Thursday 12 March 2020

Ross the Boss - Born of Fire (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Heavy/Power Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 6 Mar 2020
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Here's something new to me. I've heard quite a lot of Ross the Boss over the years, not just with Manowar (Hail to England is one of my top ten albums of all time) but also with Shakin' Street and the Dictators. However, he's made four solo albums now, oddly backed by a Manowar tribute band formerly called Men of War, who hail from Germany, and I haven't heard any of them until now but I'm glad to catch up.

This one at least is heavy metal as sonic assault and it took me a couple of listens to really grasp what they're doing. It's easy to go passive in such an onslaught and let it wash over you. I could imagine leaving a venue after a Ross the Boss set and thinking, "That was intense! Now, what did the band sound like? I can't quite remember. They were intense..."

The key to the sound is energy and the production is able to assist that. I caught a little Manowar in there, as we might expect, but surprisingly very little, because this material is faster, heavier and much more up front and in your face, with strong elements of power metal and thrash metal to scare away any thought that the band might be wearing loincloths while they play. Glory to the Slain may be a title worthy of Manowar but the song itself has far more valid comparisons to Overkill.

It's also over in under three minutes, because this band don't hang about: a dozen tracks add up to three quarters of an hour, with only of them reaching the five minute mark. They get up to play and blitz through song after song before wandering off for a beer. There's no time for cymbal solos here, even opening narrations. It's all about power and energy and no nonsense getting the job done.

The influences are really all over the map, which makes the band interesting to figure out once we get to the point where we can listen to the songs, not just let them punch us in the face over and over. Fight the Fight is kind of like Motörhead covered by a European power metal band who boast an ambitious vocalist. There's folk metal to kick off Maiden of Shadows but it moves into Crimson Glory territory too. I am the Sword is machine gun Judas Priest with maybe some Helloween layered over the top. The title track is probably the truest European power metal, with a major hook of a chorus.

I'd throw out Judas Priest as the most obvious influence, the basis for all that European power metal. However, while the vocals of Marc Lopes do aim at Rob Halford on occasion, he doesn't just stay there. He's so quintessential a metal singer that he doesn't ever really sing much, but he never growls or shrieks like he's dipping into the extremes either. This is older school: he snarls and chants, he screams and preaches, he conjures and commands. It's a good performance but some people may see it as a bit much and I think I'm among them. He even layers on occasion, I believe, because it doesn't sound like backing vocalists joining in.

Of course, as prominent as Lopes is here, the band is named Ross the Boss as an acknowledgement of its leader, Ross Friedman, who has gone by the moniker Ross the Boss forever. He was there in New York City in 1973 co-founding the Dictators when I was figuring out how to walk. He's not new but he's just as full of energy as he ever was. The guitars here reminded me of Painkiller, a clean buzzsaw sound that really resonates. The key difference, of course, is that Priest have two guitarists and Ross the Boss is the only one here.

I liked this but not as much as I wanted to. Even after a few times through, it sounds good but doesn't stay in my brain. The catchiest number is surely the title track but that's ironically probably my least favourite song here. It's the riffs that are likely to stay with me most and there are plenty of them on offer, especially in the incessant but interesting songs that I like most, titles like Glory to the Slain, Maiden of Shadows and I am the Sword. I think I need to come back to this in a month's time to see how it stands up then.

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