There haven't been a lot of releases thus far in 2024 and what I'm seeing is all American, so here's an American album to kick off the year. Todd Grubbs has been around for a long while, it seems, as his first appearance was on a demo for Atomic Opera way back in 1985. However, they didn't put out an album until 2021 and his other band, Siren, are much more recent, formed in 2016 and with two albums out, in 2020 and 2022. Mostly, it seems he's been working as a guitar teacher and putting a bunch of solo albums out, even if they're not listed on Metal Archives. His website says three vocal albums and seven instrumental ones.
I don't know if that includes this new one and I don't know what genre the others played in. This is old school heavy metal with a strong side of classic American power metal. I liked Grubbs's guitar from the outset but took a while to get used to his vocals, because they're a little more vehement than the music behind them. There's an elegance to the guitar work even at its heaviest but there isn't a lot of subtlety to the vocals. I wasn't sold on them on the opener, Spider in the Sky, because the snarl in his voice is so emphatic that it seems like he's almost taking the piss, overdoing it for a particular effect. Given that he's just as clearly serious, it felt odd.
However, as the album ran on, I found myself more and more on board with his vocals too. He's far more serious sounding on Got My Jet and sustains well on My Own Demise. By the time I reached Hell Awaits the Hypocrite, I was hearing a lot of David Wayne in his sound, not the same degree of resonance but with much of the same effect, and that flavoured how I took the album as a whole. I still like his guitar a lot more than I do his voice, but the latter didn't spoil the music any more and it often contributed to its effect too.
And Metal Church isn't a bad starting place to see this. These songs are heavy but clean, with a big bass presence from Rich Gray. That may or may not be the same Rich Gray who's the current bassist for Annihilator but, given that it looks like Fabio Alessandrini on drums also played for Annihilator, I think it may well be. Alessandrini currently plays for Bonfire, where he's already helped to rework three of their classic albums, but there's a lot more Annihilator here, even if Grubbs doesn't want to speed up to thrash speeds. This is still the sort of heavy/power metal that thrash fans dig, due to it being inherently uncompromising, even with hooks.
Hell Awaits the Hypocrite is the first highlight for me, very Metal Church in its emphasis, a patient and powerful grower, but it isn't the only one. Kill the Day is a good follow-up right after it to end the first side, but there's a set of three songs late on the album that I'd add too: One More for the Sky, Can't Go Home and Under the Ice, three very different songs. Can't Go Home is a blues song in a much heavier form, powered up like the pioneers of the early seventies did but not in an overtly influenced manner. It's not the Sabbath song we'd perhaps expect it to be, for instance.
One More for the Sky shines because of Grubbs's guitar but also because of his vocals, because he soars well with both. He relishes every syllable of his lyrics and stretches a lot of them. His sustain is easily my favourite aspect to his vocals and when it works with the music behind him, it feels all the stronger. When it doesn't, as on, say, Raise Your Head, as a Quiet Riot-esque anthemic stomp, it's a detriment. The only time he really takes a very different approach is halfway through Under the Ice when he shifts to a much softer melodic voice. I had to wonder how other songs might have played were he to use this more often as a contrast. It works well on this one.
So this is an album I didn't initially think I'd like, because of those vocals, but ended up enjoying a great deal, mostly because of the guitars but also often because of the vocals. Both are courtesy of Todd Grubbs, so he became an interesting way to kick off 2024.