I like Ripper Owens, and I do so despite that I, like everyone else, was introduced to him when he emerged from obscurity to sing on the two worst Judas Priest records. I don’t know Owens, of course, and in truth, I’ve only read a few interviews with him, but he seems like a decent enough fellow, just a lucky Midwestern metalhead who came out of nowhere to front one of the biggest bands in metal history and then get fired and then front another semi-legendary band and then get fired… For the record, I still like him even though he fronts Yngwie Malmsteen’s latest incarnation of neo-classical wankery. Hell, I like him more than I tend to like Iced Earth, with or without him. I skipped the Beyond Fear record, I’ll admit, and I haven’t heard any of his other myriad efforts, and so here I am with Play My Game in hand.
The list of guest appearances on Game is an impressive who’s-who of hard rock and metal veterans—Doug Aldrich (Dio / Whitesnake), Simon Wright (Dio / AC/DC), the perpetually underrated Steve Stevens (Billy Idol), Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big / David Lee Roth), Carlos Cavaso (Quiet Riot), Rudy Sarzo (Whitesnake / Ozzy / Quiet Riot), Bruce Kulick (KISS / Grand Funk Railroad), David Ellefson (F5 / Megadeth), James Lomenzo (Black Label Society / White Lion / Megadeth), Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath / Dio), Michael Wilton (Queensryche), Chris Caffery (Savatage / Trans Siberian Orchestra)… Parts of this record remind of me of Dio—particularly the moodier slower side of RJD’s catalog—and other parts remind me of Judas Priest. Neither of those influences should be in the least bit surprising to anyone familiar with Ripper’s work. The musicianship is solid, as would be expected from the list above, and the production is meaty and stout. As is always the case, Owens’ vocals are impressive; his array of voices is mostly confined to the midrange here, with a few forays into a Halford-like falsetto and some screaming. (More often, he, too, sounds like Dio.) Ripper is and has always been a powerful singer–no matter of one’s opinion of his recorded work, his technical skill is astounding, and it’s on fine display here.
Play My Game is capably performed, but it does have flaws. The riffs are solid but sometimes pedestrian, and more often than not, the lyrics tend towards the ham-fisted and heavy-handed, even by trad-metal standards. (Even in the album’s best moments, like the opener “Starting Over,” these tunes suffer from some lame rhyming couplets. And don’t get me started on the lines about African children with malaria in “World Gone Blind” or the chorus of “It Is Me.”) That said, the songs on Play My Game certainly aren’t as bad as, say, those on Demolition (nor even as misguided as those on the godawful Nostradamus, which must make Ripper feel a bit better about his ejection from his favorite band). Play My Game is what it is: a classic-styled metal record, good enough to rock you, but likely not awesome enough to land on many best-of-’09 lists. Recommended for serious fans of mid-period Dio, Sabbath’s Dio-fronted comeback Dehumanizer and the like.