You can gripe about their trueness or falseness all day, like they're an eighth-grade pop quiz instead of a band. You can bitch about what label they're on, shake your fist at them for not being dour and high-topped enough for you, or rip on them for having a screechy vocalist who's ridiculous to the point of being unlistenable (okay, I might go partway with you on that one).
But grow up and realize one fact: you simply can't assault 3 INCHES OF BLOOD on the basis of their riffing. The word "tasty" is usually only used in music by the kind of buttoned-down, ponytailed fartknockers who make instructional videos they play on the TVs at Guitar Center -- but this axe work is nothing if not tasty. You could bury your face in it and eat it like a bag of chips. It's charismatic, it percolates like an animatronic coffee-pot on crack, and if it doesn't make you smile, you're just a dick.
And during the onslaught of opening track "Night Marauders" (after a suitably righteous intro, "Through the Horned Gate"), you might think that 3 INCHES OF BLOOD are here to make good on the promise of their "Advance and Vanquish" album and really crush some skulls this time. Their music at its best is a pile of disparate classic metal influences, thrown into a blender and liquefied – a sort of Cliff's Notes approach to thrash, power metal, and good old fashioned 80's denim-and-leather heavy rock and roll for those who didn't see it the first time and might not even know there were any differences between the styles. And "Night Marauders" pulls out all the stops, with soaring guitar lines, anguished high vocals and enough built-in crowd-cheering parts to fire up an entire Third World soccer stadium.
The next couple songs keep up the ferocity, "Trial of Champions" in particular being a high point for the band – its chorus augmented by some subtle and well-placed synths and the whole song infused with almost LIZZY-like swing and rollicking groove (that same feeling comes back in "The Great Hall of Feasting"). "God of the Cold White Silence" dabbles in black metal convention, while "Forest King" carries the band's friendly IRON MAIDEN plagiarism to new heights.
The latter half of the album seems to suffer a slight dip in the energy level, or it could just be that this much relentless riff pushing (and, it must be said, the high-gain earbleed of Cam Pipes's screeched vocals) gets numbing. There are still moments of bliss in just about every song, though – the solo in "Assassins of the Light" is well worth rewinding and listening to again, while the "The Great Hall of Feasting" carries their lyrical insanity to a new zenith, instructing would-be warriors on the proper etiquette of entering said hall (be sure to wipe the blood from your sword before you come in… anything less would be uncivilized).
"Fire Up the Blades" is a bona-fide, acid-washed, sly and slippery batch of some of the most fun riffing to come down the pike in a long time. While it drags in a few places, it's still an exuberant call to arms for a new generation of metalheads that should still ring true in the hearts and scabbed-over eardrums of the old school. The band's best work is yet to come, but there's plenty to sink your teeth into at this point in their quest, too.