Album Review: Charred Walls of the Damned - "Cold Winds on Timeless Days"

Ripper Owens, the mercenary singer for hire, gives the impression that he's a man trying to prove something. His tumultuous career began while filling in for Rob Halford's sabbatical in Judas Priest. He carried that into a spin with Iced Earth, and then was the singer for Yngwie Malmsteen (and is reported to be again.) An album with Beyond Fear and a solo project thrown on the pile for good measure, and Ripper has been around the block at least once.

The man seems out to prove that he was, is and shall be a viable, marketable, successful singer in the metal realm, and yet in a certain percentage of metal circles, Ripper Owens represents little more than an easy punch line.

Now releasing a second album with supergroup Charred Walls of the Damned, Owens is, for better or worse, the band's central and most watched figure. While the band's membership is varied and reputable, the act can't help but be dominated by Owens' legacy (or lack thereof, depending on who you ask.)

It is rare to use this word in reference to an album, but "Cold Winds on Timeless Days" is...annoying.

The songs are shrill, Owens' vocals are powerful but overwrought with dramatic tones, and the album showcases the same shallow reservoir of constructions. The album's tone and intangible feeling suggests two equally unpalatable options: that the band doesn't know any other tricks, or (perhaps more likely,) the musicians want to prove and emblazon their image on the minds of spectators through repetition.

Not as gloriously opulent as Primal Fear or as technically decadent as the recent works of Iron Maiden, “Cold Winds on Timeless Days” struggles to break through in the purgatorial middle ground of power metal.

"Zerospan," the album's single, is one of the instances where the album rises to the call and has the band members utilizing their talents. This is only cut that features seamless transitions between disparate song sections, woven together with skill befitting the prowess of Richard Christy and his fellowship. It is a song of many flavors and textures, culminating in an enjoyably overblown chorus.

The cruelest criticism ever heaped upon Ripper Owens was the assertion that he was nothing more than a deified impressionist, only a step removed from the multitudes of whiskey-addled, porcine Las Vegas Elvises. While not a fair (or particularly constructive) critique, his vocal similarities to Rob Halford are undeniable. Yet on “Cold Winds on Timeless Days,” Owens eschews his Halfordian standard, instead sounding more akin to another metal icon, Ronnie James Dio.

Unfortunately, this usually means that Owens is singing with deliberate pacing, making sure to emphasize each individual nuance of his vocal prowess. This could have worked, but the band underneath him rarely matches his pace. There are occasions where varying tempos of vocals and rhythm can make for an unsettling mood, but in the case of Charred Walls of the Damned, particularly in the second half cuts such as “The Beast Outside My Window,” the resultant sound is stretched at best and befuddling at worst.

If it sounds like I’m being too harsh on the album, perhaps that’s true. Let me temper my comments with the caveat that I, and you the listener, have heard albums with far more fluff and much less talented execution. There’s nothing so wrong with “Cold Winds on Timeless Days” that anyone should be holding a “demolition night” over it. Still, given that Owens’ raw vocal power is beyond reproach and that the talent of Richard Christy and the other band members is evident from their pasts, this could, and dare I say should, have been more.

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