August 23, 2022

If you are a fan of shred and guitar-oriented metal, then you must have heard of Onward, which put out two brilliant US power metal albums at the start of the millennium. Sadly, two of the members from the second album Reawaken (2002) – the fantastic singer Michael Grant and the bassist Chris Payette are no longer with us (this new album is actually dedicated to both of them), and this is part of the reason why Onward some twenty years later is a very different beast.

The band actually split up in 2003, long before Grant passed away, and their mastermind guitar player Toby Knapp (Waxen, Where Evil Follows, Affliktor, ex-Necrytis) decided to explore different paths and musical styles with other projects. It was a very nice surprise when last year it was announced that Knapp plans to return with another Onward album and, finally, almost 15 months later, Of Epoch And Inferno will be released on October 28th, through Moribund/ Alone Records. This is actually Onward’s fifth official release, counting in the two albums with previously unreleased material, available in limited editions, from 2007 and 2014. Toby was kind enough to send us an early advance of the album, so, let’s see what we have here.

The very first track Vicious Beauty starts with a wall of guitars and a crushing sound, declaring “yes, boys and girls, we are back”. Knapp is responsible for recording all instruments bar the vocals, which are sung by US scene veteran Robert Van War (Attika). The new music is much more speed metal oriented, with an even bigger accent put on guitars, while the power metal and more melodic influences are rarely heard. Actually, the instrumental work reminds me of mid-era Annihilator and classic Coroner. The vocals of Van War are a bit lower in the mix and he doesn’t try to be Michael Grant, but sings closer to the style of Joe Comeau and especially Ron Royce, which continues the resemblance to the above mentioned thrash-speed classic bands. The melodic power metal is not entirely out of the picture, with the extremely catchy Silhoette and album highlight Neptune’s Revenge sounding like a throwback to the Evermoving years. On the other hand, Ring Around The Rosary and the closing epic Onward We Sail are a serious display of Knapp’s inhuman playing and compositional genius, very engaging to the listener, requiring at least a few repeated plays to be fully absorbed, while never lacking headbang-inducing qualities. If you are a fan of the legendary Mike Varney-produced shred bands from the eighties, then you’d be in seventh heaven from the first to the last minute with Of Epoch And Inferno.

The fans who have waited so long for a new Onward album should know that the guitars are as great, and even better than everything in those first two beloved albums, but at the same time be prepared for the very different vocals and much heavier speed-thrash direction of the songs. I really hope Onward will continue releasing new music, because this new album reminded me once again how good they were and are and why we will always need and appreciate bands with individuality and distinctive style in metal.

7,5/ 10

Toby Knapp in Facebook

You can pre-order Of Epoch And Inferno from HERE