Album review

Halford : Crucible
Metal-Is Records

Halford : CrucibleImagine what panic at a helium balloon party would sound like. Would anyone be able to take you seriously if you had to call for an ambulance?
    I wonder if Rob Halford has ever pondered this issue? Probably not. And anyway the man has some far bigger issues to work out on Crucible; religious intolerance, the futility of existence, loneliness and isolation to name but some. Certainly, taking a more serious stance than in past work (such as the crowd pleasing, but nonetheless dumb-arsed Breaking The Law on Judas Priest's British Steel) suits the man. It seems impossible that the dark eloquence of Handing Out Bullets on this album comes from the same pen as the aforementioned dogrel, or the even more mindless chant of its bedfellow, United.
    But that was then and this is now. I can't hold the fella's past against him - anymore than I could legitimately berate him for looking like a camper version of Village People's biker boy. It just wouldn't be right.

So far removed is it from the likes of British Steel, that I actually quite enjoyed Crucible. Admittedly on first, low volume listen I thought it was pretty dire - sounding more like the various musicians had never met, recorded in separate studios, and went their own way long before the album had even been mixed. The soloing seemed to have nothing to do with the rest of music and Halford sounds like he's been hit by an asthma attack after every verse and needed oxygen.
    A second listen, at volume, revealed it to be a lot more cohesive than that. In fact, if you skip past the first half dozen tracks to Hearts Of Darkness, the picture clears and a powerful voice begins to emerge. This is the stand-out track. An Eastern feel - not dissimilar to Led Zeppelin's Kashmir - gives way to guitar work characterised by very angular, stabbing riffs and jazz-inflected soloing. Sounds pretentious? Maybe, but from here on the album settles into a routine of satisfying metal that I can live with.
    This may or may not be a criticism (depending on whether you like it or not), but the twin guitar thrash and double kick-drum sound comes straight out of the late 80s/early 90s Mike Varney school of fret-wank. So, if you're not into mad shredding, forget I even mentioned this album. If, however, you do have a penchant for slippery-fingered fret-work, and anything with the merest whiff of Fast Fret makes you go weak at the knees, then spin this platter pop-pickers, as some old fart on Nice FM might say. Perhaps.
    Now, this is just an observation, apropos of nothing, but Mr Halford seems to have taken on the persona of some sort of satanic bondage egg. While we're on appearances, judging by the band photo, I'm sure one of his musicians is the bloke that empties our bin. Alright, so who cares what they look like, as long as they do the biz (actually, in the case of the bin man the Council might be interested if one of their refuse collection staff is moonlighting).
    Whatever. Crucible is not exactly ground-breaking stuff, and presumably did not set out to be as such. After all, this is metal not avant jazz. More importantly though, it's not Judas Priest.

So much for second impressions then, but what of my helium-related intro, which you probably thought was a limp way to get this thing started (you may be right)? It is clear that, despite his comic Brummie accent and all the camp leather 'n' studs gear, Rob Halford is no fool. Having been hauled before the Beak in 1985, he successfully defended himself against the American judiciary system, in a now legendary case. Allegedly he was guilty of inciting a couple of moronic pimply youths to kill themselves. The prosecution claimed the deceased were urged on by the words "Do it" heard when a particular section of a Priest record was played backwards (er, why?). In his defence, Halford sensibly argued that anyone with functioning ears will hear just about anything they want to hear when playing a record backwards, and proceeded to prove it. Result: acquittal. [Is this why CD was invented? I can't play shit backwards on my CD player - Ed.]

Rather unfortunate then - and this is a major point for me - despite the gravity and erudition of the lyrics on this album, and despite his obviously keen intellect, Halford elects to intone in that bizarre helium-filled falsetto (aka castrato) register of his. All I could hear at times was an anxious man, singing a semi-tone lower than a dog-whistle.
    If a favourable review were to hang in the balance, the question you would have to ask is this; when the man sings with all the seriousness and urgency of someone making an important call to the ambulance service, but he's been over-doing it at a helium balloon party, should the person on the receiving end take him seriously?

:: Tom Alford

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