Album review : DURBIN – The Beast Awakens

Frontiers [Release date 12.02.21]

By spinning a fourth place finish on American Idol into 4 solo albums and a stint fronting Quiet Riot, singer/guitarist James Durbin clearly had more than TV celebrity on his side.The Beast Awakens is the next step in his career, and the initial result of a multi album deal recently signed with European Rock and (increasingly) Metal label, Frontiers.

You can often assess the talent and ability of an artist by the musicians who surround him in the studio. Bolstered by veterans of the Malmsteen, Schenker and Y&T wars in heavy metal and hard rock, Durbin expresses his admiration of Judas Priest, DIO, Maiden and other giants of the genre on his Frontiers’ debut, planting both feet firmly in the past.

On the surface, many of the songs seem dramatically simplistic, retreads of dungeons and dragons adventures, of the type that featured in the narratives and themes of so many Heavy Metal albums in the seventies.

Most tracks are dark, derivative, ‘Prince Of Metal’, (mainlining Maiden, cutting it with a Halford howl); ‘Rise To Valhalla’ (Priest signing up with EU Power Metal), and ‘Sacred Mountain’ (Holy Dio), all give you a huge clue of what is contained therein by their titles alone.

In fairness though, there is an exhuberant, thematic style to Durbin’s music. He’s not reinventing the wheel, just polishing it up. He has studied the masters well. With The Beast… he has created a fantasy world into which his listeners can escape.

For all the metal excess, Durbin’s is a finely calibrated performance, and his disquieting, doomful agenda leaves room for genuine progress. ‘Riders On The Wind’ and ‘Calling Out For Midnight’ both search for, and quickly find their groove. Two rock songs with a heavy metal spine, and some impressively melodic moments, cutting against the grain of most of the other material here.

Maybe these two point the way ahead. The genre’s audience of the seventies and eighties thinned out going into the nineties, but that ole’ Heavy Metal train has picked up a lot of passengers as it rolls through the new millenium.

Time for a new hero to arise, perhaps. ***

Review By Brian McGowan

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