It’s been about half a decade since Oxblood Forge put out their self-titled first release, and even though they’ve kept themselves busy, this new album is only their second full-length. In spite of the band’s relative inexperience, they’ve already developed a clear sense of the aesthetic for which they’re aiming. With titles like “Forged in Fire” and “Ironbound”, it’s obvious that classic heavy metal and NWOBHM were a huge influence, as demonstrated by dramatic vocals, a lancing lead guitar, and big, chunky riffs. And plenty of soloing; can’t forget the solos!
Kicking off with the suitably-titled “Into the Abyss”, the vocals soon rise into falsetto howls, while banging drums keep a headbang-friendly tempo going, the guitarist cranks out a rowdy tone, and the bassist puts in some impressively fast-moving work (which ends up a little too buried in the mix, sadly). As they move into their title track, sounding like a slightly heavier Motley Crue or Quiet Riot, the retro seasonings get amped up to what’s likely the deciding point for most listeners. It’s almost like a gauntlet being thrown; either you’ll wanna check out their rampage through the likes of English Dogs and Molly Hatchet, or the power metal-ish silliness will be a hard turn-off.
Tendencies towards cock-rocky strutting and the directness of the riffs aside, the band plays well together. Stuff like the trade-offs in “Spirit of Vengeance” (which I’m gonna choose to believe is a reference to the Ghost Rider sequel) shows the members willing to spread the focus around from one instrument to the next, invigorating the music… only to then slide back into another stock chorus of yells and chugging guitar, wasting away that potential until it’s time for more soloing.
For the most part, the efforts to channel the mighty headbanging spirit are successful, particularly when the focus shifts to the guitar and drums (as in “Mortal Salience”, my personal pick for top song). It’s also a nice change when the vocalist slips into a more natural pitch (e.g., “Until the Gods Return (Hunt You Down)”), as it not only moves away from the piercing falsetto, but also fits better with the crunchy guitar. Things really shine on the album’s one cover song, a treatment of Angel Witch‘s “Sorceress”, where directly following an inspiring band’s blueprints lead to some of the album’s strongest flow.
In the end, while the main audience for this album will be among those who are already into retro heavy metal and power metal, there’s enough skill here to lure in some fresh ears as well. In doing so, they may even push those newcomers to check out some of the bands that inspired them which, considering how fond they are of those role models, they’d probably count as a win anyway.