(Dissonance Productions 2016)
For a long-dormant band, the exercise of releasing a comeback album is fraught with peril. Modernize or tweak your sound too much and the diehards will be furious and say you have tainted your legacy. Stick too much to the tried-and-true formula and you will be accused of recycling older (and better) material in a cynical cash-grab. Matters become even trickier when attempting a comeback album without the involvement of a key contributor to your classic songs. Such was the dilemma in which Steve Grimmett’s Grim Reaper found themselves. After releasing a trio of dearly loved traditional British metal albums in the 1980s, Grim Reaper disbanded. Guitarist and founding member Nick Bowcott went on to have a successful career with Marshall Amplification USA. Meanwhile, Steve Grimmett revived Grim Reaper periodically to hit the European festival circuit. The reconstituted band now includes Grimmett’s best friend Ian Nash on guitar, bassist Martin Trail (who is also a member of the fantastic band Fury) and drummer Paul White (one of the hardest hitters I’ve ever seen). Over time, the cries for a new album became stronger and bookings became scarcer as promoters clamored for something new to pitch to the metal ticket-buying hordes. Finally, Grimmett and Nash buckled down and wrote a batch of new songs. The fruits of their labor, in the form of ‘Walking in the Shadows,’ were a long time coming, as the album was approximately three years in the making. But the wait was well worth it.
After spending some time with ‘Walking in the Shadows’ and seeing the band live on their recently completed U.S. tour (their second of 2016), I am pleased to report that Grim Reaper navigated these treacherous waters brilliantly. The songs on ‘Walking in the Shadows’ are very much in the time-honored Grim Reaper style, with many of Nash’s sturdy, pounding riffs sounding like they could have been written by Bowcott back in the day. And Grimmett turns in a performance that shows him to be largely impervious to the ravages of time. Sure, he doesn’t go for the kamikaze piercing screams the way he did in the old days, but Grimmett’s power, range, control and character remain fully intact. He was always a special singer, and he still wears the mantle today. So as to the main ingredients, this is a traditional Grim Reaper album through and through, with no curveballs or unwelcome stylistic shifts. Hell, there’s even a “rock! rock!” part at the end of “Rock Will Never Die” in homage to “Rock Me ‘Till I Die” off ‘Rock You to Hell.’ Better yet, the songs sound fresh. Okay, there may not be a monster highlight like “See You in Hell” here, but these songs are, by and large, great. “From Hell,” “Wings of Angels,” “Temptation” (White really punishes the skins on this one), “Reach Out,” “Come Hell or High Water,” the hits just keep on coming. It’s just classy, catchy, inspired British metal from top to bottom, with nary a whiff of filler to be found amidst the 12 songs.
Perhaps the highest compliment I can give ‘Walking in the Shadows’ is this: On their recent U.S. tour, Grim Reaper were playing six of these new tunes live (“Wings of Angels,” “Walking in the Shadows,” “Reach Out,” “From Hell,” “Call Me in the Morning,” and “Temptation”). Six new songs in a setlist is an awful lot, but the ‘Walking in the Shadows’ material stood comfortably side by side with the classics. What’s more, a couple of the new songs the Reapers didn’t play (“Come Hell or High Water” or “Blue Murder” come to mind) are strong enough that they could have been added to the setlist. These are just really good songs written and performed by master craftsmen. When the dust has settled, and heavy metal historians are looking back decades from now, I believe that ‘Walking in the Shadows’ will be considered to be at least as strong as (and maybe even better than) its predecessors. Sure, the highs are not be as high as they were on ‘See You in Hell’ or ‘Fear No Evil,’ but ‘Walking in the Shadows’ is consistently excellent, honest, blue-collar traditional English heavy metal. So take Grim Reaper’s hand. Follow them. And don’t look back, my friend.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~