Dad metal is a bit of a specialty here at AMG Inc., and Trespass certainly have the “dad” part down. The OG NWOBHM act cut their teeth in the ’70s alongside Iron Maiden and counted Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield among their early fans. But for a band approaching its 40th birthday, their metal resume needs some work. Footprints in the Rock marks only the third official LP of a lengthy career that, until now, has issued more compilation CDs than actual albums. Should you dust off the old Canadian tux and bring it along for a spin on the Harley? Or is there a reason I’m reviewing this record instead of Steel or Huck?
Given Trespass‘ roots, the methodical approach to “Momentum” should come as no surprise. Though vocalist/guitarist Mark Sutcliffe is the only original member left, the opener carries the deliberate pacing and distinct hallmarks of a band whose nascent performances featured covers of Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple. The tandem leads of Sutcliffe and newcomer Joe Fawcett certainly evoke the former, while the constant bass pressure of Danny B (Criminal, Pentagram Chile) and Jason Roberts’ rock beats bleed the latter into the proceedings regularly. Sing-along lyrics, copious chorus cycles, and a wind-through-the-mullet feel that all the best throwback metal elicits carry you through the simple yet effective track. Follow-up “Be Brave” kicks the tempo up just a tad, sprinkling layered arpeggios and well-timed squeals into a catchy romp that leans into its metal side enough to stick. Here, like most tracks, the axe duo hold a classic duel that serves as the track’s highlight, ignoring wanton shred in favor of a calculated path to effectiveness. The result is tight and well-rounded, sitting right on that threshold of rock and metal that dads everywhere love.
For the most part, however, that metal side stops at the surface. Trespass rarely, if ever, get your blood pumping. The promising heat of “Beowulf and Grendel” fizzles into something akin to a light throwback Visigoth without the pomp, while “Prometheus” and the title track stand out simply because they hint to Footprints in the Rock‘s pedal-to-the-metal attitude. Much of the issue here comes from a stunning absence of depth and speed. An album-wide sampling of the riffs would offer a smorgasbord of tasty heavy metal delights; further examination of individual tracks reveals a terminal over-reliance on one or two riffs throughout the song. After the initial sheen of its central riff wears off, each track, regardless of quality, lacks the development and diversity to be anything other than an exhibition in patience. Even the strongest track on the record, “Footprints in the Rock,” suffers from this to an extent, though it brings enough dynamism and energy to avoid stagnation. At its worst, instances like “Little Star” leave me more interested in the backing rhythms than whatever the lead guitar is doing.
If this record were going to work unequivocally, Trespass would need to lean more heavily into its composition or unearth undeniably excellent riffs that render its simplistic construction irrelevant. Presently, Footprints‘ stronger material stands on its own, but middling affairs like “The Green Man” plummet into boring very quickly. It’s a shame because even the less successful efforts contain performances worthy of attention. Sutcliffe and Fawcett have some good ideas, even if they aren’t implemented particularly well, and their solos elevate otherwise tepid offerings. Drummer Jason Roberts puts on a clinic, consistently crushing both his beat selection and his opportunities to shine, his open to “Dragons in the Mist” wasted on a mediocre song. Sutcliffe himself doesn’t have the world’s finest pipes, but he sits easily in a strong production that pops and thrums as well as any in classic metal.
I’m not the most seasoned dad metal listener, but I like to think I know good music when I hear it. For as much as Trespass might employ the same razor-thin compositions as Saxon or Accept, they simply don’t elicit the same reaction. Pinpointing elements that work in a vacuum isn’t difficult, but the results are very hit or miss. Footprints in the Rock may be proof of concept for a classic band still clamoring for life, but it won’t catch any ears that aren’t already looking for it.