Rob Rock - Holy Hell - AFM / Candlelight Records USA
Running Time: 46:43
Snatched from local New England bar-band "legends" Vice somewhere around 1986, and hurled into the guitar-hero spotlight on Shrapnel Records' supergroup album, M.A.R.S. - Project: Driver, Rob Rock seemed to have "the" metal voice. Rough without being overly "heavy", tuneful without being wimped-out, Project: Driver is the one vocal album from the Shrapnel catalog I may actually revisit once every year or so, just to remind me what great melodic Metal sounded like before the Trixters and Danger Dangers took over. And now, an Angelica album, a Joshua album, five records with Chris "Yngwie-lite" (if you can imagine that) Impelliterri, countless "guest" appearances, and two solo projects later, Rob Rock has returned to unleash Holy Hell upon us all.
The Roy Z production is the first thing I noticed on hitting the Play button. The second was the classy drumming of Andreas Johansson, also known from Narnia and power metal legends, Silver Mountain. I won't hold his tenure in Narnia against him. Everyone's gotta make a buck, you know? Johansson's still got the same snap and kick he did in the Silver Mountain days, and it meshes well with the style of Rob Rock. The main riff in 'First Wind Of The End Of Time' is uber-typical, being the kind of galloping staccato that bands like Sanctuary and Warrior could've slept through in the mid-late 80s. The focal point of the album is clearly the voice of Rob Rock, but that's no excuse for the cut/paste riffwork and thrown-together leads found on Holy Hell thus far. 'Calling Angels' sprinkles light keyboard flourishes through the background, and the rest of the song is memorable other than the guitarists sounding like someone pulled the right combination of levers and set them in motion like so many toy soldiers. With a little more punch, a little more power, this song could've been great. As always, Rock is spot-on, and isn't that why anyone would buy this album anyway? In cases like this, it's not so much about the total musical package, but about the band's namesake. Only Bruce Dickinson has succeeded thus far to my ears, in presenting music carrying his name as being performed by a fully functional band. The title track kicks a fair amount of ass, lyrically dealing with the dangers of loose morals and looser women. Far be it from me to take anyone's moral stance to task, but in these days where sex can kill, maybe it's not such a bad message to have out there. Musically, the guitarists make up for a bit of their previous lethargy with their work in both the title track and 'Lion Of Judah'. The latter, to me, being the first time a sort of symbiosis is reached on Holy Hell. Apocalyptic themes are wailed over fierce power metal, Rock employing his higher register for the first noticeable time on the album. Sadly, we're back to by-the-numbers for 'I'm A Warrior', and just in time for token power ballad 'I'll Be Waiting For You'. While a song like 'I'll Be Waiting...' would've seemed fantastic in the late 80s - think Stryper fronted by Ken Tamplin, and doing those songs where you didn't know if the words were about Jesus or the singer's girlfriend - here it just seems horribly dated. 'The Revelation' and 'Move On' finish things off at a mid-paced gallop, the former finding the guitarists pulling off pinch harmonics like there was a shortage somewhere. 'Move On' is the kind of power ballad I don't mind hearing now and again, sounding more like Kansas than Keel, if you get my drift, and ends this mixed bag on a slightly more positive note.
Now, are the handful of good songs and ideas scattered throughout Holy Hell worthy of repeated spins? It's nice background music, yeah, but I don't see myself putting this into any kind of rotation. All in all, I'll stick with Rock's work on the Project: Driver album. There's an audience for this type of metal, though, and they'll eat this thing up.