|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By: Paul May|
|Record Label: Gonzo Multimedia||Country Of Origin: UK|
|Year Released: 2011||Artist Website: Atkins / May Project|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 47:50|
It’s not everyday you come across a metal album that has this much class, let alone that wears it as well as Serpents Kiss, the fall of 2011 full length debut from Atkins / May Project. A joining of original Judas Priest vocalist Al Atkins and Christian guitarist and music artist Paul May, Atkins / May Project has come up with ten NWOBHM influenced tracks that deliver every bit as much edge and bite (in terms of driving bass lines, relentless drumming and guitar pyrotechnics) as the do immediate accessibility (from the standpoint of catchy hooks that keep things fresh with repeated listen). Serpents Kiss, in other words, upholds the albums single selling appeal that “good and evil can in fact work together”, albeit as demonstrated in the lyrics, good, ultimately, comes out on top in the end!
Most of you I am sure are already aware that Al Atkins was a founding member of Judas Priest, staying with the group from its 1969 inception until his departure in 1973, when he was replaced by the legendary Rob Halford. Since then, Atkins has released five solo albums, dating back to his 1990 debut Judgement Day but also including his most recent, Demon Deceiver, from 2007, in addition to the 2010 self-titled debut of his Holy Rage project. Paul May, who also needs little introduction, has gained renown for being part of the traditional metal band A.N.D. at the time of its 1994 release Get Real while also performing on over 50 albums to date in both the secular and Christian arenas.
The “good vs. evil” thing, of course, might be played up a bit too much here, but if your metal tastes trend towards both sides of the fence - and by that I am referring to Judas Priest, Accept and Iron Maiden (on one side) and Saint, Testify and Armageddon (on the other) - then I can see Atkins / May Project being of interest. Either way, the duo of Al Atkins and Paul May leave little doubt as to their abilities to stay true to their classic and traditional metal roots in no uncertain terms!
It starts with the Serpents Kiss material, which does not let up from beginning to end. “The Shallowing”, as a result of its unrelenting tempo, and “Traitors Hand”, bringing every bit as much heavy hitting fury, deliver adrenaline in abundance, while the same can be said for hook driven monster “Fight” and boisterously catchy “Betta Than Twisted”. Slowing the tempo but not the quality is the bottom heavy hooks to “Dream Maker” in addition to the joining of hard charging riffs and melody representative of “Judge” and “Can You Hear Me”. You will also find a fitting Kiss cover, “Cold Gin”, along with a near doom influenced piece, “Sign”. By far the best representation of the group’s songwriting is “Theatre Of Fools”, as majestic an eight and a half minutes of epic metal as you will find.
There are some who are born to front a metal band and such is the case with Al Atkins. As gusty a singer as you will find, Atkins gives prominence to a gruff and gravelly mid-ranged presence – full of power at a moments notice but also to reach down for a low-key growl - in perfect tune with the music at hand. I hesitate to invite comparison because Atkins has his own style, he sounds resoundingly fresh for someone in his mid-sixties, but he reminds me somewhat of original Testify vocalist Ron Poggione, David Sandstrom (Chained) and Billy Hagan Blax (Spittin Jonah).
But it is Paul May on guitar who steals the show. What we have in May is as blazing a soloist as you will find, laying down extended stretches of scorching leads that range from the all out intense (see “Traitors Hand” and “Dream Maker”) to bristling (as found on “”Signz” and “Betta Than Twisted”) to full of feeling and emotion (check out “Theatre Of Fools”). Heavy duty riffs you will also find in abundance (catchy and potent but also decidedly dominant when need calls for it) along with songwriting perfectly tailored for Atkins’ abilities.
Production delivers the goods with guitars crisp and forthright and rhythm section cleanly standing out in the mix.
The groups press material describes lyrics as “(covering) a wealth of subject matters and life experiences”. With May handling the majority of the songwriting, the lone exception being the Kiss cover “Cold Gin” (more on this later in the track by track), lyrics are positive in being written with a “Christian worldview” in mind. Hence, as described in the opening paragraph, “good comes out on top in the end”. For strongest statements of faith see “Can You Hear Me”, “Signz” and “Judge”.
Atkins / May Project has delivered a very classy metal album in Serpents Kiss that, without a doubt, wears that class in question as a result of strengths in the area of songwriting and teamwork of Al Atkins and Paul May. Packaging is top notch as well, with stunning album artwork from Rodney Matthews, who has also worked with Stairway and Motherlode. Fans of classic and traditional metal would do themselves a favor by checking out Atkins / May Project.
