As far as supergroups go, I could probably count the number of successful ones on one hand. And, quite frankly, that's using as broad and weighted a definition of "successful" as a sufficiently drunk reading of the dictionary could possibly allow. That's because no one wants to hear a group of otherwise successful musicians get together and simply rehash the same old music they've always been playing. A good supergroup will take elements of their original bands and combine them in new and surprising ways without simply redoing their old ideas into the ground. Surprisingly, this pair of UK musicians, guitarist Adrian Smith of heavy metal band Iron Maiden and vocalist Mikee Goodman of mathcore/tech death act SikTh, have managed to do just that: they've taken ideas from both of their own distinct styles and created something that sounds like neither. You can hear as much from the band that is their lovechild, the collaborative project Primal Rock Rebellion, on their 2012 debut Awoken Broken.
Of either act, Primal Rock Rebellion definitely takes the least from Iron Maiden, though there are still some prominent facets of their sound intact. Most noticeably borrowed from them is the fact that Primal Rock Rebellion's writing definitely leans towards the readily-accessible nature of their songs. Unlike with SikTh, whose music is often impenetrably dense, everything written by this duo is designed to be easy on the ears and even easier to listen to. This presents itself in many ways, such as in the shorter, versechours song structures, the relatively safe and standard lyrics, and the heavy metal/hard rock aesthetic. Of course, even making that connection is stretching it pretty far--in actuality, given how little the band actually sounds like them, the average listener of Primal Rock Rebellion wouldn't even think to connect their sound with Iron Maiden at all.
Mind you, that's not to say the band shares much more with SikTh either. Though there are none of their trademark complex digressions and inaccessible riffwork, there are numerous hints at SikTh's core alt-metal sound. In addition, though it's still accessible in nature, the sound definitely mimics a lot of SikTh's aggressive and somewhat rough exterior. Even Smith's unfortunately infrequent soloing generally lends itself towards the much more mature nature of SikTh's composition.
However, though Primal Rock Rebellion undeniably sound more like SikTh than Iron Maiden, it's not for any of the reasons stated above; what most clearly identifies PRR with SikTh is Goodman's incredibly distinct and recognizable vocal work. His incredible diversity of styles continues to drive the music here, as the songs all seem to revolve around getting Goodman to sing with as many different voices as possible. His vocals become as wildly ranged as straight-up hardcore screaming, gruff and strained shouting, artfully whiny melodic singing, no-holds-barred death growling, and, of course, his nigh-indescribable spoken word voice. Of the latter: fans of SikTh will rejoice when learning that Goodman delivers another beautiful spoken word solo on this album with the unnerving "As Tears Come Falling from the Sky". Without a doubt, he is truly the enlivening force behind the sound of the band with his incredible vim.
Though I praise Goodman, Smith's guitar playing is equally excellent and also deserves note. Though his inexplicably sparse soloing is only enough to whet the appetite, he nonetheless impresses with his ability without driving himself into the ground from overuse. This can be clearly heard during his short but impeccable solos on tracks like "Bright as a Fire", "I See Lights" and "Tortured Tone"
And in reality, it is their combined talents that really take the good, but otherwise standard, tracks and make them truly great. The two take heavy-hitting rockers like "No Friendly Neighbor", "Savage World", or "Awoken Broken" that would otherwise be dime-a-dozen hard rock songs and really inject them with the extra energy needed to make them truly original tracks.
And some of the tracks are actually pretty damn good on their own terms--"No Place Like Home" is an absolutely blistering alt-rocker, "White Sheet Robes" is a powerfully emotional lament, and "I See Lights" is an anthemic industrial sojourn through dense layers of grime and sludge. In these cases, Smith and Goodman's musical finesse only serves to make the experience border on the sublime. This is especially true on the more melodic selections, like the lighter song "Search for Bliss" and the amazing closing track "Mirror and the Moon".
The latter deserves to be singled out as one of the strongest songs on the album: guest musician Abi Fry's viola work in particular is unexpected, but nonetheless gives the song the folk-rock push it so desires. Her superb string playing is welcome addition to the heavy metal sound elsewhere on the album as well; though she shows up very sparsely, her talent is always used to great effect when it is called for.
Listening to this album is like being given an auditory tour of the world as seen through the eyes of the insane: it at first presents a thick, abrasive façade that repulses and repels, but as you begin to understand it more, you discover that it's frequently punctuated by moments of sweet lucidity. Or just imagine Mikee Goodman screwing your brain with nothing but his voice and, well, you will get more or less the same effect. Man's got a fucking weird voice is what I'm getting at.
In sum, Awoken Broken is likely to please even minimally broad-minded fans of both SikTh and Iron Maiden. Any fans that don't mind the artists stepping a little bit outside of their original styles will appreciate their combined talents at work on this album. Granted, at it's heart, it's still a big, dumb, hard rock album, but it's certainly on the upper tier thereof.In fact, the only reservation I really have with the band is that I honestly doubt they have another album of completely original material in them. Regardless, for now, Primal Rock Rebellion have undeniably delivered something memorable.
7.5 / 10
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