Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
There is no shadow of doubt, in my mind, Blaze Bayley is a bona fide rock n’ roll renegade. A metallurgical businessman, spanning across five decades from the mid 80s through to the present day leaving a trail of unrelenting fire in his wake.
An incendiary avenue that has charted the rise of midland rockers Wolfsbane, borne witness to fronting the downright legendary Iron Maiden and a subsequent expansive solo career that shows no signs whatsoever of slowing down. In fact this latest release, entitled ‘War Within Me’, is the 11th studio release from Blaze; the internal power and energy remains undiminished. On the strength of this showing there is plenty in the tank of this high-octane v8 rock-titan.
Album opener and title track ‘War Within Me’ is unrelenting from the very offset; uncompromisingly grabbing the listener by the metaphorical sphericals and with a gentle tweak sets out the path ahead. Thundering metal riffs are complemented by melodious segments layered upon a stampeding beat that Blaze’s vocals were made for. The bar is set and it’s evident that Blaze’s song-writing partnership with six-stringer Chris Appleton of Mancunian outfit Absolva is one that has most certainly borne fruit.
This partnership goes further with the both sharing the mixing and production throughout. Likewise, the connection with Absolva doesn’t end here either with the drums and bass being provided by Martin McNee and Karl Schramm, respectively, from the Manc metallers.
With the tell-tale roar of a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine ‘303’ takes off to relate the heroic undertakings of the undeniably brave Polish pilots of the Dywizjon 303 squadron.
Their story is one that needs to be told; with Blaze and his cohorts doing their herculean efforts justice indeed. Remarkably this squadron, one of two Polish squadrons to fight in the Battle of Britain, claimed the largest total of aircraft shot down even though they joined the battle two months after it’s commencement.
A machine gun beat lays foundation as soaring guitars take off before soaring, twisting and looping as the Polish, in their Hawker Hurricanes, engage the enemy as the UK stood staring over the abyss. Blaze’s searing vocals are of premium quality; anything less wouldn’t be acceptable in this arena.
This track is right up there with Sabaton’s ‘Aces in Exiles’ and Maiden’s ‘Aces High’; both of which also wrap expertly around this subject There are elements of both within but ‘303’ is its own beast and stands proudly alongside the two aforementioned.
A gentle, heartfelt acoustic start with beautifully sympathetic vocals heralds the self-prophetic ‘Warrior’. Blaze sings “I can be a warrior, with the courage to rise up again”; who would argue that isn’t a reflection upon chapters already penned. The first minute, or so, of acoustic gives way to seering tide of precision fretboarding and a thundering beat that the very gods would kneel down to.
The following track is fronted by a tasty six-string intro before the remainder of the band kicks in before Blaze successfully exploits the lower end of his vocal range. Come sing with Blaze and ‘Pull Yourself Up’; a rallying call of an earworm.
‘Witches Night’ is classic, straight-talking metal with a dash of heavy prog; vocals and riffs that are a ‘tip of the hat’ to Dio and Maiden at their very zenith. All done in a very classy manner.
’18 Flights’ relates the trials and tribulations faced by the international touring including the unforeseen earthquake they experienced in South America! A catchy, hook of a chorus will have the words “18 flights and 15 shows, 6 countries away we go, Couldn’t guess we couldn’t know” rattling away inside the cerebral matter as your heart beats along to the terrific solo. This is Saxon at their best with this track nestling neatly alongside ‘And The Bands Played On’.
Although ‘War Within Me’ isn’t a concept album Blaze couldn’t resist a mini-concept segment and next up is the first of three tracks that rock along to a scientific theme of the impact of three giants of this field.
First up is ‘The Dream of Alan Turing’ the mathematical genius who cracked the Enigma code, thus turning the tide of World War 2 in the favour of the Allies. Such was his achievements that it’s utterly bewildering the treatment he encountered, postwar, from the establishment based purely upon his sexuality. Within the track his life achievements are told in reverence with the band rising to bring justice.
‘The Power of Nikola Tesla’ is, appropriately, the high-energy filling in the scientific sandwich. The track simply shouts ‘Power and Energy’ from the very rooftops. Crashing in with thunder and lightning Blaze and his compatriots romp through three minutes of pure metal to bring the considerable electro-mechanical accomplishments of Tesla to the fore.
The scientific trilogy is wrapped up with the six minute epic ‘The Unstoppable Stephen Hawking’. This is a person who requires absolutely no introduction; an eminent theoretical physicist and cosmologist his life works are renown in not just the scientific world but the wider public spectrum too.
A prog-ish intro – reminiscent of ‘Infinite Dreams’ leads into a headlong Maiden meets Sabaton melding that is executed with aplomb by Appleton, McNee and Schramm with Blaze’s vocals soaring high upon their collective energy.
Album closing track ‘Every Storm Ends’ is a melodious ballad absolutely dripping in emotion from every pore. A melancholic reflection and projection upon that which has been experienced and that which is yet to come. On a release of high standard throughout Blaze and co. have saved the very best to last.
Who of us who were at the early dates of 1990s No Prayer On The Road tour knew that the singer of the opening band would, in a few years, wind up fronting the very act he’d supported? On the strength of this showing I must revisit that particular chapter for I now realise how wrong I was to permit a door to close.