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Angel Down

Merovingian Music (2007)
Rating: 9/10

I have to admit to being shocked as to how heavy this album is. If you’re fed up with Ozzy Osbourne becoming a household name, or the fact that Lemmy (Motörhead frontman) and Alice Cooper are almost in their graves, then Sebastian Bach – yes, that long-haired rocker who once fronted Skid Row – is surely the rock god to take their place.

Angel Down is without doubt one of metal’s most underrated records despite eventually going on to sell over 200,000 worldwide. It is a monstrous slab that will reduce the speakers to ash and your ears to gory flaps.

When Bach left Skid Row, many wondered where he would end up, and so he spent time in some of America’s biggest Broadway shows, before releasing the low-key 2001 effort Bach 2: Basics, but Angel Down is the first to feature entirely original material.

Despite a few distribution problems, Angel Down (which features cover art painted by Bach’s late father, David Bierk) finally began to cause a stir, mainly due to the fact that Guns N’ Roses vocalist Axl Rose appears on three tracks. Mind you, when a friend of mine played the record to me, the biggest surprise was that it featured Steve DiGiorgio on bass – Steve is best known for his work in the extreme metal fraternity, having appeared in heavier bands such as Death, Obituary, Testament and Sadus. The album also features Halford guitarist Mike Chlasciak, who is accompanied by guitarist Johnny Chromatic, as well as drummer Bobby Jarzombek (Juggernaut / Halford / Riot).

Any fans of early Skid Row should avoid this record like the plague, especially if you’re expecting pomp rock. But if you were a fan of the band’s Slave To The Grind (1991) and Subhuman Race (1995) records then you’ll find this even grittier.

Angel Down is a mesmerising and at times brutal record that opens with the crushing title track, showcasing Bach’s fantastic vocal ability as well as DiGiorgio’s spectacular bass playing, whereas the guitars here just melt the face. I’d even go as far to say that Angel Down for the most part is as heavy as Machine Head’s 1994 debut Burn My Eyes, although naturally there is more melody here, particularly in the Iron Maiden-esque gallop of ‘You Don’t Understand’, with its infectious chorus and wonderful solos.

Guns N’ Roses fans would have been eager at the time to hear the three tracks featuring Axl Rose, because the guy had been hidden away for some ten years before appearing on this opus, and he helps Seb out on the impressive heavyweight version of Aerosmith’s ‘Back In The Saddle’, and two monolithic rockers; the groove-based chugger ‘(Love Is) A Bitchslap’ and the pounding ‘Stuck Inside’, which is truly monstrous with that epic riffing and bruising drum assault.

Bach comes into his own however on the ferocious 80s style plod of ‘American Metalhead’, featuring the immortal warrior chant of “We live, we die, we kill, we rise”. Bach’s distinctive wails surely put him up there with some of the genre’s metal legends.

Even though for the most part this record borders on the bone-crunching side of heavy metal, Angel Down isn’t afraid of varying the mood, and it’s the spectacular power ballad ‘By Your Side’ that Bach really shines. This track could have been a massive accidental hit if it’d been given radio play, and is one of those epic, catchy, yet unknown love songs that doesn’t lay on the hair metal cheese to get its point across.

Mind you, ‘By Your Side’ is the only light track on the record, and the album features an additional seven face rippers, such as the thrashy assault of ‘Negative Light’, the grunge influenced ‘Live & Die’ and the brooding, doom-laden thud of ‘Take You Down With Me’.

Angel Down is one of metal’s finest moments; an hour of pummelling music that is played for keeps. You’d be a fool to miss this. I hope Sebastian Bach never reunites with Skid Row, because what he’s producing here is masterful.

Neil Arnold