Sunday, 11 April 2021

ALBUM REVIEW: Blaze Bayley, "War Within Me"

By: Richard Maw & Nathan Harrison
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 09/04/2021
Label: Blaze Bayley Recordings

“War Within Me” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. War Within Me
2. 303
3. Warrior
4. Pull Yourself Up
5. Witches Night
6. 18 Flights
7. The Dream of Alan Turing
8. The Power of Nikola Tesla
9. The Unstoppable Stephen Hawking
10. Every Storm Ends

The Review:

Blaze roars back with another solo album. The ex-Iron Maiden alumni has been building a real head of steam over the last half decade- The “Infinite Entanglement” trilogy of albums (one per year!) was uniformly excellent. A brace of live albums and an acoustic record have been put out as well- all of that within a five year period! You could never accuse Blaze of slacking. Indeed, he has earned a reputation as one of the hardest touring and hardest working singers in the business.

This is metal solo album number ten, so what has Blaze got left to say? As it turns out: plenty. This is a call to arms, a rallying cry for anyone who is down but not yet out. Track by track, it is like this - with my own views articulately and expertly augmented or argued with by none other than Nathan Harrison of The Human Condition and ace Maiden tribute act, Maiden's Shadow.

“War Within Me”:

RM: What an opener! The title track is fast and furious with a gnarly guitar tone and hooks for days. It's anthemic and comes out all guns blazing (ha!). As a first impression, this is good. It's high energy and pushes all the right motivational buttons.

NH: A Blaze mission statement if ever there was one – his lyrics have always been about self-empowerment and nowhere is this more evident than tracks like ‘War Within Me’. Furious riffing from Chris Appleton blends perfectly with Blaze’s assured and confident flitting between a punchy staccato and his usual flowing and powerful melodic approach, his voice still going strong and arguably getting better and better as each year passes.


RM: A real stand out track for me. This is a classic tale of derring-do regarding Polish fighter pilots in WW2 who greatly assisted in the Battle of Britain. It's really catchy and exhibits, for me, the best of what Blaze can do.

NH: Blaze has arguably been at his best on recent albums when things have gone ever so slightly power metal (see the title track of “Infinite Entanglement”, Blood’ from “Endure and Survive” and ‘Immortal One’ from the last album) and this track is no exception. Blaze and co can write a damn fine chorus and this one just begs for a huge crowd to sing along. The way the verses pack in their storytelling and lead straight into the choruses with Blaze barely taking a breath is absolutely electric, and Appleton’s solo is one of his finest – more Glenn Tipton than his usual KK Downing-esque frenetic style – which suits the melody-led approach of this track beautifully.


RM: After a melodic and clean intro, it's blast off time again. Again it's catchy, again it's full on metal. I think that Blaze's band deserve a special mention here. Three quarters of Absolva are once again present and correct and Messrs Appleton, McNee and Schramm play a blinder. Chris Appleton seems to have hit just the right balance between metal and melody for Blaze's material. The riffs and solos are very strong and Blaze meets their challenge with a powerful baritone performance.

NH: That voice though! The quieter moments like the one that opens this track really show off the nuances of Blaze’s vocal quality – simply goosebump inducing stuff. Introducing the full band is impactful none the less, and the moment they kick in oddly has more in the way of noticeable dynamic range than when the opener gets going – more on this in the mix section later, though.

“Pull Yourself Up”:

RM: Once again, we are in self-help territory here - or metal motivation mode if you prefer. Blaze reminds us that we must press on, we must overcome. Blaze's explanation of this track is interesting and worthy of mention here. The first verse and part of the chorus are owed to a serious motorcycle accident he was involved in just after joining Maiden- what timing! He was told that he would thereafter walk with a limp and that he would not be back to anything like normal mobility for at least a year. Naturally, he had opportunities that he had to grasp. He beat the doctor's prognosis and now exhorts the listener to stop doubting themselves and walk with him. The other lyrics deal with criticism Blaze has faced and how he simply forged ahead. I love this track. It's motivating and quite profound. I can't help but sing along.

NH: Something a little different here, and the experiment pays dividends. The guitar generally stays in the higher register, wailing and soaring throughout, while the bass and drums lock in tightly with Schramm and McNee providing a solid backing to the more wayward guitar approach. Blaze’s rich tones sit perfectly on top of the cacophony to make for a solid mid-tempo foot tapper with a sing along section that stands out as a result of the approach to the rest of the song. Definitely one for the live set.

“Witches Night”

RM: This offers up a kind of mid tempo point - faster than one of the preceding tracks but slower than the others. Nice guitar refrains throughout and a hooky chorus. It's a solid album track, but not a stand out for me.


NH: Another slightly odd track, which doesn’t land quite as well as ‘Pull Yourself Up’ thanks to a slightly meandering sag in the middle, but the ideas here are solid and the transition from verse to chorus is surprising every time. Said chorus offers a solid, simple riff but with more guitars working their way around it and making for a really interesting listen.

“18 Flights”

RM: Ah! My first thoughts on this one: SAXON. It is exactly the kind of track that Biff's Yorkshire heroes would and have delivered at any point in their forty year career. The main guitar lick is strong and the verses and choruses are delivered with utter conviction. It tells the story of Blaze and band being caught up in an earthquake in South America and the surrounding chaos. It also contains a stormer of a solo. It's unashamedly fun and bombastic and although it could come across as very Spinal Tap, I find it charming.

NH: Yes, this one is pure ‘And the Bands Played On’! Songs about touring experiences often don’t quite hit the mark, but as a novelty with a cheesy chorus, this is a nice pallet cleanser before the more serious fare of the last few tracks.

