Johnny Touch - Inner City Wolves
Shadow Kingdom Records
Heavy Metal
8 songs (38' 44")
Release year: 2014
Shadow Kingdom Records
Reviewed by Andy
Surprise of the month

I picked Australian newcomers Johnny Touch's first full-length without ever having heard their material before, and with so many predecessors in their chosen genre of traditional heavy metal, the likelihood of getting a clone of past greats was high. But in a pleasant surprise, it didn't turn out that way at all. Inner City Wolves pays homage to the speed metal bands of the early/mid 80s, but it's also a fresh, unwearied album with its own sound, that combines considerable technical ability with decent songwriting.

It's pretty clear you're going to see an 80s-style metal album when you see their cover, a leather-clad lady with huge silver hair and an assault rifle riding a giant wolf through a post-apocalyptic city. It's as joyously over-the-top as anything from that era, and goes quite well with what the listener hears in the first track, It's Alright. The fine guitar work starts almost immediately with a virtuosity that reminds one of 80s-era Chastain, and like David Chastain's soloing, the solos are filled with smooth but furious picking but remains sharply melodic and song-focused. Vocalist Pahl Hodgson's singing is usually a clean tenor with a little grittiness to it, but he has an immense range and effortlessly winds up to a falsetto scream at a moment's notice in The Metal Embrace, which also, I might add, has a nifty guitar/bass rhythm line on the chorus. Lady Stutter, a song starting with quiet acoustic guitar, switches about a minute and a half in to a plodding but snappy rhythm, then a tightly synchronized NWOBHM-style gallop, then another quick-stepping march as the background to a jaw-dropping guitar solo; while I can't say too much for this one's song structure, the band overwhelms any shortcomings by sheer ability. Apparently that's not enough guitar for them, because the next track, Radiation Axposure (you have to love the title, at any rate) consists of what amounts to a 3-minute guitar solo. Dishonourable Discharge has a fairly generic tune, again set to some incredible guitar music; the arpeggiated picking during the verse is exquisite.

I do rather wish the production added a little more on the lower range. It's pretty clear Jamie Whyte is a brilliant guitarist, and the guitar is central to the mix, but bassist "Inphiltraitor" is no slouch, and I felt like he was mixed a little bit quiet; it would be nice if all those solos had heavier, deeper backing to them. But that's a minor nitpick. The sound of the whole band is focused and hammers away at the listener without letting one do more than just hang on for the metaphorical ride; Bitch of a Son, a fairly fast-paced song with double-kick drumming and excellent rhythm riffing, meshes this instrumental powerhouse with Hodgson's vocals as if they are an extension of his voice. Black Company started slowly and took five minutes to build up, during which I was afraid that it was going to be an epic song that fell flat, but at the end of that build-up, the listener is treated to a razor-edged piece of music that sounds (both musically and lyrically) like a Mercyful Fate song. Again, the band gives a nod to their influences, and takes it in their own direction.

In a world where a lot of the founding acts of NWOBHM are thinking about finally calling it quits (or, sadly, are hanging on and releasing substandard material), it's nice to get a surprise like this. Johnny Touch sounds great on this album, and it's well worth checking out.

Bandcamp: http://shadowkingdomrecords.bandcamp.com/album/inner-city-wolves.

Killing Songs :
The Metal Embrace, Lady Stutter, Bitch of a Son
Andy quoted 86 / 100
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