Tim “Ripper” Owens is a real trooper. Plucked from relative obscurity out of Winter’s Bane and a Judas Priest cover band to front the metal gods, he went on to sing on two studio albums and one live recording, causing possibly the biggest fan division since Kiss took off their makeup. Critically and commercially panned, it begged the question of whether Ripper was just that awful or if expectations were too high in the wake of Rob Halford. Well, the latter soon rejoined his Priest brethren to much adulation. Ripper would not be unemployed for long, being quickly recruited by Jon Schaeffer to replace Matt Barlow on Iced Earth’s The Glorious Burden, and still the Ripper debate continued. It’s too bad that opinions of his work often rest heavily on comparisons to his predecessors, because he is easily one of the strongest vocalists going today. Now he has a chance to definitively prove it with Beyond Fear, a band he started from scratch and in which he is the primary songwriter.
While there is nothing groundbreaking about this debut effort, it is a solid slab of heavy metal, full of roaring guitars and of course Ripper’s vocal power. Opener “Scream Machine” has the potential to become another classic metal anthem, coming straight from the Judas Priest school while allowing Ripper to unleash the inner beast. He takes a stab at a power ballad with “Dreams Come True”, which isn’t too bad, but may have been better had the guitars been reined in a bit. It’s the only one in the batch, though. There are many more tracks like “The Human Race”, with a double-bass assault and, I hate to keep saying it, another amazing Ripper vocal. Come to think of it, I could just say that this is a vocal-driven album that works, a rarity in today’s metal scene where many bands are more likely to concentrate on the musicianship, hoping that the vocals will just take care of themselves. It’s the vocals that take potentially sub-par tracks like “Telling Lies”, “Save Me”, and “I Don’t Need This” and make them great. Of course, a heavy metal album is nothing without solid musicianship, and the guitar duo of John Comprix and Dwayne Bihary ably deliver strong, catchy riffs that compliment the vocals without overpowering them.
Now that everyone will finally be forced to judge Ripper on his own merits, they should realize what some of us have known all along – that he is a vocal monster to be reckoned with. Beyond Fear, the band and the album is a testament to his tenacity and his flat out love of heavy metal, if anyone ever doubted the latter. He’s more than just a hired gun – he is his own man who deserves everything he’s gotten. If this is his first real go at writing and recording his own music, I can’t wait to hear what he does next.