[16 January 2008]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
“I chuckle because I just think of anybody that got the record and put it in their iPod and put in their headphones and pressed play, and turned it up and got their fucking head blown off by the opening riff.”
Chalk it up to the man’s generosity and appreciation for giving this holiday season; music fans have received the ultimate gift from Sebastian Bach by way of Angel Down. With his new album, Baz has reestablished himself as one of rock’s preeminent vocalists, and, equally important, he’s crafted a record that ranks among the year’s best, irrespective of genre.
To find an album that resonates with pure metal magnificence top to bottom, dig out Ace of Spades, and scan the best offerings from Priest and Sabbath. Then add Angel Down to the stack. From the opening salvo of the title cut to the final echoing keys of “Falling Into You”, the 14 songs are relentless, leaving listeners exhausted and exhilarated from the non-stop bludgeoning. Certainly, the latter track can be classified as a ballad (as can “By Your Side”) amidst the maelstrom, though Bach’s vocals effortlessly dive and soar through each song like some great bird of prey. And lest anyone think the inclusion of two down-tempo tunes infringes upon the album’s inherent power, cast all doubts aside. Angel Down is brimming with pulverizing riffs and pounding rhythms.
Considering that Bach has been in the game for over two decades, it’s rather surprising that his voice shows no evidence of breaking down. Rather, it’s gotten stronger, allowing Angel Down to lap his previous best Skid Row moments for sheer intensity. How many career screamers can make the same claim? Certainly not Brian Johnson. Rob Halford’s on the list, perhaps even Chris Cornell, but it’s a short list indeed. For it is Baz’s voice, that remarkable, pane-shattering attribute, which carries the album to lofty heights. Fire up “American Metalhead” or “Negative Light” and immerse yourself in either unmitigated shriekfest, and see if you can survive the respective 4:03 and 4:33 running times.
The Baz brilliance is not relegated to mere songwriting and singing, however. It was his perseverance and ballsiness in the face of stacked odds that brought Angel Down to fruition. An album that was initially threatened by label problems, then recorded over an extended time frame, had ample chance to die on the vine. And give Bach credit for assembling a band that can keep up with his torrid vocal pace, as any lesser group of musicians would have capsized in his wake. The Baz boys pack the goods, and their collective pedigree is obvious; listen closely and you’ll hear faint strains of Alice In Chains, Megadeth, and even Queensryche throughout the album. Ironically, these influences take nothing away from the uniqueness of Angel Down. This effort has Bach’s prints all over it, and though there are wisps of familiarity wafting from the smoldering embers, the album is wholly Baz.
An added bonus? Three tracks feature Axl Rose trading incendiary vocal bursts with Baz, and the results are beyond expectation: “Back in the Saddle” (Angel Down‘s only cover) steadfastly holds its own against Aerosmith’s original. “(Love Is) A Bitchslap” boasts a pure adrenaline rush of aggression. “Stuck Inside” elevates metallic screams to an art form. Their sparring resembles two massive sonic serpents writhing together in an ear-piercing embrace. Despite Rose’s own album, Chinese Democracy, remaining mired in myth rather than grounded in actuality, it is compelling to witness his vocal prowess, albeit as a guest performer.
Also worth mentioning … as fine a recording that Angel Down is, it would be sorely lacking had any other person manned the production helm. With an impressive metal portfolio, Roy Z took to the board and performed his magic, getting the high notes higher, the guitar crunch crunchier, and giving the album a fluid sound from start to finish.
So thank you, Baz. Thank you for staying true to all that is musically good, thank you for giving us Angel Down in our Christmas stockings, and thank you for taking enviable care of that diamond-splicing, laser beam voice and sharing it with us. If you ever venture back into theater, consider auditioning for the part of Dr. Frankenstein in a stage adaptation of Shelley’s novel. You’ve created the perfect monster with Angel Down, and in doing so, have stamped your signature on the closing pages of 2007.