Saturday, February 20, 2010

Initial Impressions: Charred Walls of the Damned: Charred Walls of the Damned

Okay, here's the deal on this one. This band was created by Richard Christy, former drummer of Acheron, Death, and Iced Earth who has been on a metal hiatus for about five years since joining the Howard Stern show as a personality performing prank calls, song parodies, and all kinds of other bizarre stuff. That's quite the career. The name of the band is a reference to prank calls made on the Howard Stern show to a tradio show on a Christian radio show in which the host prayed for Christy's soul where he would be put in his "nails in the charred walls of the damned".

Despite the recent comedy background of its founder, this is serious music. Christy formed this band and recruited some of the musicians he regards as the best in the world: bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Sadus, Death, Autopsy, Testament, Iced Earth, etc.), vocalist Ripper Owens (Judas Priest, Iced Earth, Beyond Fear, Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force), and guitarist Jason Suecof (Capharnaum, producer for Trivium, All That Remains, etc.). That's quite the eclectic group of musicians, although three were in Iced Earth at one point, so that seems to be the jumping-off point from which this band's sound is derived.

The music on this album for the most part falls into the same general power/thrash metal as Iced Earth, but there are aspects that distinguish it. For one thing, the drumming and guitar riffs bear a closer resemblance to melodic death metal in parts. Indeed, oftentimes the only characteristic the music shares with power metal is the vocals of the very talented Ripper Owens, whose multi-octave range made him an ideal replacement for Rob Halford in Judas Priest at one point. The idea behind the music seems to be to combine some of the riffing style of more extreme metal with the power of early speed and traditional styles of metal. It works fairly well.

Richard Christy displays a remarkable gift for songwriting on this album. Despite being a very well-regarded and capable drummer, he has never really been the focus in a band before. The lyrics are well-written and do not venture into the silliness that Richard has staked his second career out of in recent years.

The guitar riffing of mostly metalcore producer Jason Suecof is another big surprise on this album. The only band he has spent considerable amount of time with from a music standpoint is the little-known technical death metal band Capharnaum with his brother and Trivium axeman/singer Matt Heafy. He displays his considerable ability for death and thrash metal inspired riffs on this album as well as strong solos.

Steve DiGiorgio and Ripper Owens are both known quantities and perform as well as expected. DiGiorgio is a big-name bass player in many old school death metal bands and brings this sensibility and playing style to the band. Ripper Owens's vocals are extremely powerful and melodic. He has had difficulty landing a long-term job, which is unfortunate as he remains one of the most gifted singers in modern metal.

This is a well-played, strong album from start to finish. It tends to drag a little bit in the second half, but it is fairly short meaning that this slight drag does not detract too much from the listening experience. It will be interesting to see where this band goes from here. Will they tour? Will they create another album? Or is this it for Charred Walls of the Damned?

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