Collaboration. Duets, duel solos, two bands playing the same song at the same time, and one thousand drummers playing in perfect sync. Listeners will never be hard-pressed when trying to come by collaborative music. In the metal community however, collaboration has always seemed a little more special, and fans tend to lose their minds over it. For those who like their metal collaborative, prepare to be blown away. Metal Allegiance, an all-star band with a rotating cast made up of some of metals most admirable, launch their Self-titled Debut Album on September 18th via Nuclear Blast Entertainment following an album release show the night before at N.Y's Best Buy Theatre. Core members Mike Portnoy (formerly of Dream Theater), David Ellefson of Megadeth, Alex Skolnick of Testament and founder Mark Menghi are a treat in diversity already. But it doesn’t stop here - the allegiance has only just begun. Get ready for some serious name-dropping.
With such hype surrounding this release, it simply had to deliver a killer opening track. And no surprise, it does. Randy Blythe of Lamb of God delivers his trademark vocal style on "Gift of Pain", setting up what’s still to come. Initially, as you’re waiting for this bomb to drop, you get just that - the high-pitched whistle of a long fall before the track explodes. Next up to the bat is Mastadon’s Troy Sanders, who takes the reins on lead vocals for the masterfully diverse "Let Darkness Fall." A strong track throughout, the real magic here is in a long bridge section where Skolnick's personality really shines through. Short, soft and subtle notes cry from an almost shy side of the guitar before emerging slightly into a quick, Santana-esque section. Just as you’re expecting the solo to deliver the usual big, air guitar-worthy pay-off, expectations are shut down and something better is delivered, and the Spanish style, sound and playing instantly becomes the track highlight. Another song rich in its lyrical content and diverse in its playing is "Dying Song" featuring Mark Menghi on bass and the legendary Phil Anselmo of Down and Pantera on vocals. For the most part, this is a solid track, but it could be argued that it is double the length it needs to be. Songwriter’s choice, or milking an already great track? It’s hard to tell here, but the two minute outro drags on despite the impressive soloing.
On "Can't Kill The Devil," Testament lead vocalist Chuck Billy gives us the Testament song that never was. Lyrically, the album is at one of its strongest points here, made all the better with vocalist Billy giving a strong delivery. It is also a guitarist’s wet dream as additional lead guitar comes from Sepultura's Andreas Kisser and Machine Head's Phil Demmel. An incredible blend between these two masters closes the track and it is simply a treat to listen to. "Scars" featuring the first duet on ‘Metal Allegiance’ that sees Death Angel's Mark Osegueda handle the verses along with Lacuna Coil's Cristina Scabbia, who takes on the big chorus. Osegueda's performance is on point, and he delivers some of the strongest verses so far, while Scabbia owns every note as she always does. From Ellefson's vicious bass intro to Portnoy's epic delivery in the track’s final moments, along with everything in between, "Scars" could well be the standout track on the album.
Trivium's front- and axe-man Matthew K. Heafy takes both vocal and additional lead guitar on "Destination: Nowhere." In parts old school, in others contemporary, both are blended together perfectly. If you did not already know it was him, it might be tough to recognise Heafy as he lends a different, old-school vocal style on the track that suits it well. The song ends on a fade-out which, in comparison to its charging into battle intro, does fall a little flat, but also adds to the idea of "Destination: Nowhere" as you feel the journey hasn't quite finished but instead gets lost. Another duet of sorts between Doug Pinnick of King's X and Hatebreed's Jamey Jasta takes place on "Wait Until Tomorrow." It isn't big, it's not flashy; it’s just a pretty solid metal track.
"Triangulum I. Creation II. Evolution III. Destruction" is the only instrumental piece on the album and includes a litter of guitarist including Alex Skolnick, Misha Mansoor, Ben Weinman, Charlie Benante, Phil Demmel, Matthew K. Heafy & Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal. Aside from the whole lot of name-dropping, "Triangulum" is an epic wall of sound that Guitar Hero folk will no doubt beg, plead, cry and petition to have included on the next edition. The final track “Pledge of Allegiance” is another banger for the guitarists in the audience, featuring Skolnick along with Charlie Benante, Gary Holt and Andreas Kisser all wielding the axes. Unless you buy the Deluxe Edition that is, which closes with the additional track “We Rock” which features no less than six vocalists, making that extra couple of bucks on price well worth the investment.
There are going to be detractors who will say ‘Metal Allegiance’ is just a gimmick; a kind of “Avengers” moment for the metal world, which is more about the franchises than the music. There are going to be those who will say that given the array of talent on display, it could have been done more creatively. There may be a grain of truth in that last remark. Yes, there are some outstanding moments, and others where you wished for a little more.
But fans also need to manage their own expectations. When it comes to collaborative projects like ‘Metal Allegiance’, there can often be an unrealistic expectation that what’s going to emerge will be some sort of quintessential, definitive metal album. What’s actually created can fail to get a proper hearing when weighed against such idealised standards. What emerges in ‘Metal Allegiance’ are some strong tracks, some great music and some potentially historic moments with artists recording together who may never do so again. But most of all, what emerges is a sense of family; of the metal world as one large, extended family. Brother and sisters in arms playing together for the sheer joy of it all and making great music just to see what happens.
And we’re all invited to join that family.
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