“The Dream of Alan Turing”

RM: This is the first of a trilogy of science themed tracks that form a kind of nucleus of the record. Each track deals with a giant of their field and each one is quite different. Turing, of course, cracked Enigma and thus turned the tide for the allies in WW2. That he was treated so disgracefully by the British establishment thereafter due to his sexuality is a sobering and souring epilogue to the life of a man who really can be described as a true hero. The song is great, the subject stellar and this is another standout, if a tad on the short side.

NH: Little pockets of concept or thematically linked songs in albums of otherwise standalone tracks always appeal – this is something that Blaze himself did so well on “Promise and Terror”, dealing with an intensely personal and heart-breaking subject. While these tracks deal with subjects and figures unrelated to Blaze’s own life, the opener of this little trilogy is certainly epic and is fitting for the impact that the three men concerned  have made on the world both during their lives and after their deaths. Alan Turing’s story is presented in a rather dark and melancholic but powerful 3 minute package.

“The Power of Nikola Tesla”

RM: Another giant of science and a champion of the greater good - and again a man who did not get his just desserts or the respect he deserved in his lifetime. It's safe to say that Tesla changed all of humanity with his work. Again, it's a rollicking track with a strong chorus that quite literally screams “POWER!”

NH: Power is certainly the word – this is the standout track of the trilogy and briefly shows off the upper end of Blaze’s range in a way that’s bound to knock heads off. The lyrics frame energy and power as something that Tesla saw in every aspect of the world, and that is translated expertly into the approach the whole band has taken here. Well, they could hardly have written a song about a man so inextricably linked to the popularisation of electricity without a little thunder and lightning, now could they?!

“The Unstoppable Stephen Hawking”

RM: The last of our scientific/intelligent holy trinity, Hawking is a man known to most as the author of the book most purchased and least finished (A Brief History of Time) that exists. Hawking's life obviously chimed with Blaze - Hawking refused to accept his MND diagnosis and confounded doctors by living on for decades longer than the three years he was given. As Blaze pronounces, Hawking was unstoppable and a giant of his time. Verse wise, the lyrics are classic Blaze, if a little clumsy in terms of phrasing. The bridge and chorus more than make up for any shortcomings, though and again this is a track that pushes forward relentlessly, inexorably, towards its conclusion. The avian imagery that Blaze conjures up (“the eye of the hawk”) is quite excellent and the song is a good example of more being more; words, length, guitars etc. It's all there and all gloriously over the top.

NH: It’s impossible not to be inspired by the late, great Professor Stephen Hawking – even without his incredible scientific achievements, the man was a one off, defying all the limitations put upon him by the terrible disease that ravaged his body. Blaze takes Hawking’s story and incredible spirit and uses it as a lesson to anybody who is ever told that they can’t do something. If there’s anything that can be learned from Hawking (other than very advanced physics!) then that is certainly the main candidate. The song uses all 6 of its minutes to great effect and this closes out the trilogy perfectly.

 “Every Storm Ends”

RM: How else to go out but with a big melodic ballad where Blaze gets to sit in his most powerful register and deliver an emotional performance and summing up of all the themes contained within the album. It's melancholy and hopeful at the same time. It's a great closing track and can only fit at the end of the album.

NH: A closer that gets to the emotional heart of the album as a whole and, as stated in a previous piece on Blaze’s work, during these trying times we all live in currently it’s hard not to get swept up by someone suggesting that things might just turn out alright in the end! This one really shows off the versatility of Blaze’s voice, as he goes from belting lines right at the top of his range to low, sonorous and expressive lows. An impressive way to round things off.

Mix and Production:

RM: My only criticism of the album would be the mix. The drums are a little low, the bass a little indistinct and the guitars a little loud - to my ears at least. Blaze and band worked within the limitations they had during, as the BBC keep telling us, an unprecedented situation. The album was recorded using modern technology and digital files being sent from each musician to the other. Blaze and Appleton worked directly together in Birmingham for much of the album's genesis, with Martin McNee and Karl Schramm recording as and when they could. Consequently, the drums have a less than organic sound, but are of course well played and feature all of McNee's trademark rhythms and phrasing. I found that the louder you turn the album up, the better it sounds - which for a metal record is... as it should be! The performances are uniformly great and Blaze in particular really shines.

NH: It feels like a bit of a cheap shot to have a go at the production given the circumstances already outlined and the challenges thrown up by the pandemic, but it is necessary to point out that the production does falter at times here. As previously mentioned, the dynamic range is inconsistent – the title track has practically none when a single guitar becomes a British metal band going at full pelt, but ‘Warrior’ manages to sound impactful in a similar situation. The drums are far too quiet and the guitars far too high in the mix and this makes for an uncomfortable listening experience through headphones, at times borderline painful when cranked up, even through near top-of-the-range B&O cans. However, when heard through a decent speaker, these issues are less evident and perhaps a finished CD or vinyl copy when the album is released may prove a better listening experience.

Summing up:

RM: This is another very strong entry into Blaze's discography. It's more straightforward than any of the “Infinite Entanglement” Trilogy and is relentlessly 'up' in a similar way that “Somewhere in Time” is; it's enthusiastic and energised throughout. There are no bad tracks and most are at the least very good. I hope it wins over new fans as it deserves to.

NH: Blaze has very rarely put a foot wrong in his solo career (the slightly odd “King of Metal” proving the only real dud in his catalogue) and, production aside, he maintains his confident winning streak with “War Within Me”. He could hardly be blamed for wanting to take a bit of a break or perhaps even for running out of ideas after releasing 3 interlinked concept albums over 3 years with tours between each (and not forgetting also that the band still regularly release their own material without Blaze as Absolva). However, it seems that stopping is simply not Blaze’s style and it continues to work in his favour, with this latest release the fourth blinder in a row. Roll on number five!

“War Within Me” is available HERE

Band info: facebook