Friday, July 9, 2010

Blade Runner - Warriors of Rock (1986)

To be brutally honest, if you were playing NWOBHM in 1986 and your band's name wasn't Judas Priest or Iron Maiden, or Lemmy Kilminster, then your chances were pretty much fucked right then and there. Thrash and speed metal were all the rage in those years, and the increased level of aggression meant that most fans would not be looking back, or that old school fans would become completely turned off from the music altogether, i.e. baby boomer poseurs. It's actually a shame that this transpired, because there were certainly a lot of kickass records coming out of England in that traditional style, especially Raven, who were writing some of their best material in the latter half of that decade.

For Blade Runner, the chance at a sophomore meant a huge development in the band's musical skill and writing style. Warriors of Rock, though ironically titled in a less menacing manner than their debut Hunted, is a vastly more mature effort. There are still many traces of hard rock here ala Journey, Def Leppard and Whitesnake, but by and large the riffs are heavier and more effective. Gary Jones has incorporated a lot more great leads and melodies, and Steve McKay had come quite a long way, delivering a performance here that could not only top himself, but many other bands in the genre that were still churning out material. It's almost as if Blade Runner were 'keeping up with the times', without crossing over into the realm of speed or thrash metal directly, but offering a heavier alternative to an Iron Maiden or Riot. As a result, Warriors of Rock is simply a gem that was tragically passed over.

The band were still not operating on a massive budget for production, and the album still feels muted and heavily reverbed like the debut. But it really doesn't matter, because the songs are so catchy they'll grab your ear regardless, beginning with the winding "Eyes of the Beholder", which is more complex on its own than half of the previous record. If you're a fan of the more serious Saxon tunes, this is totally going to appeal to you. Cruise missile rhythms, amazing vocals that soar far beyond the stratosphere, and excellent guitar writing which cycles through at least a half dozen to-die-for licks and a wonderful lead after the 3:00 mark. "Warriors of Rock" teases with a bass intro, similar to several tracks on the debut, but then it quickly elevates through the use of arching guitar melodies and Byford-like vocals, to a memorable melodic rocker with blistering guitars and dirty ass rhythms. The lyrics are cheesy and self-referential about metal concerts, but the song is so great you will not care. "Snowqueen" is equally fascinating, opening like a metal national anthem over steady cadence and grooving bass, before it picks up into a sad gloss and some graceful, melodic mid-pace rocking.

The surprises are far from over, as the hammering boogie-taps of "Wings of Fear" cede to a bad ass, slow rhythm with big chords and a vibe reminiscent of earlier recordings by the American band Riot. "Lionheart" is a morose ballad piece that transforms within minutes to a steady, epic rocker, triplets meted out like hammers to stone and wood, and an amazing chorus that cuts right through your own heart. "She's Ready" flirts with speed metal and silly lyrics about some groupie or other, and this is probably the weakest track here, but not a total waste. The band makes up for those 5 minutes with another emotionally charged piece "Where Eagles Dare", all fist and attitude with some canny guitar work. "The Verdict" is simply pure, honest middle class NWOBHM music, with a little kick into high gear and a lot of heart, and a shrill, haunting finale that you've simply gotta hear.

Yeah, obviously Blade Runner were not writing Master of Puppets or Somewhere in Time here, and it makes a lot of sense that their star would not rise even despite the amount of effort they obviously channeled into bettering themselves against a harder-core world, but I think this is an album you MUST check out if you love this period in British metal. Despite the cruder production standards, it compares very favorably to a Turbo, and it's clearly better than Raven's attempt at a streamlined, friendly radio sound on The Pack is Back. I really don't like the song "She's Ready" all that much, so I can't award it top honors, but if you're seeking out obscure gems from the period, I'd highly advise you to place this at the top of your watch list. It's really that good, and though it's sad the band would split up due to a lack of support from their label, at least they left us something fairly enduring against the night.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10]

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