There seems to be a huge resurgence of old NWOBHM acts releasing new albums in 2019. This month alone, I've reviewed Angel Witch, Steve Grimmett's Grim Reaper and Weapon UK already and here's the Tygers of Pan Tang. Yesterday a new Persian Risk double album dropped too. Who else is on the horizon?
The good news here is that they seem to be getting better and batter. Ritual is the twelfth album from the Tygers and it's really good. They've been back for a while; the most recent reformation happened in 2000 and they've put an album out every three or four years since then. I remember them from back in the early to mid eighties, having heard The Wreck-Age on original release in 1985 after they got back together for the second time. This is the fourth if we count the brief reunion to play Wacken Open Air in 1999.
Most of the band are new, the only founder member being guitarist Robb Weir, though he opted out of the eighties reunions. The line-up's been relatively stable since 2001, with drummer Craig Ellis dating back to then. Gavin Gray played that Wacken gig but didn't join the band proper until 2011. Guitarist Micky Crystal is the new fish, having joined in 2013. Jacopo Meille is the third vocalist since the reformation but he's been there since 2004 and he's a major part of why this album works.
Sure, we're immediately hooked by the guitars, courtesy of a rapid fire riff on the opener, Worlds Apart, that reminds of Tokyo Blade, but Meille's right behind it and he makes his presence felt quickly. The primary sound here is Whitesnake, somewhere in between the initial bluesy rock band and the slick and commercial hair metal band of the late eighties. Meille often finds that Coverdale tone and he does it well on songs like Destiny, Spoils of War and Love Will Find a Way. Occasionally it builds to Dave Meniketti power, though oddly not on Rescue Me!
It's interesting how he sounds like so many other vocalists without changing much of anything. On Raise Some Hell, another faster song with a great Tank style riff, he sounds more like Sean Harris of Diamond Head. On the Japanese edition, he even tackles an old Tygers track, Don't Touch Me There, from the 1980 debut, Wild Cat, and he's as different on that song as he's been, even adding some John Lee Hooker moments and, I presume, another with a talk box.
The album isn't far short of an hour, if we include that Japanese bonus, but there are no duff tracks to be found. Even songs slick enough for me to slip right off them on a first run through assert themselves on a second. If this was 1987 instead of 2019, Ritual could have become one of those rare records to see every one of its songs played on The Friday Rock Show. Some are good candidates for wider airplay too.
Part of the reason for that is that it isn't just Meille who shines here. I talked about memorable riffs and hooks on some of those earlier albums from NWOBHM legends, or the lack of them. They're here in abundance, so much so that I'd be hard pressed to pick a favourite track because it's always the one I'm on.
As I wrote this paragraph, I was thinking White Lines, which is commercial heavy metal at its best, but I was listening to Art of Noise and realising how solid its simple riff is and how well the guitars build late on in the track. Ultimately, I think I like the heavier riffs better, so Raise Some Hell and Worlds Apart, but only just. There are so many candidates.
As I listen to all these new albums from old bands, it's impossible not to notice how much better the production is nowadays. Technology has moved on and I've been waiting for something to come along that's just as good as the classics I grew up on but which benefits from that new tech. There were some songs on the new Diamond Head album earlier in the year that achieved that, but this is the first full album to do it and the result is glorious. This may well be the best NWOBHM album I've heard since the NWOBHM era.