Friday 8 November 2019

Steve Grimmett's Grim Reaper - At the Gates (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 11 Oct 2019
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I remember Grim Reaper without remembering Grim Reaper. They were around at the point I discovered rock and metal, though I don't recall them ever being played on the Friday Rock Show. Their second album, Fear No Evil, was one of the first albums I bought, I believe, the memorable hand-drawn cover art as unapologetically metal as it gets with its grim reaper, in flowing red robe and with a scythe strapped perhaps unwisely to its back bursting through a stained glass window on a motorbike.

What I don't recall are the songs, even after going back to that album in a quest to spark my memory. I remember vocalist and the band's current leader, Steve Grimmett, more from other bands. He was on the underrated Chateaux LP Chained and Desperate, joined Onslaught for their third album and formed the excellent band Lionsheart in the early nineties.

For a while, this album made me wonder if I just wasn't paying due attention back then, because it's top notch metal in the British style of the eighties that I remember growing out of NWOBHM, with a heavy but melodic approach. The drums pound, the guitars take flight and the vocals soar, but everything is done with hooks firmly in mind. It's fast stuff but it's not speed metal. It's technical but it's not complex. It's catchy but, outside Iron Maiden, it's not what made it into the charts.

Then I started to realise the fatal flaw. After a few listens through to get the general impact, I realised that every song is solid but none of them are able to stand out for special attention. Taken in isolation, every song here is decent, worthy of our attention on its own merits, and each of them does its job in a slightly different way. However, put together, none of them is particularly memorable and neither is the album as a whole.

Part of that may be because the best of the songs are at the very beginning: the title track and Venom, tracks one and two. The former has the best riff and the latter the best hook, or maybe that should be the other way round. Either way, they would both be solid singles. From there onwards, I enjoyed every song and never felt that the quality dropped off, but I still didn't leave the album with the feeling that I'd just heard something amazing.

I thought about how we're used to much heavier material nowadays; this isn't remotely extreme. We're used to a lot more complex music; this is content to do without frills. There's nothing original or groundbreaking; if it wasn't for the excellent modern production, this could easily have been written in 1986. All four musicians are clearly capable and it's good to see that Steve Grimmett's voice hasn't lost any power at all over a decade or three, but I can't call anyone out for special mention. The problem is that every point I just made suggests that this is run of the mill and it isn't.

What it is, I think, is outstandingly generic. I must have seen every one of these song titles on a dozen other albums and the lyrics are also likely to be similar every time out too. Under the Hammer is decent but it's also just another song called Under the Hammer that does pretty much what every other song called Under the Hammer does. What is there in this one that might make me remember it? Nothing.

I liked Breakneck Speed, except for the fact that it's not delivered close to breakneck speed and I'm more likely to remember a song with that title if it's recorded by an actual speed metal band. What's Line Them Up about? Or Rush? What Lies Beneath? I really can't remember and I've been listening to them for a few hours now.

And that's why my eventual feeling here is disappointment. There isn't a bad song on this album, but I doubt that there's one that I'm going to remember in a couple of weeks. Listening to it, I'm thinking 7/10 at least because I'm having a ball with it but, if I wait an hour and think again, it can't be anything but 6/10 because I can't remember anything. Maybe that's why those eighties albums haven't stayed with me either.

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