James Durbin may have been the “metal guy” during his season on American Idol, but it’s been an uphill battle for him to get any sort of street cred in the actual scene. His subsequent solo albums seemed noncommittal in terms of style and his brief stint singing for Quiet Riot felt more like an odd novelty than a real step forward. It’s hard to tell how the reception towards The Beast Awakens (Frontiers Records srl) will compare but at the very least, it’s a notable turning point on his path to Heavy Metal legitimacy.
For what it’s worth, the album works as a genuine display of Durbin’s 1980s Metal aspirations. The overall style is on a sliding scale from Dio to Dokken with over-the-top vocals delivering fantasy lyrics and uplifting choruses, a driving rhythm section, guitars that aren’t afraid to get too shreddy, and a polished production to bring it all together. Its lighthearted demeanor may lack the intensity and grit of contemporaries in the same style, but it’s still great to see this style be delivered in the modern age without a single trace of tongue-in-cheek irony.
And like any other project with the singer’s last name, Durbin ends up being more of a band effort than one would assume. The high-pitched vocals may be a focal point with plenty of Sebastian Bach-esque falsettos to go around, but the other musicians are just as integral. The guitars (mostly written and recorded by Durbin) sit on near equal footing thanks to the hearty gallops and flamboyant solos on just about every song. The rhythm section also proves to be more than competent as drummer Mike Vanderhule puts in some hard-hitting performances while bassist Barry Sparks always provides a beefy undercurrent.
The songwriting also follows this simple but solid attitude, never getting too structurally adventurous but still putting in some excellent tracks. The album is at its best when opting for mid-tempo anthems with ‘Into The Flames,’ ‘The Sacred Mountain,’ and the title track standing out the most in this regard. ‘Riders On The Wind’ is another particularly majestic highlight with its grandiose riffs and sweeping chorus making the most of that Dio inspiration. A couple tracks could’ve been cut for the sake of a snappier runtime, but nothing feels too out of place or lesser in quality.
Overall, The Beast Awakens is an enjoyable album that sufficiently scratches that old-school itch. Durbin demonstrates a clear love for all things Heavy Metal, giving the other musicians plenty of opportunities to shine and putting forth a salvo of catchy songs that are fun without losing their sincerity. It may not hit the heights of its inspirations nor the best of the bands going today, but it’s leagues above what many cynical listeners would’ve expected from him. With any luck, this will hopefully be a foundation for something even stronger to come.
7 / 10