Released: April 2018, AFM Records
For the uninitiated, Ross “The Boss” Friedman’s rock and roll credentials are pretty solid. In the early 70’s he founded The Dictators. A band many people have credited as being the forerunners of the American punk scene. As far back as 1975, Friedman and his band mates put out an album of trashy riffola that predated the Ramones debut by a clear 12 months. For further context, over in the UK the Sex Pistols and the Clash were still a full two years away from releasing their first records. That alone gives reason to acknowledge Ross The Boss as a notable, albeit comparatively unsung contributor to a scene that has since established its significance in popular counter-culture. When the Dictators eventually spilt, Friedman continued to play guitar as a member of Shakin’ Street until 1982 when in a more-metal-than-most moment, Ronnie James Dio introduced him to bass player, Joey DeMaio while backstage at a Black Sabbath show. It was this meeting that spawned the creation of heavy metal’s most ostentatious, muscle-bound, fantasy-based band; the inimitable, Manowar.
Manowar need very little introduction. There aren’t many metal heads who haven’t heard of them or aren’t aware of how they distilled heavy metal down to its most basic elements of volume, virtuosity and power. Their image was influenced by battle mythology and they presented themselves as Barbarians on a crusade for “true metal.”
Friedman’s time with the band ended in 1988 and he went on to play in various other outfits. This included a reunion with the Dictators. However, for his solo work as Ross the Boss (and this release is his third under his own name) he has retained much of the aesthetic and musical muscle that was present during his time in Manowar.
By Blood Sworn sets its agenda straight away. There are no lengthy intros or atmospheric build ups. The title track crashes in and vocalist Marc Lopez gives the command to “prepare your hearts for Death’s cold hand.” By the time he hits his first soaring metal scream, we are left in no doubt that this is heavy metal for those who fall into two distinct camps; those who take their metal very seriously and those who take it with a sense of theatre and fun, It’s fair to say both parties will have the air guitars out and will be riffing along to By Blood Sworn’s confident gallop. The opening track is a solid headbanger that conjures up images of blood-hungry hordes pounding into battle. The album carries its momentum into the second track, but this time showcasing a slightly different influence. Among the Bones is pure rock & roll that retains a chunky metal throb but also brings echoes of the sunset strip. It is clear that Friedman has taken influence from a broad range of metallic styles and is able to piece them together to good effect without it seeming disjointed or forced. As if to prove this point, the next song, This is Vengeance is built around a speed metal thrust and features plenty of double bass drum work courtesy of Lance Barnewold. The percussive assault continues on We Are the Night which establishes a steady, sneering pulse that is best enjoyed at volume. By this point it is clear that although credited to Ross as a solo artist, By Blood Sworn is very much a band effort. The guitar work is never more that the songs require. Friedman avoids using the record as an excuse to showcase any unnecessary virtuosity. Instead, the solos flash by with the same rock and roll swagger you might find on a Saxon or Motorhead album. Up to this point, By Blood Sworn has offered a set of strong songs. There aren’t many surprises, but what is on offer is played with an infectious enthusiasm that I find very appealing. Having said that, Faith of the Fallen presents us with the album’s first real misstep. A traditional power ballad that carries a sense of obligation rather than sincerity and comes complete with a “did-they-really-just-do-that?” key change towards the end. Thankfully, the album picks up the pace again with Devils Day. It’s a fairly throwaway, trashy song that suggests the album could be running out of steam. However, By Blood Born does have at least one more bonafide ace up its sleeve. The seventh track, Lilith starts with bassist, Mike LePond plucking out a creepy line that would make Geezer Butler proud. Black Sabbath is the most obvious reference here as the band take us through a strong, seven minute piece of melodic doom that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on any mid-era Sabbath album. It completely re-energises the album after what feels like a mid-way drop. For Play Among the Godz and Mother of Horrors, Friedman continues with his Iommi-isms and cranks these ones out as if he’s been listening to Mob Rules on repeat. They are energetic tunes that sound like a band having a great time. This is a real strength of By Blood Sworn and credit should go to producer Dean Rispler, who has captured the band in full flight. The final track is Fistful of Hate. It’s a suitably powerful charge towards the end of the album that gives you one last opportunity to bang you head like you mean it. By Blood Sworn isn’t going to win any prizes for originality. It doesn’t offer us anything new and it’s not a perfect record. What it does give us is a likeable set of hard rock and heavy metal songs played with experience and enthusiasm and there is completely no reason to not have a good time listening to it.
01: By Blood Sworn
02: Among The Bones
03: This Is Vengeance
04: We Are The Night
05: Faith Of The Fallen
06: Devil’s Day
08: Play Among The Godz
09: Circle Of Damnation
10; Fistful Of Hate
11: Each Dawn I Die (Digipack Bonus Track)
12: The Oath (Digipack Bonus Track)
13: Hail And Kill (Digipack Bonus Track)
Ross Friedman – Guitars
Marc Lopez – Vocals
Mike LePond – Bass
Lance Barnewold – Drums