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Give ’Em Hell

Frontiers (2014)
Rating: 9.5/10

When I grew up as a teenager in the 1980s, I never expected my heavy metal heroes Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne to eventually become household names taking on cartoonish facades. Over time I would lose interest in these rock giants, despite the fact their music evolved through the decades.

For me, the heavy metal genre needs heroes, but often such idols need to be of a certain disposition; mainly as more than able rockers with not a care in the world, but whose music remained cool and hard throughout. If you ask me, it’s about time that former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach became a champion within our beloved genre.

After a staggeringly brilliant and wondrously heavy debut solo album (2007’s Angel Down), a bruising follow up (2011’s Kicking & Screaming) and a superb live record (2013’s ABachalypse Now), Sebastian has kept the fires burning and released another belligerent opus in the form of Give ’Em Hell, which features 12 more tracks of hard-hitting, punchy rock ’n’ roll face-slappers that deserve to be heard in every household.

Mr Bach is way too cool to inhabit the menagerie which houses Ozzy and company; his no frills demeanour and simple aim to rock hard means that the lanky, snarling frontman will probably be overlooked when it comes to heavy metal idols, but boy can this guy sing and with conviction too.

Those of you still stuck in those hair-lacquered days of old where Skid Row were being touted as the next big thing need not apply, because Give ’Em Hell is another robust slab of melodic metal that combines the swagger of that punishing debut with the subtlety of its follow-up, the result being that Bach and his merry band of moshing musicians have come up with another scorcher that’ll embed itself into your skull for years to come.

So, where do we start? Well, at the beginning of course, with the rattling ‘Hell Inside My Head’ and its infectious melody as well as Devin Bronson’s jarring riffs. “I am a slave to your system,” Bach mourns over Bobby Jarzombek’s bone-shuddering drums, only then to squeal, “This is my time, I’m rising…” before taking us into a void of murky riffs, and once again that ascending chorus. Already we’re hooked on this meaty masterpiece, even before the sleazoid jerk of ‘Harmony’ comes in to corrupt the ears. This time round the vocal displays more melody, especially with another monstrous chorus that just soars into the heavens.

The production here (courtesy of Bob Marlette) is fantastic, giving the record space to breath and the varying instruments to shine. Rarely does a record have such an impact after just one listen, so by the time you are on your tenth journey through Give ’Em Hell’s opening tracks, you’ll find it impossible to tear yourself away.

‘All My Friends Are Dead’ trundles with menace, all before the riff kicks in like a grunge-sodden serpent that writhes uncontrollably before Bach bemoans, “All my friends are dead, I’m left all alone, still I live and breathe”. The sneer is orgasmic as the back-beat simmers with gnarly weight that cavorts with the melody, prior to the track becoming awash with sprawling guitars and subsequently returning to that eerie, doom-laden plod. It’s a corker of a track that leaks into the volatile sway of ‘Temptation’, which again offers a bruising riff and pulverising percussion.

Again, Bach toys with subtle melody and harder structures. Just like the previous three, the track effortlessly cruises into a soaring chorus, but just when you think this is going to be an album of light and dark consultation we are blessed by the angelic tinkle of ‘Push Away’, which builds as a rumble, interwoven by a reaching solo and then Bach’s pensive groan of “I want to keep you, shut the door, throw away the key… for you belong to me”.

Again, the mood is dark, the only predictability being that once again we’re treated to another climbing pre-chorus and peak before returning to the shadowy. If anything, this has more in common with King Diamond’s brand of blackness than anything tepidly metallic.

Only halfway in, and I’m salivating at another masterpiece from one of metal’s most underrated performers – a man whose vocal range can strip the paint from the ceiling and whose stage presence is enough to cast long, suffocating shadows across the audience. The presence comes to the fore time and time again on this record; ‘Dominator’ batters, ‘Had Enough’ shines like a beacon and ‘Gun To A Knife Fight’ decimates. The cover of April Wine’s ‘Rock N Roll Is A Vicious Game’ offers the unexpected, meanwhile – a sleazy ballad strewn with harmonica and reflective hair metal abandonment.

The album is then seen off with a trio of tracks which should concrete Bach’s place in metal history. ‘Taking Back Tomorrow’ pummels without apology, and it is here that Duff McKagan’s bass comes to the fore. And there was you guys thinking I wasn’t going to name the former Guns ’N Roses man! His performance here is tireless, cementing his place among the top bassists of the genre and adding a dose of not just quality but attitude to the Bach attack.

‘Disengaged’ buzzes the ears like a monstrous fly; the drums kick the temple hard and again the bass rages with consummate ease. ‘Forget You’ brings the album to a close, which is another cool and brooding leviathan of a number that is riddled with enough subtle quirks to enable it to marry melody and weight.

With John 5 (Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson) and legendary guitarist Steve Stevens (Billy Idol, Vince Neil, Michael Jackson) also adding their talents to this cauldron, it’s only right once again that I give a rating to reflect the sheer power of Bach’s latest juggernaut. Arguably more melodic than Kicking & Screaming, Give ’Em Hell still confirms what I’ve always knew, that Sebastian Bach is one leather-clad, mane-haired throat who deserves to be hell’s latest hero.

Neil Arnold