Whether or not you liked his two albums with JUDAS PRIEST, or got your metal panties in a bunch over his replacement of Matthew Barlow in ICED EARTH, it can't be denied that Tim "Ripper" Owens is one of the best vocalists we have in our midst today. Christ, he could make the bad songs on "Demolition" sound good — that's practically a superhuman feat right there! And anyone who's seen him live knows he delivers the goods — he got mocked for going home between PRIEST albums and singing in his Ohio cover band, but the man obviously knows what he's doing, keeping the pipes in practice. Put simply, he's one of the few vocalists outside the classic generation (Dio, Halford, Dickinson, Tate) who can be mentioned in the same breath as those giants.If you liked Owens's work in PRIEST, you're probably gonna cream yourself over BEYOND FEAR. It's solid, muscular modern metal with plenty of energy and drive, and a commanding performance from Owens. The guitar parts, while they may lack the top-notch class of prime Tipton and Downing, are at least as memorable as (if not more so than) those men's recent work. "Scream Machine" kicks the door down with leather-lunged fury and fast-paced riffs galore, while "And… You Will Die" is a slower, more pensive stomper full of Owens histrionics. Not every song is a keeper — "Coming At You" smacks of filler (although it's got some sweet bass work going on), and "I Don't Need This" kinda goes nowhere. But the sardonic "Words of Wisdom" (a song I'm gonna bet is about Internet journalism…), "Scream Machine" and the brooding "Save Me" are all classics-to-be, mightily satisfying metal anthems that will please anyone into Owens's other bands. There aren't a lot of surprises on BEYOND FEAR's debut, but that's not really the point here. This is a solid, tough, working-class heavy metal record, with class and style, and not a lot of those are coming out any more. Owens solidifies his already-impressive legacy here, and lays the foundation for BEYOND FEAR, the band, to rise to still-greater heights in the future.
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