Wednesday 4 December 2019

Millennium - A New World (2019)

Country: UK
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 25 Oct 2019
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Many thanks to Brian Mear of Mearfest for making me aware of Millennium, an English heavy metal band who emerged during the NWOBHM era and somehow went away again after six years without me ever noticing them at a point in time where I was noticing everyone. This is particularly surprising to me, as the vocalist back then, who also reformed the band in 2015 as the only original member, is Mark Duffy of Toranaga fame and I was a huge Toranaga fan, to the degree of being a signed up member of their Bastard Squad.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this had a Toranaga vibe to it from moment one but I wasn't sold for quite a while. I liked it but I didn't like it as much as I thought I should and it took me a few times through to figure out why. Once I did, I was able to settle down and enjoy this in a different way to how I enjoyed Toranaga, albeit not quite as much. I'll get to why later.

The most obvious difference is that Millennium are slower than Toranaga, the band content to chug along at a steady pace, dishing out elegant riffs and finely tuned power akin to Toranaga's slower, less thrashy moments. Duffy's recognisable voice is still strong and emphatic without ever losing melody and he's high in the mix. The rhythm section doesn't do much that's flash at all but is relentlessly reliable. And the twin guitars find a very palatable tone, higher and more melodic than Toranaga's.

The songwriting is strong and careful, building hooks on riffs, and it leans naturally towards the anthemic. I haven't heard anything close to Victory on that front in forever, perhaps since Twisted Sister's breakthrough into the mainstream with songs like We're Not Gonna Take It and I Wanna Rock. This is so defiantly anthemic and, let's face it, so lyrically generic that it could easily be adopted by a nation as its own. The idea of a classroom full of an eager bunch of kids belting out "Start to believe that you'll succeed and it will lead to victory" is priceless.

No other song reaches the same degree, but there are moments that do, on the title track or especially on Summon the Dragons, where Duffy finds a balance on the chorus between restraint and sheer power that's simply majestic. When he launches into the bridge with "They will rise again", I remember why he's as commanding a frontman as I've ever been privileged to see live. I saw him lead Toranaga four times in two years in small clubs. No wonder I signed up for the fan club.

The closest they get to Toranaga here is Assassin, not just because it goes more up tempo generally but because there's a moment three minutes in where the band cut loose with a serious abandon. It only lasts twenty seconds but they're a truly glorious twenty seconds and they scream to me that this band is easily able to blister whenever it wants to; it simply doesn't want to for the most part and this is where my problem lies. This whole album is too controlled.

Once I realised that, I heard it on every track but King of Kings is perhaps the most obvious culprit. Like the other tracks here, there's nothing wrong with it per se: it's built on good riffs and it runs on a good melody. It's delivered well, with the guitars particularly standing out for praise. It's also memorable, which is where a number of old NWOBHM bands have tripped up on new releases lately; Millennium never fade into the background.

However, King of Kings, and many of the other tracks here, feels like a dog that's burning to run but is stubbornly kept on its leash. Millennium do let that dog run a little, here and there, as songs like this one build. However, the band build so much energy that I found myself waiting for those moments when they give it back and they tend not to come. Remembering those Toranaga gigs, I wonder if Millennium let loose a lot more on stage. I'd love to find out but I doubt they're touring on this side of the pond any time soon.

As frustrated as this review might sound, I really enjoyed this album. It's good stuff from a tight band and it's fantastic to hear Duffy's voice again. I see that Millennium put out another album, Awakening, in 2017 so I need to track that down next, along with their self titled debut from 1984. This is a happy day for me. Thanks, Brian!

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