|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By: Paul May|
|Record Label: Gonzo Multimedia||Country Of Origin: UK|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: Atkins May Project|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 85%|
As monumentally important as Judas Priest was to the NWOBHM movement, it was inevitable that other bands would find a way to lend their own unique spin to the UK born phenomenon that emerged in the late seventies. Case in point: Atkins May Project, as its namesake implies, is the new band of original Judas Priest vocalist Al Atkins, who has joined forces with Christian guitarist and music artist Paul May. According to the Atkins May Project press material, such a partnership of “extreme opposites have come together” with the goal of proving that (figuratively speaking) “good and evil can continue to work together”. The results speak for themselves, with two critically acclaimed albums released by the duo in Serpents Kiss (2011) and Valley of Shadows (2012).
Atkins, obviously, needs no introduction in having fronted Judas Priest between 1969 and 1973 and laying the foundation that would see them sell 40 million albums worldwide. In the process, he composed classic songs that went gold such as "Dreamer Deceiver”, “Never Satisfied”, “Winter” and “Victim of Changes” while also recording 5 solo albums and the 2010 self-titled debut of his Holy Rage project. May has received his accolades as well from appearing on 50 albums in both the mainstream and Christian arenas with the likes of Dave Holland (Judas Priest), Roy Wood (Move, ELO, Wizard), MC5, V-Rats, Janus and A.N.D.
Empire of Destruction, the third Atkins May Project album from the fall of 2014, maintains the classic and traditional metal leaning of its predecessors. A similarly brash and heavyset rhythm guitar sound makes its presence felt along with soloing that ranges from the robust to melodic. Low-end brings just as much strapping presence, while vocals are of the commanding and projection filled variety. Every bit important, songwriting continues to highlight a front to back consistency certain to draw you in with repeat listen. In the end, those whose tastes include anything from Judas Priest to Saint (and all things in between) will find a lot to like in Empire of Destruction.
The album breaks down between heavy hitting pieces and those taking a more melodic stance. In terms of the former, “Midas Touch” kicks up a tumultuous storm of momentum as heavy hitting riffs and bludgeoning driven low-end define the unflagging scene. May’s blazing guitar leads stand out equally. Maintaining the upbeat impetus is “Paranoia”, a powerful and curtly done mauler with a restless milieu and curtly done chorus. This one finds Atkins shining with his gutsy and gruff mid-register vocal abilities (he sounds remarkably fresh for someone in his mid-sixties). Thin Lizzy cover “RU Ready”, all two and a half minutes of it, also upholds the angst in highlighting a furious tempo as crunchy hooks and fiery guitar soloing abound.
The ominous “Reckless Child”, in contrast, slows things to a rumbling mid-paced romp as touches of doom reflect in its spiteful rhythm guitar presence and discordant refrain. The aggressively done backing vocals almost give rise to an extreme edge. “Dog Eat Dog” comes across equally foreboding, stalwart with its tough as nails guitar riffs but every bit engaging in its sublime flavorings. Lighter backing vocals at the end of the song lend an ethereal feel.
Empire of Destruction material taking a melodic heading finds May at the top of his game- and not just soloing (the heavier tracks allow him to prove his mettle in this capacity) but from a guitar harmony standpoint. It starts with “A World At War”, as tightly woven melodic harmonies abound throughout a setting that has swarthy and dogged written all over it. The exploding bombs and firing guns at the start align with the militant themes at hand. “The Darkness Within” strains towards the brooding and wistful mid-paced (a discordant feel prevails overall) but also shines with an every bit intricate guitar harmony penchant. Drums sustain the pummeling mentality.
Atkins May Project is no stranger to lengthy material, as the likes of eight-minute pieces “Theater Of Fools” (off Serpents Kiss) and “Bitter Waters” and “Valley Of Shadows” (Valley Of Shadows) aptly attest. Empire of Destruction proves no exception in featuring a pair of epic length melodic based ballads.
Nine-minute “Here Comes The Rain” starts, appropriately, to a thunderstorm before acoustic guitar and guitar feedback take over. The song proceeds to build impetus until rhythm guitars cut in and lead the way to an effortlessly flowing but to the point refrain. The remaining distance follows in a congruent manner as quieter and gentler moments give way to those mirroring a stauncher flavor with periodic instrumental moments carried by emotional soloing.
“Whisper To The Wind”, at nearly thirteen minutes, takes a similar approach: Almost progressive in terms of its time signatures ranging from calmer and stilly done (in which acoustic guitars hold sway) to others in which a forthright statement is made (as rhythm guitars play a pronounced role). The lone difference is how “Whisper To The Wind” comes across more ethereal and ambient overall, albeit maintaining the same standout melody and riveting lead guitar portions.
Production delivers the goods in giving rise to the needed refinement without taking away from the groups inherit raw energy. Packaging shines equally with incredible cover artwork provided by Rodney Matthews, who also contributed artwork to the first two Atkins May Project albums. Speaking of which, Matthews handles drums on bonus track “End Of The Earth”, a gritty and shuffling blues driven hard rocker interwoven with female backing vocals.
It would not be fair to label Empire of Destruction a Christian album nor Atkins May Project a Christian band. That said, in acting as primary songwriter, May’s faith could not help but come through in the groups prose. This stands out best on “Whisper To The Wind” (Whisper to the wind. Secrets of the heart. Who would believe. The depths of these scars. Would angels fear to tread. The world inside my head. For only God has seen. So I’ll whisper to the wind) and “Here Comes The Rain” (It’s sink or swim. For the tides are so high. And the water is deep. And there’s no place to hide. Better make no mistake. There are choices we make. How it’s drenching the shame. Lord here comes the rain). The message to “Darkness Within” is unmistakable as well (Free again. From the wages of sin. From the darkness within. Plead my friend. Plead the blood. That covers you again).
Social issues are also discussed, including our violent world on “A World At War” (The bell it shall toll. Ashes to ashes. Blood turns to dust. No law and no order. No rank or command. The world at war. The battle of battles. The blood and the hate) and greed on “The Midas Touch” (Here at the circus of madness. There is the fool with his gold. Enter the power of illusion. This beast is on the loose. Building the empire of mammon. The Midas touch. A touch too much).
Atkins May Project delivers another winner on its third full length offering Empire Of Destruction. The partnership between Al Atkins and Paul May remains a successful one accordingly, with the upshot yielding ten strong songs rooted in the NWOBHM aesthetic. The lone difference is how the album proves more varied musically in comparison to its predecessors, reflected in influences ranging from the progressive and doom like to those that even touch upon speed metal. Traditional metal fans - again Judas Priest and Saint and all things in between - will find a lot to like in Empire of Destruction.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “A World At War” (5:37), “The Midas Touch” (4:26), “Here Comes The Rain” (9:07), “The Darkness Within” (4:37), “Reckless Child” (5:14), “Paranoia” (5:02), “RU Ready” (2:35), “Dog Eat Dog” (4:40), “Whisper To The Wind” (12:44), “End Of The Earth” (3:57)
Al Atkins - Lead Vocals
Paul May - Guitars
Rodney Matthews - Drums