The Canadian headbangers continue to prove that there's life after "Deadly Sinners".
Five years ago nobody expected 3 Inches of Blood to evolve like they have. A few of the Vancouver band's early songs like "Balls of Ice" rocked, but for all the headbanger shtick of Battlecry Under a Wintersun, it all felt like a novelty, like a metalcore band playing classic metal riffs for a lark, and nothing more. Then, when a demo recording of the unspeakably awesome, fist-bangin' anthem "Deadly Sinners" surfaced on the Roadrunner Records website in 2004, jaws hit the floor. Could these guys actually be serious? Elements of hardcore remained, thanks in large part to the presence of co-vocalist Jamie Hooper, and while his tuneless screams helped the band connect with the younger metalcore crowd, fans of traditional metal felt he got in the way of the band's real asset, melodic howler Cam Pipes. And because of Hooper's continued presence at the mic on subsequent albums Advance and Vanquish and 2007's Fire Up the Blades, unfair as it was, the "joke band" tag continued to stick in the opinions of many.
As it happens, the band was gradually becoming the baby of Pipes and guitarists Shane Clark and Justin Hagberg. Pipes was clearly coming into his own as a lead vocalist, his insane falsetto a welcome throwback to such leather-lunged, sandpaper-throated '80s vocalists as Accept's Udo Dirkschneider and Metal Church's David Wayne. And after joining not long after the release of Advance and Vanquish, Clark and Hagberg started to bring some metal credibility to the band, their riffing and soloing far superior than their predecessors, which they proved beyond the shadow of a doubt on the spirited, very enjoyable Fire Up the Blades.
Meanwhile, Hooper's role was becoming increasingly diminished. His presence on Fire Up the Blades was more complementary than prominent, and the final nail in the coffin came when he was forced to take some time off from the band in early 2007 after, ironically enough, blowing out his voice by screaming too hard. Reduced to a quintet, 3 Inches of Blood truly started to come into its own immediately after Hooper's departure, with Pipes stepping into the role of lone frontman confidently as they commenced their extensive tour cycle. Although Hooper's fade-out was unfortunate, there's no denying that his leaving was the best thing that could possibly happen to the band, and now, on their fourth album, they're able to focus fully on becoming the great traditional heavy metal band that many of those early skeptics never thought they'd become.
With the cover artwork wisely eschewing the usual cartoonish Ed Repka illustrations of the past two full-lengths in favor of photographic imagery far more grim in tone, Here Waits Thy Doom wastes no time in eliminating any doubt that these guys are pure, old-fashioned metal. Similar to his work on High on Fire's 2007 album Death Is This Communion, producer Jack Endino strips 3 Inches of Blood of any polish whatsoever (a far cry from Joey Jordison's slick sound on Fire Up the Blades), the guitar tone a lot drier, Ash Pearson's drum tone cozier, feeling more like an unmastered recording as opposed to the loud, over-compressed albums that we're usually inundated with in the genre. Clark and Hagberg approach the new material as if they've never heard any music made after 1984, their riffs stuck stubbornly in the late-'70s and early-'80s. So much so, in fact, that it could turn off some younger fans who would rather hear more modern influences. "Rock in Hell"'s sprightly gallop owes a great deal to the goofy fun of Grim Reaper, Pipes' exhortation, "Will you be there to rock in hell?" completely devoid of irony, while "Preacher's Daughter" hearkens back to the bluesier sounds of early Judas Priest and Rainbow, the guitarists trading leads, slowly building the song towards a raucous conclusion, complete with sing-along.
In the end, though, it's the bearded Pipes who carries the bulk of the record with his wicked snarl, the years of touring lending his voice a hardened, ragged quality that's perfect for this form of metal. Clearly relishing the role of true frontman for the first time on record, he plays up the "battle metal" shtick brilliantly on Here Waits Thy Doom, evoking such albums as Grim Reaper's See You in Hell, Manowar's Hail to England, and Exciter's Violence & Force, leading the charge on such chest-pounding tracks as "Battles and Brotherhood" ("Attaaaaaaack!"), "Call of the Hammer", and "Snake Fighter".
The guys even show some ambition on the last 15 minutes of the album, delving into longer, more carefully arranged song structures. Terrific examples of the chemistry between Pipes, Clark, and Hagberg, "All of Them Witches" and "Execution Tank" are less direct in approach than anything the band has done before, the guitarists unafraid to darken the mood with more somber sections, Pipes stepping in to provide a commanding presence once the songs do kick things up several gears. And it's here where it's easy to envision 3 Inches of Blood taking their music next, attempting to master classic heavy metal dynamics, from the slow build, to the swaggering solo breaks, to the incendiary climax. As they sound right now, they're already not far off.