By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy
On the tenth season of American Idol, one man from Santa Cruz, Cali, came to Hollywood in search of a dream. I know, it is a corny intro but go with me on this. On a reality show where country and pop artists are more noticeable often than others, this one contestant brought some much-needed heavy metal flavor to the mix. His name is James Durbin, and he gave heavy metal a real shot on the famed competition show. Though he did not win, (I believe he was robbed), he left a lasting impression on me. Releasing 3 solo records and 2 while fronting Quiet Riot, Durbin prepares to release his first true metal album. Signing with Frontier Records, he drops his fourth solo release under the moniker Durbin entitled The Beast Awakens. Calling upon the Gods of Valhalla for guidance and strength, let us see if the beast has truly awoken within him.
With Mike Vanderhule rattling the drums, the beast awakes with “The Prince of Metal.” This song has a grand, epic 80s feel that could be heard at football stadiums. Durbin soars high with his falsetto voice, while the solo is magnificent enough to slay ancient enemies like ice zombies. “Kings Before You” serves as the album’s first single. When I first heard it, the masterful riffs and majestic solo by Machine Head’s Phil Demmel blew me away. AEW superstar and Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho challenges Durbin to a sing-off where they both crucify the words into oblivion. We now listen to “Into the Flames,” a steadier metal song where Durbin restrains his voice just a bit. When he does this, it shows the versatility he possesses that make him incredibly surreal. The solo singes to high temperatures thanks to some swift fingering. I particularly enjoyed the thunderous bass playing of Barry Sparks. “The Sacred Mountain” is an odyssey where the journeyman walks to a legendary land. Durbin channels his inner Ronnie James Dio with elevated singing without trying to imitate the legendary frontman. This is a righteous ballad with attitude.
The title track, “The Beast Awakens,” has a crunchy riff that is very appetizing. Durbin goes into Iron Maiden mode as his voice continues to climb higher and higher. The guitar solo sounds like something that either Dave Murray or Adrian Smith would put together. Vengenance has never sounded so good. “Evil Eye” is another stellar number that has a classic 80s metal vibe mixed with a dash of doom. This is where Durbin shines more brightly in my mind as a metal singer. While still hitting those high falsettos without breaking a sweat, his steady, mid-tempo delivery during the verses impresses me the most. This song emulates the true spirit of rock. We are halfway through The Beast Awakens as we approach “Necromancer.” Inspired by the mystical villain of Lord of the Rings, Durbin looks to slay this demon. This is a bit of progressive metal thrown into this tune and it fuses with Durbin’s classic metal approach pretty well. “Riders On the Wind” is pure Judas Priest with the classic dual guitar sound. While heavy, the tempo slows down a touch but still delivers a tough knockout. Sparks’ bass fill is very groovy as it goes along gorgeously with the mesmerizing solo. This is one of my top choices off the record.
“Calling Out for Midnight” picks up the pace as the blistering metal blasts out of the airwaves. The main riff is rough-and-tough enough to drive mosh pits into foaming frenzies. Durbin is still a cunning warrior with his mighty vocals. Now he approaches ballad territory with “Battle Cry.” This song has the makings of Foreigner and Scorpions merging as one. I love how Durbin turns to the acoustic guitar because it gives the song a more soulful approach. I believe alternative/indie rock guitarist Nick Gallant handles the solo, and his performance was astounding. “By The Horns” has Durbin getting down and dirty with his vocals. He goes a tad lower to make it sound meaner, and it works. Vanderhule and Sparks do a spectacular job performing a kick-ass rhythm section as the solo is scorching. The journey reaches its final marker with “Rise to Valhalla.” Speed metal has taken over as Durbin calls upon the Viking Gods for direction. The crunchy riffs and thunderous, punk-like bass beats is an homage to Lemmy and Motörhead. The dual guitar solo is the stuff that become legendary over time. Praise be to Valhalla.
I feel as if I reached the top of mountain and give praise for the journey I have taken, with Durbin has my guide. With the help of Demmel, Gallant, Jon Yadon Jr., Marc Putman, and Dylan Rose on lead guitar, The Beast Awakens is a roaring success. Durbin has created a classic metal album that will help revitalize the genre. Full of blistering 80s style riffs and assurgent vocals, it will not only satisfy but also rejuvenate the metal soul in all of us. To James Durbin, I salute you. Horns up!!!
1. The Prince Of Metal
2. Kings Before You
3. Into The Flames
4. The Sacred Mountain
5. The Beast Awaken
6. Evil Eye
8. Riders On The Wind
9. Calling Out For Midnight
10. Battle Cry
11. By The Horns
12. Rise To Valhalla
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