Tuesday 16 February 2021

Durbin - The Beast Awakens (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 12 Feb 2021
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Many rock fans, myself included tend to view television talent shows as anathema to metal, especially in the UK and US, but maybe that's changing. The first 2021 album I reviewed was from a runner up on the South African show Idols, Mark Haze, and my previous review was by Inglorious, featuring Nathan James of both The Voice and Superstar. I mention this because James Durbin came fourth on American Idol in season ten.

This is the first Durbin album, but it isn't the first James Durbin album. He's released three prior solo albums, plus two with Quiet Riot, including Hollywood Cowboys, which I reviewed here at Apocalypse Later, suggesting that Durbin was a decent singer who hadn't yet find his identity. I think he may have found it here because, as cheesy as much of this fantasy-drenched heavy metal is, it feels heartfelt and honest and it allows him to do what I think he always wanted to do. In American Idol's personal choice round, he chose a Judas Priest song, You've Got Another Thing Comin' and he obviously channels Rob Halford for much of this album.

You can hear that most obviously on the opening song, The Prince of Metal, which is pure Priest with a strong chaser of Iron Maiden. Durbin has the pipes for this and he fits the style a lot better than he fit Quiet Riot's. Whenever a song isn't in the Priest style, it's still in a classic rock/metal vein. There's a lot of Blue Öyster Cult here, most obviously on Into the Flames and By the Horns, while Calling Out for Midnight is obviously influenced by early Queensrÿche, with Durbin doing well as Geoff Tate too. Given the subject matter, it isn't surprising that he also takes on a Dio style on Riders on the Wind.

The band behind him is rock solid, though it's not entirely behind him because Durbin is credited on rhythm guitar too. If I'm reading things properly, there are only two solid members, Barry Sparks on bass and Mike Vanderhule on drums. Sparks is used to this, given that he's the only other member of MSG with Michael Schenker right now, the recent album fleshed out like this with guest appearances. He's also backed a lot of other major guitarists: Marty Friedman, Vinnie Moore, Tony McAlpine, even Yngwie Malmsteen. Vanderhule has been with Y&T since 2006 and has also played with many others.

I don't know how guitar duties break down, but there are four lead guitarists credited, plus three on guitar and Phil Demmel from Violence on Kings Before You. I don't recognise any of the names except for Chris Jericho, who sings on the same song, but I believe they all recorded their parts remotely, as the album was created during the COVID-19 pandemic with only Durbin and his producer in a studio, putting it all together. Given those circumstances, it sounds very tight indeed.

I like this a lot more than earlier material I've heard from Durbin. It all sounds good, however cheesy it gets, though it does fade a little on repeat listens. The Prince of Metal remains strong, as does the prowling and heavy title track, and I really dig Necromancer. It's the shortest song on this album but that's partly because it gallops along so quickly that it can't even stop for a chorus, that sort of being the last line of the verse. The riff matches it and it just speaks to me.

I'd have gone with a 7/10 here on a first listen and I'm still not sure I shouldn't after a few more times through, but what seemed like strong riffs and hooks didn't take hold the way I thought they would. I wouldn't call anything here filler, but quite a few of these songs fade into the background, letting the highlights stand out above them, so I think I have to drop to 6/10. Partly that's due to the generosity of this album, which runs only five minutes short of an hour, but it could have been trimmed, I think. I also think that James Durbin has found his style at Frontiers and I look forward to his next album.

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