Friday, May 4, 2018

Album Review: Lords Of Black - Icons Of The New Days

I find myself concerned when the hive mind of the metal world settles on a truth before it is ever established as undeniable. We sit here with the collective mentality telling us that Ronnie Romero is one of the handful of best metal singers on the planet. He certainly has a voice, and he has the cache of being the man hand-picked to front the current incarnation of Rainbow, but I struggle to understand what the rest of the world is hearing. Romero can sing, but being great is about more than having a voice. You need to leave a legacy of music as well, and so far nothing in his career has stood out as a great album. Even as disappointing as Jorn Lande's career can seem, he has more memorable outings under his belt.

Last year's album with The Ferrymen was a step forward, and a good album, but his main gig with Lords Of Black has always been a band that slides out of the consciousness if you aren't holding tight. This time could be different, though, as Ronnie has more experience to his credit, and the band is going all-in towards a more involved style of almost melodic-prog metal.

"Icons Of The New Days" is a long album, the twelve tracks stretching on for more than an hour, with multiple six, seven, and even eleven minute tracks. That makes this their most daring statement yet. We got a first taste of this when "World Gone Mad" was previewed, as the nearly seven minute track stood out as a more advanced form of their usual style. The song was heavier, more involved, and the busier framework somehow focused Ronnie's melodies. It was probably the best I had ever heard from the band, at that point.

That feeling carries over, as this is easily the best Lords Of Black album, to my ears. They sound more confident, more refined, and like they finally know how to make the most of their talents. The press release compares Lords Of Black to Sons Of Apollo, and I think that's actually a fair assessment. They are both bands that straddle the line between accessible melody and mildly progressive metal. Unlike that other group, Lords Of Black are able to meld the two sides into a singular sound, which gives them a leg up in making an album that sounds like a cohesive whole from a band with an identity of their own.

There are moments here where I can hear what Ritchie Blackmore is thinking. On a song like "Forevermore", Ronnie's vocals, and his phrasing, come across very much like Dio. In fact, with the prominent synth line, the song is almost a modern prog take on "Rainbow In The Dark". It's that Dio connection that continues to linger in the back of my mind. With taking on the Rainbow gig, and all deeper metal singers being compared to him anyway, I can't help but think about the original Ronnie, and how this current one lines up. Ronnie Romero is a good singer, for sure, but if I'm being honest he doesn't have the charisma of the original, nor does he yet have mastery over his voice to give shades and colors depending on the track's need. He spends most of the time in a slightly raspy tone that I don't think is his strongest range, nor is it as convincing as when Jorn does the same thing.

But let's focus on the positive here, because that is the main takeaway. Lords Of Black have, for the first time, made an album that deserves the attention they are going to get. This is their best work to date, without question. I said last year that The Ferrymen's album was the best thing I had heard Ronnie on, but that isn't true anymore. "Icons Of The New Days" is a more original album than that one, and it's one I think will have more staying power. Sure, I think it would have benefited from being a song or two shorter (it can be hard to find more than an hour at a time to listen to a single record), but everything here is among the best Lords Of Black has done, so I understand why they didn't want to leave any of it behind.

"Icons Of The New Days" makes a case for Lords Of Black being the next evolutionary step from Heaven & Hell. They share the same roots, but Lords Of Black are moving that sound forward, filling a gap we didn't even know existed. I've always been luke-warm on them, but no more. "Icons Of The New Days" is the real deal, and Lords Of Black have finally hit their stride. Well done.

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