Burning Black - Prisoners of steel 3.5/5

Reviewed: 10-23-09


1. Hell is now
2. Angel of war
3. Angry machine... of love
4. Smell the fire
5. Fight to dream
6. No more heroes
7. Heavy metal
8. Life passengers
9. Without waiting...
10. Without fear
11. Prisoners of steel

Look at that cover art. Just look at it. Ok? Great, now let’s never look at it again. Christ.

Melodic Italian metal is maybe a little predictable, but on the other hand at least you generally know what you are getting. If it’s not a grandiose symphonic band then chances are you’ll be looking at a gutsy traditional metal outfit, and in either case you are generally guaranteed a powerful vocalist and some explosive lead guitar.

Burning Black fit the latter category like a glove, and excel in both vocal and guitar departments with typical Italian aplomb. Their galloping traditional metal approach may be nothing groundbreaking, but they deliver it was such freshness and fiery enthusiasm that their debut ‘Prisoners of steel’ must surely go down as one of the most underrated releases of 2008. Indeed, the pounding opener “Hell is now” is without doubt one of the best songs of last year, an exercise in brilliant simplicity with Massimo De Nardi delivering an exquisite chorus accompanied by some darting lead fills and a blazing solo section coming from Marco Maffeis.

The meaty production afforded the band by Nick Savio (who will also fill in as their lead player on the forthcoming 2nd CD following the unfortunate departure of Maffeis) is another key component in the success of ‘Prisoners of steel’, with the rhythm and bass guitars granted a lovely thickness that give the songs the necessary rock-solid core for the vocals and solos to add colour to. Italian bands often seem to suffer more than most for weak production when just starting out and many an otherwise fine debut has been hamstrung by failings in the recording department, but Burning Black are thankfully not another casualty of this phenomenon.

Further short and snappy speedsters like “Smell the fire” and the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin “Heavy metal” make up most of the conservative 42-minute playing time, with variations being rare but also very well-executed. “No more heroes” is the obligatory ballad, and is very well delivered, with De Nardi’s vocals again providing plenty of charisma.

“Angry machine... of love” – which has cemented its place in my top 10 best ever song titles – is a bit of a left turn amongst the more fast-paced songs, taking more of a commercial 80s rock/metal slant, aided in no small part by the fine glazing of keyboards provided by bassist Alessandro Jacobi. Another powerful chorus display triumphs over (or to be honest, is probably aided by) the silly lyrics and make it a smooth step into slightly alien territory before they get back to business as usual.

In the end, the CD’s blunt effectiveness is maybe the only thing that works somewhat against it, as there are few surprises to be picked up on further listens. First impressions are likely to be final, and while ‘Prisoners of steel’ isn’t going to be one for the ages it is a thoroughly commendable example of stripped-down 80s metal given a tasteful modern sheen.




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