Sometimes, but not terribly often, there can be a bit of irony around the timing of reviews. This is one of those times, as I’m writing this Stormzone review while there’s a storm outside. Well, it’s windy and lashing down anyway, which counts given that we’re supposed to be in June…
Stormzone always seem to have been one of those bands that I listened to ages ago, recommend to anyone who’ll listen, then not actually listen to them again for a good while. I’m honestly not sure how or why this happened – goodness knows they’re a great band that I really should listen to more. There is, however, a good side to this – by not having listened to them for so long, listening to Ignite the Machine for the first time feels like discovering a new band for the first time. And that’s always a good thing.
From the opening chords and drums of Tolling of the Bell, you’re flung face-first into a heavy rock masterpiece. This is less of an opening song, and more of a statement of intent. This is the sort of song that, if you close your eyes, you can imagine being sung back at them by massive crowds.
Moving on to title track Ignite the Machine, and there’s no let-up – nor would you want there to be. This is a band who know what they’re good at and do it really bloody well. In fact, teaming this song up with the third on the album, My Disease, and you’ve got a double-whammy that any band would be proud of. In fact, all three of the opening tracks show the band at their very best – hammering drums, epic guitaring and the unmistakable vocals of Harv Harbinson (who brings a touch of the Bruce Dickinsons to these songs – which, given that Iron Maiden are my favourite band, is a very good thing)
Each Setting Sun is definitely a grower – growing from almost delicate guitar playing in the opening seconds to another tour-de-force, albeit bringing an almost storytelling quality to this one. There’s definitely a fantastical element to this song, putting me in mind of a fantasy novel (no, not that kind) or even Dungeons and Dragons. These sorts of songs have always appealed to me, especially when done well – and this is done incredibly well.
Dragon Cartel keeps the energy of the album flying high, evoking images of a Skyrim-esque cartel (for me at least). I’m barely five songs into this album and already I’m wondering why I wasted so many years not listening to these guys. The storytelling and musicianship are immediately apparent in every one of these songs. You can clearly tell that this is a band who’ve been together for years and have the confidence to perform to the highest possible standard each time – which is a very, very high standard indeed.
Nothing To Fear starts in an almost stripped back way, and it feels like we’re listening to Harv speak to a former lover. The rest of the group (and instruments) coming in doesn’t take away from the borderline intimate feel of the song – indeed, it feels like they’re backing him up with what he says.
Revolution brings us crashing back to earth, then gives us a kick up the arse to get us going again – this is another song that you can easily imagine a crowd singing along to. I guess that’s one of the upsides of the current lockdown situation – there’s more time to learn the words to all these incredible songs on this album. And trust me, there are a lot of them…
New Age Necromancer seems to bring the best out of both Harv’s vocals and the guitar work of Steve Moore and Dave Shields – although Graham McNulty (bass) and Davy Bates (drums) both are on top form here too. For me, this is probably the highlight of the album – everything meshes together perfectly. It may be the longest song on the album, but it certainly doesn’t feel it – if anything, you could listen to this a few times on repeat and still not notice the time going by.
Suddenly, we’re into the final third of the album, and Stormzone are not for letting up here. Dealer’s Reign is just as heavy as any other song on the album and wouldn’t sound out of place on a Maiden album. When you hear Harv sing of his “seventh son”, you can’t help but let a little smile spread across your face.
Flame That Never Dies is the one song here that could possibly be construed as a “lighters in the air” song, especially with the stripped back opening. When it gets going, though, this song fairly lets rip and is a solid reminder of just how good Stormzone are (as if you could forget, having listened to the rest of this masterpiece).
Under Her Spell, as the penultimate song on the album, would have every right to be a filler track of sorts. But this is Stormzone we’re talking about. They don’t do filler – or, if they do, it’s completely unnoticeable from the other songs on the album. This feels just as important as the other tracks, which is really saying something. It’s not often you get an album where every song feels like it belongs, but that’s precisely what we get here.
And with that, we hit the closing track, This Is Heavy Metal. For a statement of intent, this isn’t exactly subtle – but, like heavy metal itself, it isn’t meant to be. Given everything that’s going on at the minute, the lyrics of “here’s to the heroes/Shout it out loud” feel especially poignant.
This is, indeed, heavy metal. And it’s just the way we like it – loud, fast, and bloody awesome. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a few old Stormzone albums to listen to…