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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

CD Review: Ross the Boss - New Metal Leader

Ross the Boss - New Metal Leader
2009 Candlelight Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



You know the man's blood had to be pumping proudly when Ross the Boss (aka Ross Friedman and Ross Funicello) ventured into Germany with his old buddies from Manowar at the 2005 Earthshaker fest, depicted triumphantly on their booming DVD The Day the Earth Shook - The Absolute Power. Throwing a guitar clinic for the metal devout, jamming with a German Manowar cover band and taking the stage with his old demolition crew after a hell of a long hiatus--returning at show's end for an incredible alumni rendition of "Battle Hymns" with everyone who's ever played in the band--how could Ross the Boss not be rekindled by it all?

Perhaps he'd grown jaded from an American audience that embraced Manowar through the late eighties then dumped them not long after Kings of Metal. Sure, Manowar has historically been brash chaps and the more popularity they garnished with Fighting the World, the more of a hardline anti-poser stance they took, which many happy-go-lucky Americans at the time gave a Roman-esque thumbs-down to. Of course, it didn't help heavy metal was on its way out the door courtesy of the hairball pop rockers Manowar vehemently detested in public. Fact of the matter, though, Ross the Boss' departure from Manowar was a sting only if you were a devout follower of the group.

Other people could've cared less in light of the David Lee Roth band versus his Hagar-led mates of Van Halen audile skirmishes that were raging and smoldering by the time Ross the Boss left Manowar. At the time of his departure, Manowar was on the same popularity level as Raven, Metal Church, Anvil and Overkill. Of course, the nearly-commercial sway Manowar had somewhat hypocritcally flirted with via "Blow Your Speakers" and its subsequent failure to capture the same crowd who showed up for Ratt, Priest and Iron Maiden was enough to deter Ross the Boss from continuing on.

Still, you have to appreciate Ross' importance to Manowar (not to mention punk legends The Dictators), in particular his on-par capacity to drill in the trenches with lightning-mad bassist Joey DeMaio. Considering Ross the Boss initially founded Manowar, the fact he packed his axe, sheathed his cutlery and hung up his battle leather was disheartening to power metal addicts. Manowar, however, continued on and as history reveals, they only got heavier and sometimes faster. Though Manowar still sadly lacks a solid backing on their home turf of the U.S.A., they're considered upper tier elite throughout Europe, Japan and South America. The stages are still massive, the lights still blaring and Manowar is still pounding ears savagely. America, who?

Somewhere in the midst of all of the Earthshaker hoopla, Ross the Boss found his stride again and if he's trying to prove a point by returning to a metal scene more ready to embrace him now than in 1988, consider it made with New Metal Leader. Though his vocalist Patrick Fuchs is by no means in Eric Adams' league (and sometimes more than a bit shaky, particularly on his squabbled falsettos) and though Ross the Boss challenges his fans later in the album with some wild curveballs nobody is likely going to see coming, New Metal Leader is nevertheless and example of a guy finding his nerve again and making the most of it.

Largely with one foot stuck in Hail to England, Battle Hymns and Into Glory Ride, New Metal Leader is completely irresistible if you grew up with this stuff in the eighties. Right out the gate on New Metal Leader, Ross the Boss and his new power pack (including Carsten Kettering on bass and Matze Mayer on drums) call up the vintage stuff on "I.L.H.," "Blood of Knives" and the strident "I Got the Right." Ross then steps on the gas with "Death and Glory" while pulling the gear back into fourth on the bopping trad rocker "Plague of Lies."

"Constantine's Sword" is hit-and-miss with a chugging rhythm, solid riffs and a funky base to its favor and some irksome, wallowing vocals and a thumb pressed on the trigger to its detriment. Ross had the potential to make this song thunderous, and perhaps he can jack it up to proper amplitude onstage, but it mostly skulks around as if looking to end as quickly as it started, even at four-and-a-half-minutes. The biggest surprise of New Metal Leader is the rather tame "May the Gods Be With You" and its yummy sun-soaked rawk feel. Is this Ross the Boss or Y&T? You be the judge, but Y&T make a much better Y&T.

Fret not, because New Metal Leader comes back to its purpose with heavy slogs on "We Will Kill," even if the foundation of the song likewise assumes a hard rock stance instead of blunt power metal. In other words, Ross is experimenting a bit with his album after hitting his listeners hard with the obvious.

Ross takes a shot at Maiden-like metal hero tributizing with "Matador," although the riff lines come off more like Accept. Still, Ross makes this one count as one of the heaviest and most crisp tunes on the album, even tossing some articulate flamenco at the end, hails to that. It sets up New Metal Leader's "Battle Hymn" stab, "Immortal Son," which mostly works despite a squib or two. For the most part, however, "Immortal Son" is a well-tailored six-minute epic that shows Ross the Boss still has heart.

Already the fans are declaring this one a winner overtop Manowar's recent album Gods of War, though Eric Adams is naturally far-superior on the mike and Gods of War boasts the firepower production of Joey DeMaio (not to mention his cracka-lacka bass). Ross probably won't have a bunch of bare-chested girls onstage to French kiss and dump beer on their tits, but he does have the respect of the Manowar faithful and that'll continue easily with New Metal Leader...

Rating: ****

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