Thursday, July 7, 2011

Warrel Dane - Praises To The War Machine (2008)

Warrel Dane is a busy man. The versatile frontman of a reunited Sanctuary and currently crumbling Nevermore is always on the move, always working on something. So, it isn't surprising that when 2008 rolled around, and there was a break in the action, he went directly to the studio to write and record a solo album. And so, "Praises To The War Machine" was born, another notch in the belt of one of the best vocalists in metal.

There are certainly some monster metal riffs, as is evident in the opening track, "When We Pray." But this isn't Jeff Loomis, and these aren't Nevermore songs. The guitars are roughly distorted, chugging up and down scales. Lyrical content is the name of the game, with an indictment of religion at hand. From his signature classical style to haunting whispers, Dane hits all the right notes. Drums get the lead in the opening section of "Messenger," with some serious double kick work. The emotional tone of voice used in the verse is the perfect compliment to the darker work in the chorus. The solo guitar work in the bridge is astounding, backed by aggressive bass lines and cymbals.

The slower, more poignant "Obey" is eerie in it's simplicity. Precise, punching drum work pads out the track, with distorted chords ringing out. A clean guitar solo gives a reprieve, but Dane returns with a scathing view of society's flaws. He proclaims that the end is near, and we are all insane. The assault of "Lucretia My Reflection" shows off Dane's vocal range, allowing him to switch from raspy growls to his deep crooning. Keeping the lyric sheet close at hand is a must. Dane's version of a ballad is realized with "Let You Down," a song that makes the most of acoustic guitar and vocal melodies. The riffs and drum beats will leave you swaying from side to side, but this is a stripped down opus, allowing each piece to shine through.

Haunting lyrics begin "August," delivered in an almost talk-singing style, with effects adding to the mystique. Guitars come shredding in, the clang of cymbals offering full support. The tale of loss is told, while a rumbling bass line echos through. The track is a very personal piece, and you feel the overwhelming sadness in each word. In contrast, there is beauty in the acoustic guitar and string opening of "Your Chosen Misery." Lyrically dark, yet somehow powerful, he continues to show that metal doesn't have to be dumbed down to grunts and screams. Not until the final third of the song does the hammer drop, and heavy strumming and drumming cuts through.

"The Day The Rats Went To War" could find a home on a Nevermore album, with the bass heavy rhythm section locking hand in hand with chunks of guitar. But on the following track, "Brother," Dane solidifies this album as a metal masterpiece. The slow, crawling pace, combined with his delicate clean vocals builds the emotional investment. When the first distorted guitar chords come crashing down, you are now fully immersed in the material, feeling as though the lyrics are being delivered to you and you alone. The alternating fury and frailness of "Patterns" is inspiring, with layers upon layers of instrumentation to create a deep wall of sonic waves.

The album concludes with "This Old Man," a memory revisited for Dane, with somber verse giving way to thrashing bridge and back again. He proclaims in the chorus that he will, indeed, "remember the words of this old man, until my dying day." A fitting and emotional memorial. "Equilibrium" takes us to the end, with some intense, high speed chord work. This is the most aggressive beat on the album, driving the final nails into the coffin. The guitar work is fast and furious, with drums pounding each and every beat harder. Dane's vocals soar over the top, with one last burst.

Warrel Dane's vocals are a polarizing topic. The fact is, you either like them or you don't. There is very rarely a middle ground. And on an album like this, where his vocals are truly the star, detracters might be better off simply passing. But for those fans who fall on the positive side, this record was made for you. Focused, powerful and assertive, it's time to finally time to sing his praises.


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