Track By Track
Bottom heavy, thick and weighty as it gets, opener “The Shallowing” sets the stage for much of what is to follow on the album. The song starts slowly to several seconds of ominous guitar feedback before taking off at a breakneck clip, maintaining the relentless focus as pulverizing drums and splintering riffs play a prevailing role. Things slow to a near doom-like romp the final minute. Lyric snippet:
When there’s only shades of grey
And nothing black and white
And your looking for an answer
And your night has turned to day
And time just slips away
You torture yourself
Ease that troubled mind
For time will soon erase
The tune of cruel suggestion
Don’t be fooled again
You hide that sunken face
The signs are all but clear
“Traitors Hand” upholds the decisive heading. No, this one does not back down from the aggression with its non-stop incessant tempo, but it can also prove quite catchy as well, as evident in the gripping mentality of its hook driven chorus. The front to back blistering leads of May help take the intensity to the next level- and then some!
“Dream Maker” slows things a couple notches while upholding the heaviness. Sustained by an in your face guitar mix, the song stomps its length at a powering mid-paced clip while delivering another notable hook and more of May’s blazing leads in abundance. This could have easily made the tenth song on Saint’s 2010 Hell Blade release.
“Can You Hear Me” proves hulking in capacity. The song slowly fades in prior to a pounding riff taking over, coming across as heavy as anything here for its verses only to, contrastingly, calmly smooth for an even sounding chorus that almost has some accessible elements to it. Nice joining of the muscular and melodic. Lyric snippet:
From my accusers
Help me now
I’ve felt the shame
All I need is Your forgiveness
Try to shoot me
With their aim
Falling on my face
Calling out Your name
Depending on Your grace
Can You hear me
Will You heal me
“Signz” almost reflects some doom metal qualities. The song chugs its distance in portent fashion, highlighting walls of unyielding rhythm guitar and an epic flavored chorus (very memorable and almost sublime in capacity) but put over the top by Atkins’ gutsy vocal delivery. Another extended run of emotionally charged lead guitar from May. Lyric snippet:
Sign of the times
Better watch and pray
It won’t be long
Gotta keep the faith bold and strong
And when the prophets say
“I AM THE ONE”
The warning signs have just begun
Jackals prowl outside your door
Can you hear them now?
Vultures gathered on the plain
Ready to devour
The up-tempo “Fight” delivers four minutes of fiery momentum. The song roars its extent, with hooks in abundance and a full on infectious energy paving the way for what amounts one of the albums better stronger tracks (it was a wise decision on the bands part to record a video of this one). The low end makes quite the pronounced showing as well.
What we have in “Judge” is another gutsy mauler. The song establishes quite the heavy set mentality, staunch and dogged for its verses but evening out for a surprisingly melodic based chorus (in which some keyboards make their presence felt). More adroit guitar work from May reflected in quite the catchy riff and sweeping run of intense soloing. Lyric snippet:
Look out world
Judgement on the way
There are no secrets
An invitation sadly ignored
There is no other way
He’s calling you today
Look out world
Time is drawing near
Look out world
End is almost hear
“Betta Than Twisted” represents three and a half minutes of focus and fury. A rollicking and straightforward hard rock approach can be found here, aligning more catchy riff action with a too the point chorus (memorable but perfectly terse at the same time) and understated low-end groove. Classic Rez Band comes to mind in the process.
The Kiss cover “Cold Gin” (written by guitarist Ace Frehley) delivers the goods in staying true to the original: Snarling mentality, caustically done chorus and plenty of distorted guitar work (May is in his natural element on this one). The lone complaint - and please forgive me if I am out of line here - is that if an old Ace song is going to be covered (by no means a bad idea) then why not choose one with more positive lyrics? How about “Hard Times”, a vastly underrated deep cut off Dynasty, instead?
“Theatre Of Fools” is certain to challenge for song of the year. Coming in at a satisfying eight and a half minutes, the song proves epic in capacity with its enticing riff action and penchant for the melodic that gives it a decided longevity despite its length. A protracted instrumental interlude features some of the albums most emotionally charged lead guitar work. In the end, “Theatre Of Fools” flows so smoothly and perfectly you cannot help but return to it time and again. Theocracy fans will be certain to embrace this. Lyric snippet:
The world’s a stage
But there’s a pantomime of madness
About to play at the theatre of fools
By the hand of evil tyrants
See kingdoms fall
Their rulers one and all
The wind of change
See’s the plot so clearly
How opinion is divided
Upon the stage
At the theatre of fools
Review by Andrew Rockwell.
Track Listing: “The Shallowing” (5:14), “Traitors Hand” (4:10), “Dream Maker” (3:48), “Can You Hear Me” (4:01), “Signz” (4:16), “Fight” (4:17), “Judge” (5:06), “Betta Than Twisted” (3:23), “Cold Gin” (4:56), “Theatre Of Fools” (8:35)
Al Atkins - Lead Vocals
Paul May - Guitars