by Martin Popoff

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Fresh Metal

Chasing The Grail (Riot Entertainment)

Fozzy's first serious album All That Remains is eventually going to be recognized as one of the metal masterpieces of the '00s. What utilitarian musical genius Rich Ward and killer vocalist Chris Jericho (in bands since 13; wrestling came later) hath wrought on that thing... well, having them back is cloud-busting. And what have we here? Fozzy have bravely moved forward, or laterally as it were, Chasing The Grail tossing like Chinese darts both positives and negatives o'er the 11/10 last, but intrigue, mainly. So yeah, Chasing The Grail is interestingly more melodic, and there's even a ballad or two, one of them, gorgeously southerny, the other creepy Depeche. It's also weirdly synthetic, in terms of studio trickery, which seems to be something applied to both vocals and the tornado percussive flood of hits to the body. But the beauty of this hugely crafted metal spread is the gaping maw of dynamics, which gives it a relentless epic-ness. Forget that there's an actual 13 minute epic on it, hell, much of it's a proggy blast at the face, from 'Under Blackened Skies' to 'Pray For Blood' and back again. And let's ponder that all of this actually doesn't add up to ballerina power metal. No, bloody Rich is to classic and doomy and rhythmic and all sorts of things (political, iron-pumping) that add to his raging musical genius. Chris nails it as well, when he says that this is a form of pounding metal with melodic vocals. And come to think of it, his love of Helloween, then - really, then - Priest or Maiden, man, it's massaged in like a fine stain on teak. Frankly, my first few spins of this accentuated the above negatives, but after a few headphone-immersed revisitations, there are some bold, mature, 'I Am, I'm Me' qualities to this album that are missing from the (well, I still think it's somehow heavier) All That Remains. So man, gotta go, but Fozzy should be... what? In this day and age, how big can you be? They should be in packages with Testament and Machine Head, basically, because of the high intellectual execution and taste and lyrics and vocals and the whole package of inspired metal-making all over this thing, melody bravely infused, critics of that be damned.
Rating 9

Celebration (Edel)

Not sure why bands do this. Apparently covering their own songs allows them to keep more of the pie, if people buy these versions instead of the originals - always a big if. This is all about layers of irony and nostalgia. Anyway, Celebration is a punchy re-recordings album, the current lineup (and most significantly as these things go, vocalist Bernie Shaw, 22 years with the band) blazing through tracks like 'Gypsy', 'Look At Yourself' and late rocker 'Free 'n' Easy' plus two tracks that could have fit the excellent recent studio album Wake The Sleeper. In general, the band attack these songs, percussively slamming them, vocally articulating them thespian to the max, Hammond grinding them, accenting relentlessly. In other words, there's an ebullient on-fire aspect to the exercise, which I suppose was required, but nonetheless is emphatically there. It's weird, it's almost like sonically, Heep is raising the stakes against their chief rival Yes in the soul-replenishing positivity well of good tidings department, and like I say, accomplishing it through performance, because they aren't re-writing the old songs in the image of their more direct and succinct philosophy of spiritual bathing. So yeah, Wake The Sleeper did it with the full arsenal, and this is doing it through tight, punchy, energetic performance of old chestnuts picked from a bewildering kaleidoscope of albums and their attendant vibes. Highlights: 'Bird Of Prey' and 'Sunrise', but bloody 'ell, I know the Germans like it, but please, no more 'Free Me'.
Rating 8

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