Blitzkrieg - Judge Not! - (8.5/10)
Published on April 27, 2018
Over 35 years is a long, long time.
This will in all probability be a great year for Brian Ross, you see. Not only his much-beloved Blitzkrieg is back for more with another record (the one we’re about to review, of course), he’s also going from strenght to strenght with Satan, arguably the most successful NWOBHM reunion alongside with Hell and due to release a new album later in 2018. After decades struggling with not-very-wide-ranging distribution (and, sometimes, without any dotted lines to sign at all), now both bands are connected to strong labels (Satan with Metal Blade, Blitzkrieg with Mighty Music) very willing to give them all the backing they need to deliver the goods. It’s heartwarming to see one of the most resilient NWOBHM stalwarts achieving high levels of recognition so late in his career – and, with such good vibes surrounding Ross and his cohorts nowadays, it’s pleasantly reassuring to listen to “Judge Not!”, the 9th all-original full length in Blitzkrieg’s ongoing history. Far from reinventing the heavy metal wheel (and, let’s face it, who would ever want them to do such a thing?), the 5-piece just focused their collective strenghts into writing and recording good songs, and the resulting album is perhaps their best since 2002’s “Absolute Power”, easily ranking among the greatest achievements in their 35-year-plus cannon.
After the obligatory, atmospheric intro, the weighty “Who is Blind?” bursts forth with heavy riffing and some pretty impressive drumming. Next comes the excellent “Forever is a Long Time”, and oh well, anyone who truly loves old-school metal will be hooked by this point. Granted, these are compositions like many bands (incluiding Blitzkrieg themselves) wrote in droves through the years, but everything is done with such finesse and conviction that you’ll probably be screaming along with the chorus of the latter even before it’s over. “Forever is a Long Time” isn’t a light-hearted song at all (singing about vampires that will never be able to die, you would hardly have a chance), but it’s immensely entertaining – and what else would you want from these NWOBHM flamebearers than severe amounts of uncompromising, headbang-inducing fun?
Assembling a stable line-up have always been a challenge for Mr. Ross, but it’s fair to say he always kept a good level of musicianship around him, and “Judge Not!” is no different. Long-standing guitar soldier Ken Johnson is accompanied by Alan Ross once again, and the duo are surely hitting their stride, with a strong display of consistent riffing and some truly engaging solos. Matt Graham is a young, talented drummer with commendable energy and tons of potential, and new 4-string player Huw Holding sure knows his trade, as some very interesting basslines (listen carefully to “Falling into Darkness” for evidence) are well enough to demonstrate. And oh well, Brian Ross is one of the defining voices of NWOBHM and British Metal in general, no less. He’s no longer a kid, you know, but it’s remarkable how strong his singing still is, perhaps getting even better with each year that passes. Just listen to him on the near-title-track “Judge Not Lest You Yourself Be Judged”, for instance: though surely not the most complicated vocal lines ever written in metal, Ross gets the job done with such enthusiasm, skill and charisma that the song is instantly rendered memorable as a result.
Blitzkrieg sounds rejuvenated from start to finish, and most songs here featured are pretty bloody good. “All Hell is Breaking Loose” grows on you with each listen, with commanding bass and a slightly more restrained, but still memorable vocal delivery. This particular piece is in the same mood as Theatre of the Damned’s “Devil’s Spawn” and Unholy Trinity’s “Take a Look Around”, adding emotional depth and a much-welcomed variation to the proceedings. After a number of mostly fast songs (“Angels or Demons”, for instance, is one of the best, with all those high-pitched shrieks Brian Ross is so well known for), the album does a healthy shift towards more hard-rocking waters, with both “Loud and Proud” and the excellent “Without You” being mid-paced numbers that allow the listener a time to breathe before “Wide Legged and Headless” lays the pedal to the floor once again. This particular number touches some pretty nasty topics, and some of its lyrics may be not taken lightly in times when sexism in metal is being called into question (is a song about necrophilia, you see), but I understand Brian Ross had Alice Cooper and his terror songs in mind rather than anything more questionable when writing this one. Incidentally, “Without You” presents Alan Ross taking over vocal duties, and the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree really, as he sounds like a mix of his father Brian with Klaus Meine – and it works pretty fine in a less forceful tune, actually being one of my personal favorites on the entire album. Oh yeah, it’s almost as cheesy as it gets, but it’s a damn lot of fun, and I like it! Even “Reign of Fire”, a song that I didn’ enjoy that much when it first came out as part of a promotional EP, sounds much better when included on the album’s running order, sharing its mood and approach with the tunes preceeding it.
It’s not a flawless album, that’s for sure. The aforementioned “Falling into Darkness” is uncanningly similar to “Sahara” from previous album Back from Hell, and the aforementioned “Wide Legged and Headless”, though far from spoiling the album’s flow, also pales somewhat after repeated listens. But delving too deep into such minor shortcomings would be nitpicking, as I seriously doubt anyone not engaged into writing a review or something will hardly give a damn about it. “Judge Not!” is not for all tastes perhaps, but those into British-standard-approved metal will most probably like it at first listen and find great replay value on this one. The production is top notch, and the artwork looks cool as well, a careful approach that really shows how seriously Mighty Music is taking its new signing. In a year full of promising releases on old-school heavy music, Blitzkrieg’s new stuff is up there with the best – and we’re all very thankful, no doubt. Ask no questions and go buy this one: they deserve it, you can take my word for it.