Monday 12 February 2024

ALBUM REVIEW: Blaze Bayley, "Circle of Stone"

 By: Richard Maw
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 23rd February 2024
Label: Blaze Bayley Recordings

“Circle of Stone” CD//DD//LP track listing:
1. Mind Reader
2. Tears in Rain
3. Rage
4. The Year Beyond This Year
5. Ghost in the Bottle
6. Broken Man
7. The Call of the Ancestors
8. Circle of Stone
9. Absence
10. A Day of Reckoning
11. The Path of the Righteous Man
12. Until We Meet Again
The Review:

Blaze returns with another fiery and anthemic album of heavy metal. Blaze has been on a roll for the best part of a decade now. Since harnessing the considerable talents of British metal heroes Absolva- now further bolstered by Luke Appleton joining the team to work alongside his brother- Blaze has been on a musical winning streak. He managed three albums in three years with the “Infinite Entanglement” Trilogy, followed that up with a superb collection of songs in War Within Me”, plus a couple of live albums and DVDs.
Blaze and band are exceptionally hard working- the pandemic was a cruel period as it left them kicking their heels while they couldn’t tour. Significantly, Blaze suffered a near fatal heart attack in 2023, so the fact he is still at all here is a blessing. The fact that the quality of his records is still very high is a real gift to the fans. After coming close to death, Blaze could be forgiven for dialling things down, going acoustic, reducing touring or even just retiring.
However, a short run of UK dates last year were a triumph- the voice, the energy and the life force were still there. That life force runs right the way through this record. “Circle of Stone” is a life affirming winner, that’s for sure.
Things start confidently with “Mind Reader”, “Tears of Rain” references Blade Runner and is even better. “Rage” is a darker proposition and finds Blaze delivering a superb vocal performance. It delivers a Welsh folk tale, via heavy metal. Excellent. As usual with Blaze’s recent records, the pacing and sequencing is great; each track is different from the last and has its own personality- but it doesn’t sound disjointed.
On the contrary, Chris Appleton has done a good production and mix job here, allowing the album a distinct sound and character. Sonically, it sounds much better to my ears than “War Within Me”. I’m unclear as to whether a pro studio was used or if this was a home production, but it doesn’t matter as it sounds great. The drum sound is significantly improved and the instruments are nicely blended with Blaze’s voice front and centre.
According to the man himself, the first six songs here represent tales of resilience, fighting against the odds and so forth. It’s prime Blaze stuff and expertly delivered. As the band blast through “The Year Beyond This Year” and “Ghost in the Bottle” the record flies high. It comes back to earth with “The Broken Man”, which is more introspective and a slow burning emotive listen. Any listener might think this was written in the wake of Blaze’s health problems, but in fact this entire album was recorded before his dance with death.
The latter six tracks here represent six connected tracks that tell a story of connection to the past and redemption. “The Call of the Ancestors” kicks side two off in grandiose (mostly) instrumental style; bagpipes, guitar, ethereal vocals…. It sets the scene for the mighty title track. It’s majestic, it recalls “The Clansman” and is a killer. “Absence” is a straight up rocker, with killer riffage and guitar work in general.
From there, it’s three tracks remaining. Numerous moods and approaches are covered; the melancholy and murderous tale told in “A Day Of Reckoning” gives way to hopefulness, while “The Path of the Righteous” engages the turbo charger for a convincing metal romp. “Until We Meet Again” caps the album off with acoustic atmospherics and a haunting guest vocal from Tammy Rae-Bois, who duets stirringly with Blaze. It’s a folk-y and hopeful conclusion to an album with hidden depths and themes.
To summarise, “Circle of Stone” continues the high-quality music that Blaze has been putting out since 2016 and offers some different aspects to his writing and sound. It’s a triumph, it’s a tour de force and I’m so glad he is still here.
“Circle of Stone” is available HERE

Band info: official || facebook