Ross the Boss - Hailstorm 3.5/5
2. Kingdom arise
3. Dead man’s curve
5. Burn alive
7. Behold the kingdom
8. Greats gods glorious
9. Shining path
10. Among the ruins
11. Empire’s anthem
The tricky thing about reviewing a CD at or close to the time of its release is that it is often impossible to foresee how much of a lasting impact it will have. Initial impressions are coloured by the listener’s expectations versus the immediate impact (or lack thereof) the music makes, and it’s only a few months down the line after the CD hasn’t been spun in a while and the initial wave of excitement or disappointment has worn off that a more balanced view of things can be reached.
So, to cut to the chase, yeah, I probably did overscore the Ross the Boss debut CD by a little (giving it 4/5). I don’t think this follow-up, ‘Hailstorm’ is a great deal better or worse, but with a more settled view of what this band’s strengths and weaknesses are, it’s a little easier to get a reasonable grasp of the CD that probably won’t be subject to the same degree of change. Not that I’m suddenly decrying ‘New metal leader’ as a fraud that snuck through the nets or anything, it’s just a bit easier to see in hindsight which songs weren’t quite as good as they had first appeared.
If anything, ‘Hailstorm’ is probably a more consistent and balanced CD than ‘New metal leader’, but in a paradox seen all too often, doesn’t have the same standout individual songs that helped the debut make such an immediate impact. The most noticeable difference is that there is a bit less of the ‘Battle hymns side A’ rock ‘n’ roll this time around, with a bit more time dedicated to forceful epic metal songs.
There is also a sprinkling of more direct, driving power metal songs like “Dead man’s curve” and “Shining path” that jack the pace up at all the right moments to prevent the CD from starting to lag. The former is a real hook-heavy treat, the insistent lead guitar and captivating chorus melody making it immediately memorable and showing Patrick Fuchs at his best, indicative of a more comfortable performance from the vocalist overall.
“Burn alive” is really the only heavy rock-style track on ‘Hailstorm’ - the most upbeat song you’ll hear all year about wishing fiery death on someone - and while it does stand out somewhat against its more straight-faced contemporaries, it also offers a burst of cheery energy and a nice nod back to the early Manowar style.
Otherwise, hard-hitting, well, battle hymns like “Crom” and “Behold the kingdom” make up the body of the CD – striking midtempo efforts built on minimal riffing and maximum atmosphere. “Behold the kingdom” in particular marches along like a weary infantry unit, slow-paced but resolute and authoritative.
Bassist Carsten Kettering gave a good account of himself on ‘New metal leader’, especially when rather joyously aping Joey DeMaio, and with more songs suited to this dominant style on ‘Hailstorm’, there is even more of it to enjoy. Many a song is given extra drive by the prominent bass lines that aren’t content to simply provide the usual rhythmic thump and the guitars are given something to contend with for the listener’s attention.
Fuchs is often cited as the band’s weak link - not least by myself - but while he still isn’t always the commanding presence one might hope for as a vocalist, he definitely proves his worth to the band as a whole as he shares songwriting credits with their eponymous guitarist on almost every song and also chips in with some nice solos of his own from time to time.
With Kettering also penning a couple of tracks on his own it is clearer than ever that, rather than being a dolled up solo project, Ross the Boss is a proper, functioning and democratic band that just happens to share a name with its most famous member. By the same token though, when Ross takes centre stage you are still compelled to sit up and listen, with the showy instrumental “Great gods glorious” a particularly good showcase for his superlative guitar playing.
Not to be seen to keep beating the same drum, but just like the debut, ‘Hailstorm’ has coincidentally landed around the same time as a new release from Ross’ former bandmates in Manowar. ‘New metal leader’ thoroughly trounced the ponderous ‘Gods of war’ as well as David Shankle Group’s underwritten ‘Hellborn’, and the Ross the Boss band have again, this time unsurprisingly, come up trumps. While Shankle has been floundering amidst a constantly shifting line-up and Manowar have tried (and to be honest, failed) to rehash past glories with ‘Battle hymns MMXI’, Ross and co have once again shown how it should be done with some unpretentious, bare-bones metal that hits all the right buttons without relying on production trickery or overly gaudy instrumental prowess.
It doesn’t come armed with the same surprise factor that boosted the debut so much, and while it does lack a couple of songs that completely lay waste to the expectations, ‘Hailstorm’ is another fine serving of traditional power metal with its heart firmly in the right place.
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