Tony Martin – Thorns (Album Review)

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Dank crosses meet soulful purposes.

It could be said that behind every iconic metal front man is a correspondingly elite flock of musicians, and the career of Birmingham born vocalist Tony Martin’s career since the 1980s bears this out at every point. Though his tenure with Black Sabbath in the late 80s and mid 90s has birthed some of his best known moments, one would be remiss to downplay the work carrying his instantly recognizable tenor via such noted bands as Empire, The Cage and even an auspicious live stint with Swedish epic doom metal pioneers Candlemass back in 2004. His various guest appearances have been no less noteworthy, particularly with that of Arjen Lucassen’s Star One and Magnus Karlsson’s Free Fall. Yet with so many virtuoso instrumentalists already under his proverbial belt, Mr. Anthony Philip Harford apparently still has some surprises up his sleeve, as underscored by the dark and heavy juggernaut of a solo offering he has now brought forth in “Thorns.”

In many respects, this album recalls the bleaker days of Martin’s tenure with Sabbath in the mid-90s, specifically the harrowing 1994 installment “Cross Purposes.” The lion’s share of the individual songs that round out this dank, twisted sonic portfolio tilt heavily towards the doom aesthetic, though guitarist and co-songwriter Scott McClellan’s background with noted Pantera tribute band Cemetery Gatez and a number of southern metal outfits tempers this slow and dreary approach with a sludgy, yet impactful character that gives things a notably modern touch. Indeed, this de facto super-group lineup that adorns this latest solo venture brings a fair bit of virtuosic and extreme metal credentials to the table to boot between the mad technical bottom end work of ex-Hammerfall bassist Magnus Rosen and the thudding assault of Venom kit man Danny Needham. Combined with some additional bass input by ex-Rainbow and ex-Blue Oyster Cult member Greg Smith, the musical results are nothing if not highly versatile.

Being the first solo outing from Martin since the notably heavy 2005 LP “Scream,” “Thorns” proves to be a jolting detour into mercilessly aggression for anyone with a familiarity with his past work. The opening auditory melee “As The World Burns” kicks things off with a veritable iron fist to the gut, starting on a pounding two chord drone that sounds eerily similar tonally to the intro to classic Black Sabbath anthem “When Death Calls” and then launching into an up tempo, riffs galore festival of sludgy thrash that could rival the faster offerings on “The Great Southern Trendkill.” It doesn’t find an equal in the intensity department to any of the ten songs that follow, though the speed metal-tinged crusher “Run Like The Devil” comes pretty close. The resulting contrast between the bottom-heavy instrumental presentation and Martin’s largely clean and soaring vocals that have lost none of their power at the age of 62 is pretty stark, yet these two opposing extremes work together effortlessly to create a highly unique and nuanced take on the modern heavy metal aesthetic.

True to Martin’s heavy/doom roots, most of the music found on here takes things at either a slow or more measured and moderated pace, but is no less forbidding than the two aforementioned high-impact fair. Taking things in a chugging, mid-paced traditional doom direction is the rocking crusher “No Shame”, while the somber balladry turned bleak blares of “Nowhere To Fly” recall similarly styled anthems like “Cross Of Thorns” and “I Won’t Cry For You” from the Sabbath days. Yet the real charms of this album are revealed when the traditionally metallic character of this album is augmented with some unconventional additives, such as a wild slap bass solo section courtesy of Rosen on the otherwise pummeling and dark metallic slough “Black Widow Angel”, the church-like wall of choral voices and keyboards that adorn “Book Of Shadows” and a melancholy violin solo adorning the punchy riff monster “Damned By Your”.

In the grand scheme of Tony Martin’s highly accomplished and prolific career, this stands as one of the most unique offerings to carry his name, and definitely among the strongest notches in his expansive belt. Things maybe wander a little too far off the map with a couple of bluesy acoustic numbers in “Crying Wolf” and “This Is Your Damnation”, which are competently realized but maybe a tad out of place stylistically speaking, but overall this highly varied beast proves a cohesive one in the end. The songwriting partnership between Martin and McClellan is almost as compelling as the former’s was with Tony Iommi, and in some ways even a tad more eclectic, and hopefully if another installment of this duo is to come to light, it will manifest itself in a span of less than 17 years. Existing fans of this highly underrated master of the metal microphone will not be disappointed, and there is a far broader appeal to those in doom and groove metal circles to be found in this black sonic gem

Released By:   
Release Date: January 14th, 2022
Genre: Rock and Metal

Musicians:

  • Tony Martin / vocals
  • Scott McClellan / guitar
  • Danny Needham / drums
  • Magnus Rosen / bass
  • Greg Smith / bass

“Thorns” track-listing:

8.8 Excellent

Recalling his tenure with Black Sabbath during the dark days of the mid-1990s, veteran vocalist and heavy metal mainstay Tony Martin reignites his solo career with a dank, forbidding beast of an album that brilliantly merges his hard rock and heavy metal roots with a modernized arsenal of doom.

  • Songwriting 8.5
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 9
  • Production 8.5
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1 Comment

  1. I was excited after hearing “As The World Burns” – an excellent tune. The rest of the record sounded nothing like that song, which is a huge disappointment.

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