There is some danger in hearkening back to a time when heavy metal had finally ‘proven’ itself as an enduring font of inspiration for the greater consumer pool of popular music in the early 80’s. Trend after trend seemed impossible to exhaust despite the flood of horrendous, insincere cheese that flowed from every country imaginable in the wilderness between ‘Killing Machine’ and ‘Kill ‘Em All’. Street kids, hustlers and pussy obsessed trust fund babies all left a great phallus shaped mark on heavy metal throughout the 80’s and Australian heavy/power metal trio Road Warrior aim to resurrect that ‘greatest generation’ of muscled He-Man heavy metal with their debut full-length ‘Power’. As much as they puff their leather-strapped hairy chests and bang out a sublimely cocksure heavy/speed metal combo circa 1984, the clever extreme metal talent behind Road Warrior‘s pure heavy metal sheen cannot help but display their intellectual prowess through inspirational and demanding performances throughout.
All is well and good as the boys kick into the chest-thumping Holocaust-esque leads alongside the codpiece-gripping early Ostrogoth-like anthemic chorus of “Don’t Fight Fate” but it isn’t long before those first impressions are muddled by ambitious speed metal guitar work a la Martyr (Netherlands) and early Angel Dust. The result is an album that has fangs to start and then mind-bending poison (riffs) to entertain as its second half dominates with subtle but driving complexity. If you don’t hear the stink of pre-‘So Far, So good…. So What!’ era Megadeth on the majority of “Devils In Waiting” I wouldn’t blame you for thinking ‘Power’ was a rote sort of throwback to Priest-kissed power/heavy a la Tyrant‘s ‘Mean Machine’ or Hexx‘ ‘Under the Spell’ but from that point the album shows its thoughtful side in droves.
“I Am The Hunger” was the point where ‘Power’ became impossible to overlook with guitar work reminiscent of the best parts of Angus‘ ‘Track of Doom’ and the follow-up of “Tease N Torture” calling to mind early Angel Dust and Tarot briefly. Beyond these personal references I’ve made, the personality of classic pre-1988 power metal surges through Road Warrior‘s debut and this is its greatest accomplishment in terms of connecting with ‘retro’ influences in a meaningful way. The actual cadence of bassist/vocalist Denny Blake (StarGazer, Cauldron Black Ram) is something I can’t put my finger on. There is the jocular snarl of early Hallow’s Eve (alternately the first Oz record) informing the attitude expressed but appears much ‘cleaner’ and delivered with a wider range of expression. Blake was previously joined by his current Intellect Devourer (a pre-StarGazer tech-death project more or less) bandmates guitarists Darren McLennan (ex-Fury, Sarsekim) and Ben Newsome (Mournful Congregation) on the ‘Ignition’ (2016) demo but his lead presence is rounded out on ‘Power’ by session drummer Villon and lad guitarist Overdryve. It is more or less Blake‘s vision and all the more impressive that he is capable of conceiving a traditional heavy metal album that feels ballsy without being achingly dull.
Nods to groups like Savatage and Riot aside, the general impression given is something most notable for fans of mid-80’s speed metal and the post-1986 lives of aging NWOBHM stars. ‘Power’ almost undersells the whole middle finger to political correctness and hyper-sensitive peoples if you don’t pay close attention whereas the album’s guitar work really speaks for itself as a galloping first half of the 80’s heavy metal record. I more or less already prattled on about the hulking guitar work here but no doubt the duo of “Devils in Waiting” and “I Am the Hunger” will sell this album to heavy/speed metal fans. The harder sell might be the classic power metal fans who won’t necessarily get the soaring highs of their early 80’s heroes from Blake‘s performance who offers more in terms of personality and songwriting than he does technical vocal ability. What I’d really like to hear more of is that hint of the Quartz-meets-‘Wild Cat’ era Tygers of Pan Tang like riffing that makes “Back Alley Tokyo Woman” a highlight at the end of the album as the guitar work hits a satisfying ‘classic rock’ groove throughout.
‘Power’ might be all over the place in terms of influence and era evoked but the entirety of the album is driven by strong songwriting and loads of the attitude so many ‘retro’ heavy metal acts lack severely in 2018. The genius of a project like Road Warrior comes when they are able to either transcend obvious influences or create equally valuable entries that capture the spirit of an era in a meaningful way and in this sense ‘Power’ exceeds expectations as it fits snugly in the mid-80’s heavy metal underground. Because I feel Blake and crew have reached a notable point of resemblance and unique personality within the confines of classic heavy metal songwriting and guitar work I would give a moderately high recommendation for ‘Power’ with doubly high expectations for any potential follow-up. For preview you’re going to want to start with the obvious banger “Sweating Out the Poison” but don’t miss the duo I’d mentioned previous.
Tongues like vipers. 4.0/5.0
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