July 10, 2024

As the founding vocalist with heavy metal monolith Iron Maiden, Paul Di’Anno’s place in the hard rock pantheon is assured, but he still polarises opinion alarmingly. Since Di’Anno and Maiden parted company after two albums, the band has gone on to become a mega monster with the extraordinary powerhouse and polymath Bruce Dickinson at the microphone, but there are some – and I include myself in this group – who can’t shake the feeling that those first two albums were the ‘proper’ Iron Maiden. The second album in particular, Killers from 1981, was one of the most all-pervasive recordings of my youthful years, and certainly heavily influenced the gigging bands I was with in the 1980s. Di’Anno himself has bubbled just under the surface ever since the split, at the front of any number of hard rocking bands, without ever quite seeming to have made it out of the shadows.

Perhaps that will change with this latest venture, Paul Di’Anno’s Warhorse, and its debut album, simply named Warhorse. To be truthful, Di’Anno himself is the figurehead, but the songwriting, arranging and production are the work of a pair of Croatian guitar shredders named Hrvoje Madiraca and Ante Pupačić Pupi, from melodic metal band Rapid Strike. They have drafted in some excellent guest musicians to form a back line, but it’s their names and faces on the cover behind Di’Anno’s.

CD booklet photos by Dado Marusic

For those whose heart and soul lies in those heady days, this album will be very welcome. Di’Anno’s voice, always aggressively gruff, has thickened and roughened if anything over the years, and the band sound is not a million miles from that of early Maiden. The New Wave Of Heavy Metal, if you remember, owed just as much to punk as hard rock, and some of those early bands veered closer to one side or the other. Early Iron Maiden numbers such as Sanctuary were energetic punk thrashes with added guitar solos, and Di’Anno, shiny pate and grey beard notwithstanding, retains the defiant attitude that characterized those early days – the front cover shows him smashing through glass with an iron fist; the booklet photography has him casually flipping the bird to the world.

This is a heavy metal album though, make no mistake. It launches out of the traps with a whammy-bar whinny and the sound of galloping hooves, as the title track pounds the turf with classic, crunchy guitar riffage. It’s a powerful opener, and a great statement of intent. This is followed by Get Get Ready (yes, two ‘gets’ in there), which has a strong flavour of Judas Priest and a proper, shredding metal guitar solo.

Track three is titled simply Go, and drifts much further in the punk direction. The backing is as tight as you like, and the guitar solo is carefully constructed and overdubbed, but there is little attempt at singing, with Di’Anno snorting, growling and shouting his way through a pretty uncomfortable listen. Some listeners may be somewhat put off by it, but if your granny hasn’t insisted you turn it off by now, then the rest of the album is definitely worth persevering. Stop The War is a traditional protest song, which starts as powerfully as the rest, but drops suddenly at 2½ minutes into a surprisingly emotional, pitying appeal to stop the children dying, and doesn’t quite build back to the metal monster before coming to a sudden stop. A real spot of genuine pathos there, and a welcome change of pace.

The Doubt Within is set to a slow, thudding rhythm with more of the whinnying horses, and another ballad-style drop, with echoes of Innocent Exile from those early days. Here Comes The Night is a standard early heavy metal track, with engine noises drifting across the stereo pan and screaming police sirens at the end, which has also been chosen as the lead single – give it a look at the foot of this page. Then we have an ominous laugh over a feedback note, leading quite inexplicably into a 2½ minute rendition of The Champs’ 1958 party classic Tequila. It’s a manic, groovy version to be sure, but seems an odd choice to drop into the mix. But no matter; the last three songs keep the classic rock standard flying nicely.

Forever Bound sounds like a genuine ballad for over a minute, then drops into a galloping guitar tempo, with another rhythm and key change for the solo. Then there is a real change of mood – and this probably should have come earlier in the album, where it would have made more impact – with the ticking rhythm and plaintive vocals of Depeche Mode cover Precious. Yes, you heard me correctly, a Depeche Mode cover. It’s customised 1980s pop, with female backing vocals too, but still with mad and manic guitars filling in the background. A very long, slow fadeout adds to the ambience, in the way Dio-era Rainbow did with Rainbow Eyes. Then the whole set is rounded off with Going Home, with its syncopated, classic metal riff and growling effects in the background. Another drop into balladry at two minutes is offset by the band powering back in for a big album finish with a tight, sudden stop.

The whole album barely breaks 35 minutes, so it certainly won’t outstay its welcome. The presence of the punky Go and the unnecessary Tequila give the impression they had to work to make it that long, to be honest. But what the hell; it’s great to hear Paul Di’Anno yelling his hardest at the front of a really good band. More power to the Croatians I say, and I hope we get to hear more of this.

Warhorse by Paul Di’Anno’s Warhorse is released 19 July 2024 via BraveWords Records