A startling 21 years have passed since Blaze Bayley released his first solo record, "Silicon Messiah". Perhaps more importantly, it is 13 years since the former IRON MAIDEN and intermittent WOLFSBANE frontman released "The Man Who Would Not Die"; notably, the first to bear his full name, but also a record that loudly rewrote Blaze's musical manifesto, pushing him ever further into epic, red-blooded heavy metal. Since that point, he has been on excellent form, as showcased via the criminally overlooked trio of "Infinite Entanglement" albums, which climaxed with 2018's "The Redemption of William Black". Three years on, "War Within Me" will doubtless be widely reviewed with endless allusions to its creator's dogged persistence and perennial underdog status as a backdrop. But really this is a heroic and supremely confident metal record, and BLAZE has never sounded more confident or fired up.
The rarely spoken truth about Blaze's tenure with MAIDEN is that he contributed a hatful of gleaming classics to the band's illustrious repertoire and threw himself into live performances with the bug-eyed zeal of a madman. Regardless of how history views that era, Blaze Bayley remains an absolutely stellar heavy metal singer, and "War Within Me" finds him in great voice, oozing authority throughout. Pleasingly heavy and sonically vibrant, these songs proudly inhabit the same musical world that Blaze has effectively claimed as his own since leaving his high-profile former job. Too dark and muscular to fit in the power metal realm, and nowhere near old-fashioned enough to be a retro curio, this is an impressive demonstration of how to make powerful, melodic heavy music that defies time and trend. Throw in the presence of a vocalist who seems to be improving with age, and it's obvious from the fiery bombast of the opening title track that this is going to be a nailed-on career highlight. Blaze's partnership with guitarist Chris Appleton continues to bloom, too: everything from "303"'s effortless hooks to "Pull Yourself Up"'s thunderous, self-help eruption confirms that the same chemistry that enabled them to whack out three albums in as many years is still fizzing away in this strange new world of ours.
Ultimately, "War Within Me" is an album full of big songs and big ideas. Blaze's lyrical journey continues to propel him through the realms of science and philosophy: there's a real wide-eyed joy evident in nominal trilogy "The Dream of Alan Turing", "The Power of Nikola Tesla" and "The Unstoppable Stephen Hawking", as some of the strongest melodies of the Brit's career collide with concepts and suppositions that could only grow from a genuine fascination with the subject. Meanwhile, closing ballad "Every Storm Ends" provides soothing respite and a stunning, powerhouse vocal from the man himself.
Let's not patronize him with pluckiness plaudits: BLAZE BAYLEY is making the best music of his career right now, and "War Within Me" is an object lesson in passion and potency.