[3 March 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Although he’s best known these days for his comedic work with Howard Stern, Richard Christy is best known in metal circles as a phenomenal journeyman drummer who played on Death’s 1998 classic The Sound of Perseverance and served a three-year stint in Iced Earth, appearing on such well-regarded albums as 2001’s Horror Show, 2002’s Tribute to the Gods and the 2004 opus The Glorious Burden. After 2004, though, his music career took a backseat to his new gig with Stern and his various acting roles, but that’s all changed now as he and three well-known friends have banded together to form a supergroup that has many metal fans drooling in anticipation. With gifted producer and shredder Jason Suecof on guitar, bass great Steve DiGiorgio (Autopsy, Death, among many others), and former Judas Priest and Iced Earth lead howler Tim “Ripper” Owens all on board, Christy has surrounded himself with some top-drawer talent, and unlike many supergroups that fail to live up to all the hype, Charred Walls of the Damned has come through with a whale of a debut.
Much like Them Crooked Vultures’ stunning debut, Charred Walls of the Damned has no business being this good, but give credit to all musicians involved: they make it work. The good musical chemistry between the foursome is clear from the start, especially impressive considering that the lack of chemistry on record is the one factor that usually keeps a rock or metal supergroup from succeeding. In fact, the way Charred Walls of the Damned straddles multiple metal subgenres at once is remarkable, the work of veteran musicians who know precisely how to sound punishing and accessible at the same time.
In the minds of many, the question of whether or not Owens can come through with a strong, convincing vocal presence is what will ultimately convince them if this is an actual “buyer”. From the day Owens replaced the mighty Rob Halford in Judas Priest a dozen years ago, he has been one of metal’s most polarizing lead vocalists. He boasts phenomenal range, but is also hampered by a thin tone that makes him a less effective metal vocalist than the Halfords, Dickinsons, and Warrel Danes of the world, and there are sporadic moments on this album where he struggles to come up with strong enough melodies to complement the otherwise terrific traditional heavy metal arrangements. However, for the great majority of the record he holds his own very well, hitting the high notes effectively on such aggressive tracks as “Ghost Town” and “Manifestations”, while truly excelling on more brooding fare like “In a World So Cruel”, “From the Abyss”, and “Fear in the Sky”.
For all the attention Owens and Christy will get, though, Suecof is this band’s trump card. One of the most in-demand metal producers today (having helmed best-selling albums by Trivium, All That Remains, and Chimaira), Suecof is also a phenomenal guitarist, and he is all over this record. Much like the work of Nevermore’s Jeff Loomis, his riffs veer from death and thrash metal ferocity to classic metal hooks. His solos are wickedly fast, yet economical and melodic enough to keep the music from sounding impenetrable, his dexterity best exemplified on the ferocious “The Darkest Eyes” and the more expressive soloing on “Voices Within the Walls”. All the while, Christy backs everyone up tastefully, propelling the songs one minute, anchoring them the next, never afraid to display his chops but at the same time knowledgeable enough to not play over his bandmates. Charred Walls of the Damned is a rare feat these days, in fact, an album that can easily appeal to fans of classic and extreme metal alike, one that actually lives up to enormous expectations. Here’s hoping this isn’t just a one-off.