Joe Harford

REVIEW: Tony Martin – Thorns (2022)

TONY MARTIN – Thorns (2022 Dark Star Records)

Anticipation has been high for Tony Martin’s new album Thorns.  His last solo record was the excellent Scream from 2005, but it feels like it was back in the 2nd age of Middle Earth!  Fandom seems to have warmed up to Martin in recent years.  His Sabbath albums, once derided as lesser Dio clones, are looked back upon warmly by more and more people, which could be good for Martin.  And with some of those albums getting the reissue treatment in the future, the time is right for Tony’s re-emergence.

Thorns is heavy.  Heavier than expected.  “As the World Burns” is out of the gates with salvos of double bass and a gut-punching downtuned riff.  This is essentially thrash metal – fast, aggressive, varied and complex.  It’s certainly beyond Sabbath.  Martin’s range is fully intact, though it sounds like he’s pushing his voice a bit too much and maybe should have laid back a bit in a couple spots.  Even so, there is no doubting the man’s enduring power.

“Black Widow Angel” is hellbent for heavy.  Then there’s this crazy funk metal breakdown in the middle with some wicked bass stuff, right out of the blue.  Many of Martin’s songs demonstrate surprising diversity within the walls of heavy metal.  Choirs appear on “Book of Shadows”, a modern Maiden-esque track with a pretty incredible lead vocal.  There’s also a solidly Sabbath gothic streak.

One of the most interesting tracks is “Cry Wolf”.  An acoustic metal song is often intriguing (ask Wino) and this is a fine tune with a guitar solo to match.  Cool instrumentation abounds, and Martin fans know that they can expect some wicked violin within a metal song.  The violin emerges on “Damned By You”, slow melodic and heavy.  Moving on to “No Shame At All”, the groove takes the spotlight.  The chorus is pure vintage Tony, but the groove is new.

Metal ballads rule, and “Nowhere to Fly” is a black rose of a ballad.  The music is understated so it’s all about Tony’s singing.  (Nothing like Dio’s, incidentally.)  “Passion Killer” on the other hand rocks, but is also all about the vocals.  Those “woah-oh-woah-ohs!” kick ass.  There isn’t much of a chorus to speak of, but the verses slay.  Tony then goes for speed on “Run Like the Devil”, hook laden and wicked!  But then we get swampy on the surprising “This Is My Damnation”.  It’s the second acoustic song, but completely different from the first.  “Why terrorism?  Why Covid?  Why cancer?  Why AIDS?” asks Tony in the words, speak-singing like in a Robbie Robertson song.

The closing title track is the most epic, featuring an instantly recognizable Pamela Moore (Operation: Mindcrime).  Moore has lost nothing and raises the game by several levels.  At first, I wasn’t sure I liked that “ooh-ah-ah” bit that sounds like David Draiman.  It grows on you.  At least it’s not the main hook of the song like it is with Disturbed.

Acoustic interludes, spoken word, subhuman bass, snakey synth solos, Pamela Moore…Thorns has plenty of delectables on offer.  Get yours.

4.5/5 stars


REVIEW: Tony Martin – Scream (2005, Japanese edition with bonus track)

TONY MARTIN – Scream (2005 Marquee Inc., Japanese edition with bonus track)

Some of you might not know the name Tony Martin.  Yet you should — he spent more time fronting Black Sabbath than anyone except Ozzy Osbourne.  He sang on five studio albums and one live.  His powerful voice, which was constantly compared to Dio’s, was behind such singles as “Headless Cross” and “The Shining”.

Scream is only Tony’s second solo album, but it’s bloody fantastic.  This fits the bill for people who miss where Black Sabbath were going before Martin departed for the first time in 1991, to make room for Dio’s return.  The riffs are there, and on a couple you’d swear Iommi wrote them.  This is intentional — Martin collaborated with ex-Sabbath keyboardist Geoff Nicholls (1980-1995) and included music and performances by late Sabbath drummer Cozy Powell.

There are many standout tracks on Scream.  The opener, “Raising Hell”, is a speedy Sabbath-esque number similar to “Eye Witness” from Cross Purposes.  Not coincidentally, this is the track with Nicholls and Powell, a demo for the album that would have followed Tyr.  It’s a standout if you like that period of Sabbath.  Which I do.

Fuck yeah!  I LOVE that period of Sabbath! 

There are blazing guitar solos, organ solos and hell, even a bloody violin solo, and it sounds downright wicked.  Martin himself played it, as he did most instruments on this album.  The rest were handled by his son, Joe Harford!  I’m guessing it was Harford who plays the tasty slide guitar solos too.  I loves me some slide guitar in my metal!  You don’t hear it enough in metal.

Best song:  “I’m Gonna Live Forever”, an anthem that I would say makes the album worth buying on its own. 

Another standout:  “Wherever You Go”, somewhat Zeppelin-esque circa III, but also reminiscient of a Sabbath track like “Odin’s Court”.  Indeed, you will definitely hear Zeppelin creeping in during “Field of Lies”…

Worst songs:  Sadly, I can’t say as I much liked the rap metal song, the Japanese-exlusive “Unbearable”.  It’s basically about how getting no respect is making his life unbearable.  It’s heavy and angry, has some good guitars, and sounds pretty genuine.  I guess it can’t be easy being the 8th (I think) lead vocalist in Black Sabbath.  I also dislike “The Kids Of Today (Don’t Understand the Blues)”.  Basically about what the title says.  It has a synth riff in the verses that is kind of at odds with the title, but maybe that’s the point.

Aside from the two songs that didn’t click with me, Scream comes off as an honest, classy traditional metal album.  It strikes me as a bold attempt to carry the Sabbath flag, during a period when Black Sabbath were not recording.  (Sabbath later got back together with Dio under the name Heaven & Hell, and made one final crushing studio album.)  The songs stand up on their own, with powerful, memorable riffs.  The vocal melodies and indeed the vocal performances are Martin at his best.  This is just a straight great metal album, for those who like it the way they used to make it.

Kids of today.  They just don’t understand!

4.5/5 stars