Reviewed: September 1, 2022
Released: October 28, 2022, Moribund Records
Reviewer: The Elitist Metalhead
ONWARD is a band that takes me back to 2000/2001 timeframe. I had acquired their first album and was blow away at their style of USPM centered around the shredding of axe man and founder, Toby Knapp. Knapp was approached by his label at the time and was asked to write and record a traditional metal album so the debut, Evermoving, was written and recorded before he even had a band. Once the band was put the together, vocalist Michael Grant was brought in. Grant had such a powerful , melodic voice that sounded a lot like metal legend James Rivera (HELSTAR, ex DESTINY’S END, etc). ONWARD recorded three albums with Grant on vocals before tragedy struck and an acute illness took his life in 2012. Sadly, tragedy would strike this project once more with the passing of bassist Chris Payette in December 2020.
Fast forward to 2022, we find that Toby has an all new line up, a brand new album in the can, and is ready to resurrect ONWARD. Of Epoch and Inferno is the result and let me tell you, the apt title should maybe have been The Inferno of this Epoch because Knapp is on fire. I do want to caution anyone who is expecting this to be a continuation of the Grant era you may want to clear your mind of that thought before jumping in. The vocals are handled by ATTIKA vocalist Robert van War. He has a more gruff heavier tone to his voice in comparison to the melodic sounds of Grant. But as you move through this album you realize that a strong vocal album was not what Knapp was going for. Instead, he created what I would call a nod to his humble beginnings and made an old school Mike Varney Shrapnel Records album that reminds me of the CACOPHONY era of the label.
Coming right out of the gate with “Vicious Beauty” and what a fitting title….vicious and beautiful. The riffing immediately brought to mind Akira Takasaki. Knapp did do a LOUDNESS cover on their sophomore album but these riffs just took me right back. His soloing style seems to have a lot of influences but man can he shred. Some might think this is over the top…because it’s supposed to be! Don’t get me wrong, this album is not just all wank and no substance. The songs on this album are really well done with some really slick riffing. The vocals are a little lower in the mix on some songs but, again, this is not that ONWARD. “Silhouette” would be “vocal” song on this album. It has a really melodic chorus and is over all more melodic than the other songs. But mostly this is Knapp showcasing not only his insane shredding but his riffing ability. Songs like “Neptune’s Revenge” or the thrashy “Ring Around the Rosary” are prime examples of some of the sick riffing on this album. And let’s not forget the closer, the beast that is “Onward We Sail.” This song is how an album closer should be. It’s the longest on the album and showcases everything that is great about this album. This monster is a riff fest and the solos are just mind blowing.
The return of ONWARD was surely welcome news to my ears and this album shows that Knapp’s efforts paid off because this is an amazing comeback. Knapp did not take the easy way out because he did not go out and find Michael Grant’s soundalike nor is the song structure the same. He is not content on re-creating the first two over again. Instead he decided to reinvent ONWARD by throwing it back just a bit and it worked. If you like riff heavy traditional metal with insane solos, mark the above release date on your calendars and hold on, you’re in for a ride!