Released: 2007, Armageddon Music
"Wait a minute...Blitzkrieg? Yeah, they're the ones who did that one song that Metallica covered, right?" This is, unsurprisingly, just about all a great many metal fans today know about Leicester, England natives Blitzkrieg, one of the last of the surviving NWOBHM groups. (No doubt the aforementioned cover version is one of the reasons WHY they have managed to survive - royalties can certainly help prolong a band's lifespan - but that's beside the point.) Now in the twenty-seventh year since the group's founding, last original member Brian Ross and his bandmates have released their seventh full-length, THEATRE OF THE DAMNED. Co-produced by Saxon vocalist Biff Byford, the album is pretty much exactly what you might expect from the group, which is both good news and bad news - good because it is uncompomisingly true to their 80's-British-Metal formula of straightforward hard rock/metal riffs, melodic vocals, big choruses, and speedy guitar solos and bad because just about all of the previously mentioned factors are delivered in a distressingly generic fashion.
The album opener and title track unfortunately sets the stage for this theatre (or theater, or however you want to spell it) with what has got to be one of the most gloriously silly intros I've heard in a while - footsteps splash through the rain, thunder rolls, a door opens, a horrible child-actor voice asks for help because he's "lost," a distorted "eeeeevil" voice replies to inform the "child" he's in the "Theatre Of The Damned," a door slams, a series of identical voices begins to whisper the title over and over again, and then the music starts with a series of midtempo old-school British metal riffs but never really seems to go anywhere - it's just generic moment after generic moment. Honestly, if you really want to appreciate this album more, skip the first song, because it does get significantly better from there. One factor of the first song that unfortunately does NOT get much better is the vocal performance by Brian Ross. I'm not saying Ross can't sing - he has an excellent melodic midrange and hits some pretty darn good high notes here and there in the course of the album. The problem is the fact many of the vocal lines are oversaturated with reverb and chorus effects, which has the terrible side effect of ruining most of the emotional impact in delivery. As a result, Ross doesn't put much variety into the actual notes he's singing and most of the time sounds bland, monotonous, or even lifeless, like he's just going through the motions. On the occasions when he does tone down the reverb and stretch out, like on the excellent "Nightstalker," he sounds great, but on most of the tunes, the effect just falls flat. Now as for the music, it's true-to-form classic 80's British metal...not a lick of thrash or any-sort-of-'core' influence to be heard, and there are some gems buried in the midst of these tracks, especially on cuts like the driving "The Phantom," the well-done and melodic 'afterlife'-focused "Into The Light," and the goofy-but-fun 'ghost in the guitar' tale of the uptempo "Spirit Of The Legend." Truthfully, there isn't what I'd call a 'bad' song on here, but neither is there anything that sticks in my head as highly memorable. The riffs and song structures are competent and enjoyable to listen to but largely forgettable, as are many of the guitar leads - though I must admit Ken Johnson and new lead player Guy Laverick pull off some impressively explosive shred-bursts on a few songs, especially on the slow gallop of "My Life Is My Own," which is probably the best new song on the album. I mention 'new' songs because there are also some bonus tracks which are re-recorded versions of songs from the early days of the band, namely the excellent "Armageddon" and that infamous Metallica-covered track "Blitzkrieg," both of which manage to sound just as fresh, vibrant, and energetic as they did back when they were first recorded. Bonus video versions of two other classics from their back catalog are also included in both MPEG and MP4 format, which is another nice addition.
Blitzkrieg continue to fly the flag of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal high and proudly, and for that they should be commended. Overall, THEATRE OF THE DAMNED is, despite its flaws, still a fun album to listen to with some pretty cool songs any fan of classic 80's metal should be able to get into - followers of Satan (the band, not the entity), old Saxon, and Angel Witch should definitely get a huge kick out of this. You probably won't wind up headbanging to most of these tracks, but you might just find yourself smiling and nodding along.