Primal Rock Rebellion is the name given to the collaborative effort between Iron Maiden’s own guitar hero, Adrian Smith, and vocalist Mikee Goodman of (now defunct) technical hardcore shapeshifters, SikTh. The announcement that these two contrasting figures would be working on a project together turned a lot of heads, and on paper, the idea of Smith’s guitar masonry melding with Goodman’s wildly schizophrenic vocal delivery sounded very intriguing. In practice however, their debut effort, Awoken Broken, fails miserably.
There is no faulting Smith’s past riff-writing ability—his contributions to Iron Maiden’s golden discography speaks for itself—but it’s his unimaginative arrangements and rather hackneyed riff choices that make Awoken Broken utterly forgettable. “No Friendly Neighbour” and “Search for Bliss” probably fare the best, with Abi Fry’s (Bat For Lashes) violin raising the second half of “No Friendly Neighbour” above stock alternative metal, and Goodman showing some actual conviction with his vocal delivery on “Search for Bliss”. But that’s as good as it gets. “No Place Like Home” and “Snakes Ladders” show Goodman attempting a painful Scott Weiland impersonation on the back of some disposable metal/rock riffage, and “I See Lights” moves into nu-metal territory with the down-tuned, metal-by-numbers approach of the guitars, drawing similarities to the sound Korn pedalled during their most bloated periods. This continues with the lengthy “Bright as a Fire”, with Smith’s riffs again lacking fire and flare, and although the lead work has some nice feel to it, ultimately, the song’s repetitive sections drown out any lasting interest.
Goodman’s vocals will prove to be an acquired taste, and they worked to great effect during his time in SikTh (where their instrumental chaos complemented his thousand voices), but here his vocals reach levels of annoyance; especially his irritating yelps on “Savage World” and his overly dramatic warbling on the title track. “Tortured Tone” hovers around ballad territory before the obligatory riff surge takes off, leading into a syrupy chorus, while “White Sheet Robes” retreats predictably to familiar metallic terrain. And that’s the way the album flows throughout; the musicianship is flat and directly conflicts with Goodman’s over-exaggerated vocals and the album production is missing some necessary dynamics—this last flaw is at its most noticeable when the band attempt to incorporate some acoustic moodiness into “The Mirror and the Moon”.
Consequently, Primal Rock Rebellion is a misleading name for this alliance, as there is nothing primal, rocking or rebellious found within. What you get with Awoken Broken is an album which lacks the essential synergy and instrumental inventiveness necessary to make such a collaborative effort a success. File under failed attempt.