White Wizzard - The devil's cut 3/5
1. Forging the steel
2. Strike the iron
3. Kings of the highway
4. Lightning in my hands
5. Steal your mind
6. The devil’s cut
7. Torpedo of truth
8. Storm chaser
9. The sun also rises
I just don’t know when it comes to White Wizzard anymore. I mean, don’t misunderstand me, this is generally a pretty good CD, but when listening to it there’s just this nagging feeling that something is missing. There are plenty of obvious flaws to pick out – more on that in a minute – but over and above that, the vim that characterized their first 2 releases is just somehow absent here and there’s an aura of unfulfilled potential in the air.
The fairly unique (among their contemporaries, at any rate) melodic rock/NWOBHM-sounding debut EP and the more speed metal-oriented ‘Over the top’ promised much, but things seem to have unraveled a little since then. Chief among their problems was the never-ending changes in personnel around founding bassist and sometime guitarist Jon Leon over the couple of years following ‘Over the top’, but 2011’s ‘Flying tigers’ in truth suffered as much from inconsistent song quality and over-reaching ambition just as much as it did the absence of a proper lead guitarist.
But again, ‘The devil’s cut’ is for the most part a pretty satisfactory traditional metal offering, and in fact the continuing line-up alterations have actually worked to White Wizzard’s advantage this time. For starters, they finally have 2 full-time guitarists teaming up to tackle the lead guitar position, an area that was left severely lacking with Leon’s more modest abilities on ‘Flying tigers’.
As if to prove a point, the song “Torpedo of truth” probably doesn't contain more solos than the whole of ‘Flying tigers’ combined, but it really can’t be far behind and definitely feels like it was set up as a showcase for new men Will Wallner and Jake Dreyer to flaunt their contrasting styles (Wallner a bit more traditional, Dreyer a total shredder).
New vocalist Joseph Michael also proves to be quite a catch, as while Wyatt Anderson wasn’t exactly irreplaceable, he was certainly a likeable frontman with a pretty nifty falsetto and a recognizable part of White Wizzard’s sound. Michael is cut from similar cloth, but has a far more versatile and expressive voice, and finds a lot more subtle niches between his middle and upper range at unexpected moments, so the band have definitely traded up in this department too.
On the negative side, Ralph Patlan’s production is for some reason slightly different than it was on the first 2 CDs, and not to the best of effects. It seems to be geared at sounding slightly rawer than before, and while the guitars maybe do have a little extra growl, overall the more pristine style of the predecessors is more satisfying.
After the mix of traditional metal and quasi-prog on ‘Flying tigers’ left an unbalanced final product, ‘The devil’s cut’ is definitely more of a straightforward affair, and while there are a few duds and overly long songs along the way, it makes for a more fluid listen than its immediate predecessor.
There is actually a welcome return of the moody, atmospheric hard rock sound from the debut EP on “Kings of the highway” and “Stormchaser”, which is a nice surprise, though in the latter’s case the song sadly feels rather underwritten and ends on an extremely long fade out that suggests they couldn’t find a way to finish it properly.
Similarly, the gimpy pseudo-prog breaks on the true opener “Strike the iron” feel completely out of place and might even just be there to break the song up from its relentless charging and disguise the fact that it doesn’t have a real chorus to tie it all together.
Also on the needlessly lengthy side is the ballad “Steal your mind” which runs for a numbing 7 minutes of endless repetition. The solo section at the end is thankfully quite impressive, but this sort of song remains a real weak spot for Leon and White Wizzard, and the excruciating “pop music is a deadly virus” lyrics reflect a “metal is serious business” tone that permeates too many of the songs with a shocking lack of self-awareness.
In truth, Leon’s songwriting has always been a little bumpy, but that raw enthusiasm that carried through the songs on ‘Over the top’ that came across as a little mindless doesn’t seem to be in full effect here, and as result it’s harder to ignore the weak spots as when they come around the CD seems to drag rather than blaze right through them.
But for all this negativity, it has to be sad that around half the songs on here hit a pretty good standard, which might not exactly sound like a glowing endorsement, but credit only where credit is due. White Wizzard may be spinning their wheels a little with this one, but they have still managed to forge a decent 3rd full-length CD and seem to be in a stronger position than before to at least attempt to reclaim their brief former glories.
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