It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows my tastes that I eagerly anticipated hearing Iron Maiden axe-man Adrian Smith’s new side project, Primal Rock Rebellion (okay, I guess I wasn’t so eager about the name) when it was revealed this January. Formed in conjunction with former SikTh frontman, Mikee Goodman, PRR allows for Smith to once again flex his muscles outside the Maiden bubble, something he hasn’t been able to do since 1996 with his alt-metal outfit Psycho Motel’s Welcome to the World. PRR’s debut has some moments of brilliance that display a side of Smith’s songwriting that has not been evident to me before. But a few songs that, even as I write this, fail to really resonate with me hinder it from achieving greatness. Not for lack of effort though. The album is a bold step away from Smith’s previous work, in part thanks to the manic – dare I say primal? - vocals of Goodman. The overall sound of the album has much more in common with Smith’s Psycho Motel and contemporary metal acts, with the instrumental compositions meshing with Goodman’s unique vocal delivery to create something altogether fresh.
The album gets off to an okay start with “No Friendly Neighbour”, but I can’t help but feel the following track, “No Place Like Home”, would’ve served as a better introduction to this unlikely collaboration. A stuttering guitar riff builds to one of the better choruses on the album, one I found myself humming to myself on a few occasions. The album’s lead single, “I See Lights”, grinds along at a slower pace but loses none of the heaviness, with Smith showing a willingness to take his playing into some darker, sludgy territory. Not sure what to think of the lyrics though (Smoke comes out that cafè / Got enough Euros and you'll get laid).
“Bright As A Fire” only manages to live up to its name at the 3:45 mark, with some tremendous double-kicks and a thrash riff laying the foundation for an explosive solo. Unfortunately, getting to that point isn’t particularly interesting. It would’ve been nice to carry the momentum all the way through, but alas. It’s still worth a listen from that point to the end, though.
The standout track on the album for me, “Tortured Tone”, is comparable to “No Place Like Home” in that they’re both the most “radio-friendly” tracks on the album. Whereas the latter goes for a straight-ahead rock approach, “Tortured Tone” is a little more ballad-y. A little cliché in it’s lyrical content, perhaps. But, with a hooky chorus bolstered by some fantastic backing vocals from Adrian, I find myself coming back to it more often than the rest. Add in some viola and female backing vocals for the last push, and you’ve won me over.
“White Sheet Robes” chugs along at a moderate pace with Smith once again demonstrating he can do more than gallop. I get a Maiden vibe from the harmonized riffing in the chorus, and we get another stellar solo performance interlaced with Goodman’s vocals at about the midway point. Other moments on the album worth noting include the driving title track, and “Search For Bliss”, the latter featuring more killer vocals from both Goodman and Smith.
The rest of the album is just kind of there, with “Savage World” and “Snake Ladders” failing to offer me any reason to go back to them. Goodman offers up a taste of his spoken word performances on “As Tears Come Falling From the Sky”, merely a set-up for “Awoken Broken”. The last track, “Mirror And The Moon”, is a mostly acoustic track that comes and goes without much offense, but the melodic motif begins to wear on me by about halfway through.
Overall, Awoken Broken will probably hold fractional appeal to anyone not already familiar with either Adrian or Mikee. As a diversionary side project however, and for someone who is as enamored with Adrian Smith as I am, it’s worth a listen. His playing takes some interesting turns here, and while I can’t say it works one hundred percent of the time, I admire his willingness to experiment with someone so far removed from Maiden’s realm. Give it a spin; just don’t go expecting a rebellion anytime soon.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (ain't no place like home)