3 Inches of Blood - Fire up the blades 3.5/5
1. Through the horned gate
2. Night marauders
3. The goatriders horde
4. Trial of champions
5. God of the cold white silence
6. Forest king
7. Demons blade
8. The great hall of feasting
9. Infinite legions
10. Assassins of the light
11. Black spire
12. The hydra's teeth
13. Rejoice in the fires of man's demise
A couple of years ago, 3 Inches of Blood experienced a commercial breakthrough with their sophomore outing, 'Advance and vanquish'. On that CD, these western Canadians presented a devastating concoction of fast, melodic traditional metal with ripping guitar work, outlandishly over-the-top fantasy lyrics and an awesome Ken Kelly cover painting. Even more remarkable was that the band are on Roadrunner Records, which had long ago forsaken this style of music for greener (literally, as is always the case with Roadrunner) pastures. To be sure, some old-schoolers balked at the twin-vocal approach, consisting of a nails-on-the-chalkboard high-pitched falsetto screamer like "Painkiller" (the song) Rob Halford or even King Diamond's higher register (but with more rasp and grit a la Udo Dirkschneider) and another singer who delivers only hyper-brutal metalcore lung torture. Nonetheless, 'Advance and vanquish' was generally accepted well and placed 3 Inches of Blood squarely on the radar screens of many.
The follow-up, 'Fire up the blades', has been greeted with skepticism in some quarters, and understandably so. All of the instrumentalists (both guitarists, bassist and drummer) from the 'Advance and vanquish' sessions are out of the fold, leaving only the singers, Cam Pipes (falsetto yelper guy) and Jamie Hooper (brutal hardcore/death shouter guy). Could Pipes and Hooper catch lightning in a jar once again, especially when both departed guitarists were not only integral to the band's sound but also were key writers? The metal world's eyebrows were raised further when it was revealed that Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison had been tapped not only to produce 'Fire up the blades', but also to co-write the entire CD. Now, I know some people think Slipknot are the dog's bollocks, but I doubt that many of them are traditional metalheads, much less readers of this site. And if that's not enough, the band eschewed another classic Ken Kelly cover painting in favor of a decidedly less classic, more low-budget look.
Despite all of those black marks and danger signals, 3 Inches of Blood have uncorked another strong CD in 'Fire up the blades'. The new guitar team of Shane Clark and Justin Hagberg picks up seamlessly where their predecessors left off, dishing out galloping riffs and killer melody lines. There have been no dramatic changes to the band's sound, and fans of aggressive traditional metal will find much to their liking. Tracks like the single/video, "The goatriders horde", as well as deeper cuts like "Forest king" and "Demon's blade" will instantly curry favor with 'Advance and vanquish' devotees. But some adjustments have been made, and not all to the good. This CD is overall heavier than its predecessor, as the Running Wild moments on 'Advance and vanquish' have been supplanted with more Slayer/death metal moments (see "Infinite legions", which even has blastbeats). A couple of songs have melody lines provided by piano or keyboard (is that a Hammond organ I hear?), which seems both bizarre and out of place. And Hooper's harsh vocals are if anything more brutal this time around, which is not particularly welcome news. Finally, while there are certainly some fine songs on display, the writing is altogether slightly less catchy this time around. The standout cuts here simply aren't as good or as memorable as the best tunes on 'Advance and vanquish' (such as "Deadly sinners", "Lord of the storm" and "Wykydtron"). Those ex-guitarists/writers are clearly missed for their songcraft, even if their successors can match them note for note in the playing department.
Ultimately, those who appreciated and enjoyed 'Advance and vanquish' will likely find 'Fire up the blades' to be a worthy and worthwhile CD. 3 Inches of Blood have regressed slightly here, but when one considers all of the adversity, turmoil and instability in the 3 Inches of Blood camp, as well as the hiring of an outside writer/producer from a benchmark nu-metal act, it is astonishing that 'Fire up the blades' turned out this well. I still harbor deep-seated wishes that the band could utilize a more conventional vocal approach, because both singers (especially Hooper, but also Pipes, whose one-dimensional wails grow tiresome over a 51-minute CD) detract from rather than add to the music. Then again, if Hooper and Pipes left, there would be no members of the 'Advance and vanquish' line-up remaining, so it might as well be a different band in name as well as personnel. For my part, I'll accept the flaws in this CD, blot out Hooper's voice and the most annoying parts of Pipes's performace, and rock out to the great music.
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