July 4, 2024

In Grace We Find Our Name … simply crushes you with its inexorable, rolling power, and has you attempting to punch the air and nod your head as if suffering some sort of breakdown wherever you might be. Don’t listen on the headphones while in the supermarket, as you will disturb the shoppers in the frozen food aisle who will move away from you nervously.

Fairly often when you approach an album from an artist previously unknown to you, certain things give you a hint as to what you might be expecting to hear. This was one such case, as I prepared to take a listen to this second album by US band Sunbomb. The hints were there from the start: Frontiers are a label well known for their roster of melodic metal artists, a genre which could be said to be their main stock in trade. Add to that the name ‘Sunbomb’ and the strikingly colourful album cover, and signposts are being erected already directing you to ‘House Of Lords Town’ or ‘Dokken City’. Finally, a look at the line-up on the album sees guitarist Tracii Guns (LA Guns) as main composer, along with Michael Sweet from Stryper handling vocals. This reinforces the overall impression, casting an image of ’80s melodic metal, lots of harmony vocals, and a garnish of hair metal to finish it off. Now surely, with all of those pointers, this must be a fairly accurate impression, yes?

No.

Any idea that this would be smooth, polished and fairly inoffensive singalong, arena-friendly rock is instantly banished as the opener Unbreakable leaps from the speaker and grabs you by the throat, pinning you up against the wall for ever having the audacity to suspect Cinderella, FM or Robin Beck to come posing from the stereo system. This is proper, serious, grindingly powerful old-school heavy metal, with a preferable capital H. The underlying riff is quite thrillingly powerful, churning away with a guitar tone and bottom end to make Tony Iommi smile with satisfaction in 1972. It may only last three and a half minutes, but it makes its presence felt and no mistake. Steel Hearts, up next, might sound like it’s going to be the sort of uninspired power ballad which clogged the arteries of MTV back in the day, but in fact it’s another monster of a riff, with Sweet belying his Stryper image by coming over properly, stridently epic. By this time I’m hooked, and can’t wait for the third track to start, hoping that it might just manage to be as good again as these two.

It isn’t. It’s better.

Sunbomb: Guns and Sweet (which wouldn’t be as good a name)

The six-minute In Grace We’ll Find Our Name is quite simply a metal behemoth. If you ever liked the Angel Witch template of mid-paced, looming power, then you’ll love this. It’s like the best Angel Witch track you never heard, a sort of Sorceress on steroids. It simply crushes you with its inexorable, rolling power, and has you attempting to punch the air and nod your head as if suffering some sort of breakdown wherever you might be. Don’t listen on the headphones while in the supermarket, as you will disturb the shoppers in the frozen food aisle who will move away from you nervously. Cards on the table, it’s the best track here. It couldn’t be anything else. But it’s far from the last highpoint, with the (almost) title track Light Up The Skies starting off quietly, and being a more multi-faceted yet truly epic beast. It comes over as a cross between Ronnie Dio and Saxon, via a little nod to Diary Of A Madman, and is so far over the top that people are scrambling to get out of the way on the other side. Four for four in this opening salvo, that’s for sure.

Actually, Saxon is an unexpectedly apt comparison for the album’s overall brief, despite the literal and figurative distance between Los Angeles and Barnsley. This is rooted in the approach to the concept of ‘melodic metal’, in so far as that does rear its head here. When it does, it’s far more akin to the way Saxon produced tracks such as 747, And The Bands Played On and Wheels Of Steel, burrowing their way into your brain to take up residence without ever requiring Def Leppard to book a studio and Mutt Lange for 18 months of perfectionist knob-twiddling. The melody is there to beef up the chorus and make the song memorable rather than replacing the honest rock power of the music, something which was all too often forgotten as Motley Crue droned about Girls Girls Girls, or Kiss informed us of the Crazy Crazy Nights we were apparently having. It’s a way to fuse the twin powers of melody and power without compromising either, and that’s something I, and I suspect many others, can get right on board with.

It isn’t a perfect album, as there are a few slightly weaker tracks in the latter half (the short Rewind, the ominously titled Scream Out Loud and the closing Setting the Sails all being just a little generic-rock by comparison with the best material), but there are more hits than misses right to the end. Beyond The Odds carries echoes of the razor-sharp riffing of Randy Rhoads on the Blizzard Of Ozz album (Randy is clearly an influence on Guns – and why not!), while Where We Beyond is huge lighter-waving pompous balladry at its very best, unashamedly anthemic and wonderfully ‘this goes to eleven’ in its approach. Winds Of Fate is an almost impossibly portentous slab of bombast, grinding along in a way which cannot help but convince you that you are listening to something profound, simply by its overwhelming sense of its own earnest sincerity. This may be, at its best, a marvellously powerful heavy metal album with a streak of working-man’s melody running through it, but there’s also enough variety there to ensure it never starts sounding like a one-trick pony, no matter how good the trick might be.

I came into this record believing it would probably be a fairly lightweight, mildly enjoyable piece of smoothly sophisticated AOR rock, suitable for a dinner party when the ‘used to like some rock’ neighbours come around. I was wrong on all counts. Lightweight? Not on your life. Mildly enjoyable? Make that ‘loving it, and let me play it again’. Smoothly sophisticated? About as much as a punch in the face from an angry Klingon. And that dinner party for the ‘rock-lite’ neighbours? Save it for when you want them to leave – loud. This is no 80s-wannabe piece of nostalgia fluff, this is Real Rock, for Real Rock People. If that’s you – and I’m willing to bet it might be – then get in line. You’re going to like this ride…