in that.
“Reach Out” is the most like their glory days with a nifty old school charm and energy. It could have been on their debut and I like the stripped down, memorable chorus which Steve puts over with his trademark metal caterwauling. “I’m Coming For You” has the same simplistic charm and adds some amusing cowbell abuse. “Temptation” benefits from some effective vocal patterning and a decent chorus, and the epic stadium anthem “Thunder” is big, dumb and sorta fun, like Ozzy‘s “Shot in the Dark” but way less gooder and 2 minutes too long. The remainder is essentially filler grade or slightly above, and while no song is an outright stinker, cuts like “Rock Will Never Die,” “Now You See Me” and “Blue Murder” leave very little impression.
At over 50 minutes, Walking is much too long given the relative strength of the material. There are 3 or 4 easily jettisoned songs and no convincing reason for keeping the chafe. Sound-wise things are a bit flat. Steve’s voice dominates the mix, but the guitars lack real edge and grit. This could almost pass for a hair metal album but for the traditional metal vocals. While the original Grim Reaper material wasn’t all that heavy, this just feels too polished and safe.
As the band moniker makes abundantly clear, this is Steve Grimmett’s circus, so it’s no surprise everything revolves around his singing. It’s pretty impressive how little his voice has changed since I first heard him way back in 1983 and he can still deliver the classic NWoBHM sound. However, he oversings many songs (as in never stops singing to give the music some space), the songs are far too simplistic in structure and often lack a big delivery at chorus time. The backing music itself is extremely vanilla. The riffing by Richie Yates is serviceable but unspectacular and the rhythm section of bassist Chaz Grimaldi (Grip Inc.) and drummer Paul White (Reign of Erebus) do little to distinguish themselves as the songs bleed together into mass of recycled NWoBHM and rock. All this dooms Steve to wail away on pretty average, uninspiring ditties and the man deserves better.
I wasn’t expecting Walking in the Shadows to blow me away, but I hoped for more than this. If you feel nostalgic for the glory days of British metal and Grim Reaper in particular, I’d suggest going back to the old albums. There isn’t much here to transport you back to the days of mullets, mixed tapes and Milwaukee’s Best, regardless of who’s name is emblazoned on the album cover. It’s officially alright to fear the Reaper, Mary.