Sunday, August 1, 2010

Emerald - Down Town (a.k.a. Iron on Iron) (1985)

Many emerging metal artists in the 80s would take a page out of the Judas Priest handbook and attempt to run with it, outdoing the originals at their own game, and the short-lived Dutch band Emerald were certainly among them, especially within the vocal department. Bert Kivits was a shrieker, perhaps even more of a pure shrieker than Rob Halford, but the way he phrases the lyrics and hits key notes of elevation reminds me so much of the Priest frontman, only taken to a logical (and even silly) extreme. You can hear a little Riot too, maybe some non-Priest NWOBHM like Angel Witch, but it always comes back to the source.

This is most evident in the opening track to Emerald's sole full length output, Down Town (later titled Iron on Iron through the 1999 Iron Glory Records re-issue. "Johnny's On the Run" might as well be titled "Exciter's On the Run", because the pace, higher vocal swells and switch to the chorus subliminally conjure up that legendary number. This doesn't mean I don't enjoy it anyway, because you could probably write 100 or so worthwhile variants to the same thing and it'd still have my fist banging and neck in lockstep. Allard Ekkel's got a good, fun tone to his playing that feels rich beyond the decades, and though Kivits' vocals can somewhat test the nerves with all their nasal whining qualities, they at least fit the music. "Down Town" hits a little harder, with far better vocals that sound like Geddy Lee and Tony Moore (80s Riot) in a tongue wrestling match, while the riffs rollick and a dirty pace and tasty lead licks cycle on through.

"Angels of the Red Light", which I assume is a tribute to Emerald's sauciest national monument, features a pumping bass line and some thick, choppy guitars whilst Kivits shrieks about the pleasures of the flesh. "Suicide" represents a moody but forgettable ballad that's come a decade late, but the band storm off some Maiden-like trotting energy and sinister grooves in "D-Day" and melodic near-speed metal in "Hell Racer". "Witch" features a few of the catchiest guitar licks on the record, but you have to deal with a surplus of screaming that does not necessarily do the honest groove of the guitar much of a service. "Shadows of Almighty" and the album's second 'title track' "Iron on Iron" fetch us back to sanity, with Kivits restraining himself slightly, enabling them to get their points across without the listener laughing or shaking his head in shame.

The vocals for Down Town can certainly hinder one's appreciation for the music, but when they do knock it down a notch they mix in far more, and the album becomes very enjoyable. In fact, almost all the riffs are the sort that would appeal to a fan of NWOBHM bands like Samson, Angel Witch, Judas Priest and their ilk, and had this Dutch frontman practiced a little restraint, Emerald might have truly capitalized on the still-going movement. I really like the title track and a few others, but inevitably I too fell pray to the hurdle of Kivits' enthusiasm, breaking my knee in the process and having to quit the track team for the next few seasons. The band have reformed, so perhaps they can remedy my bruises yet.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

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