Tuesday 25 January 2022

Tony Martin - Thorns (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 14 Jan 2022
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2022 has started out really strong for British hard rock/heavy metal with a string of solid albums in January. The 14th saw the new Magnum album, which is excellent, then the 21st brought a new Tokyo Blade. The 28th will bring a new one from Praying Mantis and, before that, here's another one from the 14th, from Tony Martin, the second longest serving vocalist in Black Sabbath, given that Ronnie James Dio's return in the 2000s was under the name of Heaven and Hell. There's even a new Lawnmower Deth album coming on the 28th too. The genre is thriving in its homeland.

This is roughly what you might expect from someone who spent ten years singing for Sabbath, but it doesn't start that way, because the opener is As the World Burns, as obviously a Metallica song initially as I've heard in forever. It's downtuned and up tempo, though it does settle down into the more expected traditional vibe. Given that the rhythm section is the former HammerFall bassist, Magnus Rosén, and the current Venom drummer, Danny Needham, perhaps I should be surprised more at how this doesn't power up more often. It mostly stays slow and heavy after this one.

Martin sounds good from the outset, but he nails some sustained notes in the opener that I'd call quintessential Sabbath. They're very impressive for a 64 year old! And that is the other thing that is thrilling me about these traditional British releases. The musicians in Magnum, Praying Mantis and Tokyo Blade are hardly spring chickens but they're all on top of their game at the moment to put out some of their best material in years. I'm glad to add Tony Martin to that list.

This is what the Sabbath website calls his "long delayed third 'solo' album" and there's been quite a gap between releases. His first, Back Where I Belong, came out in 1992 during a brief time away from Sabbath, while they reunited with Dio for the Dehumanizer album. His second, Scream, came out in 2005 and now, seventeen years on again, we have number three, apparently comprising ten years of work. That rings true for a long while, because this has a strong first half but it begins to wear towards the end.

As the World Burns is a strong opener. Book of Shadows has some real power to it, at 80% Sabbath and 20% Judas Priest. While Martin's voice leads the way, as you would expect, I was impressed by Rosén's basswork in this one and the preceding Black Widow Angel. There's a choral layer too and a decent violin from Martin that sounds deeper, like a cello. Book of Shadows is easily the longest song here, by over a minute, and it may be the best song on offer, even wrapping up with excellent narration from Laura Harford, who I expect is related to Martin, given that it's his real surname.

It's also notable that these three songs, along with the fourth, Crying Wolf, which is acoustic, are very different in approach and structure. They're all heavy and powerful, but none of them sound like each other and that aids the album no end. As the album ran on, though, I found the songs to be less memorable, though I should call out No Shame at All here as a highlight. I did like the way that the vocal line in Passion Killer echoes Chopin's famous Funeral March, so there's interesting material to be found late on, but there are also songs like This is Your Damnation, which sounds a lot like a rock cover of a disco song. It isn't, but that's what it sounds like.

In short, there's some great material here, if you're a fan of Sabbath with Martin—and, if you're wondering who he is because you only know Ozzy and Dio, then pick up the Headless Cross album at your next opportunity. However, it's a front heavy album, arguably its best four songs also the first four songs. The second half isn't bad, but it doesn't live up to the album's early promise and even the title track, that closes out the album, feels like too little too late. As an album, it's good stuff, but, as an album ten years in the making, it feels a little disappointing. It warrants a 7/10, I think, but only by the skin of its teeth.

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