Thanks to labels like SPV and Candlelight, albums like "Holy Hell" that would have once been consigned to import purgatory are seeing the light of day in the USA (albeit months after their release elsewhere). And thank the metal gods for it! Former IMPELLITTERI and AXEL RUDI PELL vocal powerhouse Rob Rock follows in the footsteps of his better-known peers (Dickinson, Halford) in working with producer extraordinaire Roy Z and creating a stunning album of well-executed, anthemic, melodic heavy metal with teeth.
"I'm a Warrior" and "Calling Angels" will satisfy those looking for more of a traditional, 1980s-rooted hard rock approach, but listen to the title cut for a surprising dose of heaviness, fueled partially by ace drummer Bobby Jarzombek (RIOT, ICED EARTH). Roy Z's love of darker tones and downtuned, yet traditional, guitar gives songs like "Lion of Judah", which might otherwise seem a bit twee and disposable, a sinister edge and urgency. The guitarwork of Daniel Hall and Carljohan Grimmark (also of underrated neo-classical Christian power metallers NARNIA) is noteworthy as well — obviously, the focus is on Rock and his vocal melodies, but solos are arguably just as important for songs like these, and we get plenty of great shredding to complement the choruses.
"I'll Be Waiting For You" is an obligatory, and rather clichéd, ballad that will satisfy those who want more melody and less heaviness. But it's quickly forgotten as "When Darkness Reigns" steamrolls in, perhaps the album's best fusion of the 80's hard rock sensibility and new-school production and crunch. Closer "Move On" is a nice change of pace, a ballad that sounds like some kind of lilting Irish drinking song (as unearthed by QUEEN, maybe) — it'd be neat to see Rock and his cohorts try a little more of this sort of non-standard songwriting next time out.
Rock's charismatic, soaring vocal lines, and the dense yet accessible guitar and drum work, make for an album that hits the spot. It won't set the world on fire with uniqueness or innovation, but it's damn well done, and ample proof that Rock is one of the finest among the current crop of journeymen singers out there. He proves here that he can crank out the expected metal for the Euro-masses with the best of them – and that he still has plenty of untapped potential as both a performer and writer.