Review: Blaze Bayley ”Circle of Stone” [Blaze Bayley Recordings]

Review: Blaze Bayley ”Circle of Stone” [Blaze Bayley Recordings]

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88 %
User Rating : 4.9 (1 votes)

Ferocious, Resolved, Unbeatable…

The ultimate warrior of underdogs strikes again, presenting his new (and already) 11th solo album Circle of Stone to the world. Blaze Bayley‘s previous record War Within Me received generally favorable reviews, and served as a swift kick in the butt of this very reviewer here, commanding me to dig deeper into the man’s solo career. Considering that I’ve always had a soft spot for Iron Maiden‘s The X Factor, it actually shouldn’t have been such a surprise that I’d come to love what this man has offered the world in later years with a band tailor-made to support his strengths.

A strange observation about Circle of Stone first: while pretty great overall, this record is definitely back-loaded. It’s not like the first couple of songs are weak, but the writing doesn’t seem as vivid and feels a little uneven at times, with the verses sounding more like tools to push their respective choruses into the spotlight. Opener “Mind Reader” is still mostly a hit because it’s a short but to-the-point rocker with a blistering and incredibly catchy chorus utilizing some gorgeous harmonies, but the verses aren’t quite up there. I’d also love to have the drums a bit higher in the general mix as they’re seriously lacking in oomph – a peculiar gripe that’s already been present on the previous album.

Setbacks aside, the true magic of this record begins with the utterly amazing power ballad “The Broken Man”. Reflecting on both his own past and being a charming tribute to his supporters throughout the years, Blaze’s heartfelt delivery of the chorus line “You all walk with me through the storm…” oozes honesty – expect to get a serious case of goosebumps all over your skin! The subsequent pair of songs – the bagpipe-powered instrumental “The Call of the Ancestors” followed by the ballsy twin guitar attack title track, are highlighted as well, with fantastic lead harmonies peppered all over by the great Appleton brothers who’ve already proven to be a reliable and admirably skilled backbone for Blaze’s solo band in quite some years. I could do without the addition of guest vocalist Niklas Stålvind (Wolf) though, whose nasal voice struggles to find a place in the mix and really doesn’t add anything to the already great compound of ass-kicking ingredients.

Even after these bangers, Blaze does not let up, as the whole band manages to maintain this high level of quality until the very last note. Most notably “A Day of Reckoning” is an epic crawler of a song that features some classic doom metal reminiscence with another chorus of the highest caliber, while “The Path of the Righteous Man” is a certified killer heavy/speed/total fucking earworm-metal hybrid that won’t leave your head for months to come.

Closing the CD with “Until We Meet Again” was also a wise choice, as Blaze’s stripped-down duet with Tammy-Rae Bois is once again a grand tearjerker of a ballad (with violin-virtuoso Anne Bakker returning to the fold to provide some strings-wizardry to the sweet acoustic guitar licks) which is another testament to the growth and longevity of Blaze’s voice and his unrelenting will to stay on top of his game, despite the many hardships he’s had to battle in his life. Backed by a sublime pack of musicians providing a fertile ground for even more top-shelf future releases and by loyal fans all over the world, the future looks brighter than ever. Until we meet again, Mr. Bayley (seriously, go see them live)!

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