The Heir Apparent backstory is a decidedly familiar one that’s been handed down likely since the earliest days when music first began hitting platters: Band arrives on the scene with something special; a person or persons of import take notice and things begin to fall into place; commitment levels begin to shift; shit hits the fan and everything crumbles.
For the Heir Apparent gents, it was the early/mid 80s in Seattle—they had a winning formula that mixed power, traditional and progressive metal into a design that shoulda-coulda-woulda landed them the same sort of love and attention as Fates Warning or Queensrÿche. In fact, it was the latter’s management team that initially gave them the requisite push. But, life and times got in the way, as it so often does: a “real job” lured commitment away, money was stretched beyond the thinnest of thin, health wobbled, and the management team stepped out of the picture to better serve the quickly soaring career of the Queens of the Rÿche. The fact that founding guitarist/principle songwriter Terry Gorle and his cohorts Derek Peace (bass) and Ray Schwartz (drums) managed to keep it together long enough to release the notably difficult to find in the U.S. debut Graceful Inheritance (1986 on Black Dragon Records, the same label that released Epicus Doomicus Metallicus) and its follow-up, One Small Voice (1989 on Metal Blade Records), was nothing short of a miracle.
In the aftermath of those 80s, grunge obviously took over Seattle, and Heir Apparent left behind seven ex-members and a seven-record contract with Metal Blade/Capitol Records. The band split before the official release of One Small Voice, and it wasn’t until the early 2000s when Wacken and the Keep It True festivals helped re-spark the engines that Heir Apparent really began moving forward again. Now, damn-near three decades after their last full-length, fans of heady progressive metal finally get record number three, The View From Below.
Secondly, where in the living hell did they uncover the voice of Will Shaw. That’s not really a question—he clearly strolled in from the corner of Midnight Ave and Mike Howe Blvd and belted out a perfect rendition of “Queen of the Reich,” and the rest of the band immediately threw all their microphones into the trash. Heir Apparent has always had a knack for discovering unrecognized, supremely talented vocalists for their records, and Shaw might just take the cake. He has fantastic range, a near-flawless delivery, and just enough grit in the corners to keep the piercing high notes from sounding overly frilly. Shaw gets an extensive portion of the spotlight throughout The View From Below, and that’s a distinction that’s well deserved.
“The Door” is one of the strongest cuts on the album, and believe it or not, it’s also one of the more energetic offerings. Only “Savior” out-hustles it, and that particular song handles the speed in under three minutes. The rest of the fare is dominated by a slower pace that’s reminiscent of the softer side of the Parallels-era of Fates Warning. Critics seem to enjoy referring to this sort of emphasis on mellowness as a “maturing” of some sort, which could be a blemish in the hands of a band that wasn’t always mellow-motivated. The Heir Apparent of old tackled “life & times” themes more idealistically and with a more forceful stride interspersed with mellowness, where The View From Below reverses that method, and does so from the standpoint of someone who’s more pragmatic and now remembers/recounts years on the frontline from the warmth of home. It’s a detail worth underscoring, because if you don’t love it unhurried, mellow and, well…mature, Heir Apparent circa 2018 probably ain’t your ideal candidate for a co-pilot.
However, if you don’t necessarily count metal that’s strictly “Hammer-Smashed Face” as a prerequisite, and bands like Warlord (US), While Heaven Wept and Pink Floyd feature heavily in your rotation, you will find plenty to love with The View From Below. The mellowest stuff—particularly “Here We Aren’t” and “Further and Farther”— is daringly light but still sneakily infectious, the heavier material is dark and damn-near doomy, and Terry Gorle’s guitar work is (expectedly) splendid, especially the manner in which he crafts those beautifully fluid Jim Matheos-adjacent leads, of which there are plenty. In essence, it’s the sort of 45-minute ride that’s custom-built to accompany those subdued, introspective evenings spent alone and mulling over just where and how-the-hell humankind managed to go so far off course. Neil deGrasse Tyson approved, perhaps, as a snippet of an interview with the man can be heard kicking off the opening belter, “Man in the Sky.”
Normally, news of 80s metal bands releasing new material in the modern age brings a certain sense of trepidation, but 2018 has been very kind to the battle-scarred road dogs—Judas Priest rekindled the fires to a roaring level, Satan and Voivod continued to raise the bar, Cirith Ungol recently dropped an absolutely killer new song, and Fifth Angel are preparing to drop arguably their best release toward the end of the month. Well, prepare to add Heir Apparent to that notable list of pleasant preservations, because The View From Below represents another sweet success, but mostly for those with a more patient ear who are more inclined to allow the slow, solemn, introspective goods proper time to fully sink in.