Heavy Metal is an evolving genre that has spent decades expanding on the early successes of its pioneers, resulting in tracks that are increasingly louder, faster and more intricate. But in recent years there has been a rise in young bands lovingly throwing it back and paying homage to the likes of Black Sabbath and others who initially paved the highway to hell. By focusing on toned riffs, thunderous, tribal drumming and impactful vocals, these bands have proven that what’s old can be new (and exciting) again.
Beyond the Crimson Throne, the debut LP by Cincinnati quartet Blessed Black (recently nominated for two Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, including New Artist of the Year), is an intense ode to that not-so-bygone era of the genre.
Sporting seven tracks and clocking in at less than 35 minutes, Beyond the Crimson Throne packs a lot of meat into a lean package. Much like their influences — like High on Fire, The Sword and the aforementioned Black Sabbath — riffs are the core of each song. Vocalist/guitarist Joshua Murphy and guitarist Chris Emerson come together to write the same kind of addictive, pile-driving riffs that have kept Tony Iommi in such high regard among Metal fans and musicians for a half-century now. The heavy, mid-pace guitar work keeps up the energy while also highlighting the soulful Blues base upon which Metal was built. The riffing is tailor-made to make you headbang but also feel something more than just a headache the next day.
Brad Bellamy’s clean bass tone and Ray Bates’ crisp drumming also do their part to instill an old-school flavor to the album. By finding the pocket, nestling in and playing the shit out of their instruments, Bellamy and Bates are able to give the guitars plenty of groove to build and expand upon. The rhythm section is also given their own sections to shine, like on “Heavy is the Crown,” which includes a break that highlights Bellamy’s simple but resonant bass lines and Bates’ splashy cymbals before the riffs start layering over top. It’s a simple but effective interlude that showcases the true talents of all of the members of the band.
Soaring above the instrumentation are Murphy’s dynamic vocals. His large frame and imposing onstage presence stand in contrast to the lyrics, which are based on the popular fantasy character Elric of Melniboné, created by writer Michael Moorcock. Murphy’s naturally higher register and clean delivery is yet another holdover from the Heavy Metal titans of old, before the genre began to rely more and more on aggressive, guttural vocals. This isn’t to say that the vocals are weak; Murphy’s delivery runs the gamut, from the forceful antagonism found on “Arioch’s Bargain” to the longing introspection of “Finding the Limits.” The vocals give each track a swell of intentional emotion that can be difficult for some to conjure, but is done eloquently in the hands of Murphy.
After playing live for a little over a year, with Beyond the Crimson Throne, Blessed Black has constructed an album that showcases its distinct identity while also reminding Metal fans of what exactly made the genre so electrifying from the start.
Blessed Black hosts an album release party on Saturday, Jan. 18 at Urban Artifact (1660 Blue Rock St., Northside, artifactbeer.com). Showtime for the free, all-ages show is 9 p.m. Cincinnati’s Casino Warrior and Central Ohio’s Gudger open. Find more details at the Facebook event page.
For more on Blessed Black, visit blessedblack.bandcamp.com.