Blazon Stone is not a difficult band to figure out. If you like the blazing intro, “Born to be Wild”, (shoot, if you like the first fifteen seconds) you’ll like the rest of the album. This is the formula the band will follow for the rest of the album. The pace will remain at the exact same zesty gallop. The song structures almost never change. The lyrics will not get better. This album has no surprises. They’re such a Running Wild clone that they’ve taken their name from one of their albums. It’s nothing a power metal fan hasn’t heard hundreds of times before. And none of that matters one bit, because the riffs are that good.
Every song, with the exception of the Iron Maiden-esque instrumental “Welcome to the Village”, begins with a rip-roaring riff that serves as the basis of the melody. Often, the band will return to these building-block riffs and alter or remix them slightly towards the end of the song, like with the key change at the end of “Born to be Wild”. The formula could easily become fatiguing and dull – but it’s hard to critique lazy songwriting when you’re headbanging so hard your face smashes the keyboard. Cederik Forsberg, Blazon Stone’s axe-tamer, is a riff-writing savant. Somehow, even though every riff sounds like it was written for the same song, let alone the same album, every riff is a home run. The riffs are accented in the lilt of other genres – some sound doom-y, others thrash-y – but they’re all rooted in the swift zeal of power metal. They’re articulate, dynamic, and catchy, and manage to lift the album to greater heights than it has any right to achieve.
Besides the ludicrously amazing riffs, the guitar work on the rest of the album meets the requirements for good power metal. The solos are good throughout, but the only exceptional cuts are from “Voici La Grande Peur” and the closing epic, “War of the Roses”. The only other band member in the project, vocalist Erik Forsberg, boasts a pleasantly bombastic delivery. Although the vocal melodies are rarely compelling in the wake of the constant riff storm, Forsberg seizes his chance to shine in slightly more vocally-oriented songs like “Mask of Gold”, “Lusitania”, and the title track. The title track is by far the longest and most ambitious of the songs on the album, and the only song that even tries to be compositionally interesting. (Fun Fact: more than half of the songs on the album are within 15 seconds of 4:00). Showcasing incredible songwriting restraint, “War of the Roses” waits nearly a full meditative minute before showing its hand with the hard driving riff that serves as its base. The song weaves through a few distinctive movements, and even has a false outro that may be the only musical surprise on the album. Although it’s no progressive masterpiece, it nicely showcases the strengths of Blazon Stone in a wonderfully catchy and bombastic power metal closer.
The only real disappointment on the album is the instrumental track “Welcome to the Village”. It lacks the same riffing ichor that keeps the other tracks on the album breathing. On this track, Blazon Stone had a chance to experiment without the binding constraints of the very ordinary song structure the rest of the album adheres to. But it feels like a poorly executed demo from Iron Maiden’s Somewhere in Time scrap heap – probably because the opening melody sounds almost exactly like “Heaven Can Wait”.
War of the Roses is a refreshingly strong offering in the current metal scene. The album takes an invigoratingly back-to-basics approach to power metal. This album would not have broken any new musical ground if it were released in 1985 – and that’s great. It stands on the strength of its own musicality. And despite the blandness of the composition, there is something somehow uniquely fresh about a band that concerns itself with writing amazing riffs and absolutely nothing else. Many power metal bands today have forgotten to worship at the altar of the almighty riff in their mad scramble to sound sickeningly epic. Full orchestras, keyboards, and progressive tangents are all well and good, but it’s nice to have an album like War of the Roses around to bring the genre back to its basics.
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War of the Roses was released on October 31st. You can get it right here, via the band’s Bandcamp.