I’m by no means a card-carrying members of the Army Of Immortals (or whatever else the legions of MANOWAR fans call themselves these days), but I will admit to really liking pretty much everything the band did up until (and including) “Kings Of Metal”. Apart from “Louder Than Hell,” I haven’t really paid any attention to the shenanigans of Joey DeMaio and crew, and so by default I also never bothered to check out “New Metal Leader”, the debut effort by ex-MANOWAR guitarist Ross “The Boss” Friedman. Hell, if the guys at TMO HQ hadn’t seen fit to send me his new album I probably wouldn’t have checked this one out either, but here we are anyway...
OK, so I guess I didn’t sound too optimistic so far – chalk it down to one of my anti-MANOWAR and MANOWAR-related projects phases – but this album actually isn’t that bad at all. “Hailstorm” is not a classic by any stretch of the imagination but it easily beats the crap out of anything the inimitable guitarist’s former band has done in ages. Whereas current MANOWAR is dragged down by all manner of orchestral overkill, “Hailstorm” sticks to the basics, i.e. rocking out and having a good fucking time. The first half of the album is pretty damn good, with tracks like “Kingdom Arise”, the title track, and “Burn Alive” having all the traits of some good old school Metal. The former reminds me a bit of “All Men Play On 10” at times, while the title track’s bridge sections borrow wholesale from MAIDEN’s “Wildest Dreams”. They wear their influences on their sleeves but the songs are lively, catchy and just a lot of fun. The aforementioned “Burn Alive” is also a cracking number in spite of the fact that it sounds very similar to “Death Tone” at times. The bombastic ZEPPELIN-like swagger of the solos make up for it though.
When the band is rockin’ and rollin’ like they are during the first half of the disc all is fine and dandy, but when they tone things down a bit and try to inject some more atmospherics into the mix things don’t always add up. Sadly large portions of the second half of the album fall squarely in this category, and it really drags the album down a peg or two. “Great Gods Glorious” is a decent but unnecessary interlude, both “Crom” and “Among The Ruins” are too damn slow and trudging, and the chorus is the only thing that sticks out on “Empire’s Anthem”. Add to this the fact that Patrick Fuchs’s vocals are a tad on the one-dimensional side and you have a really disappointing last half to sit through.
Overall “Hailstorm” is an OK effort, but one feels that it could have been a lot more potent had some of the longer tracks either been reigned in or left out altogether. They are clearly at their best when they buckle down and rock, and the album needed just a little more of the latter to see it through.
(Online April 14, 2011)