Pounder’s last full-length, 2019’s Uncivilized, was a collection of fun and well crafted songs marred by one pretty significant stumbling block. A throwback metal outfit in the vein of so many these days (see: Traveller, Night Demon, and dozens more), Pounder harks back to the days of the NWOBHM crossed with the trad-metal might of Accept, a dash of the hairsprayed glitz of the early 80s Sunset Strip, and a dose of the epic pomp of Manowar. Guitar riffs drive; solos bob and weave; and melodies soar… or at least, soar-t of.
Which is that one stumbling block I mentioned above.
While he hasn’t suddenly magically morphed into Harry Conklin or even into the ragged charm of an Udo, to his credit, Harvey’s rasp has improved noticeably in the two years between records. Also, to further shore up their weakest point, a stronger usage of backing vocals boosts Breaking The World’s overall results to the next level, propelling Pounder from novelty side project to functional, if still rough-hewn, retro-trad unit.
Where Pounder shines brightest is in the speedy guitar interplay between Harvey and Draper, both of whom are fiercely adept at their instruments, tossing off riffs and fills and solos with expertise born of years of collective experience. Whereas Uncivilized sported some ballads that were less-than-thrilling, this sophomore effort further optimizes Pounder’s strengths by sticking to a mostly uptempo attack. Opening with the dancing twin guitars and the “too wild to live, too fast to die” ethos of “Spoils Of War,” Breaking The World is relentlessly riffy from the get-go, with a catchy chorus that doesn’t suffer too much from the limited vocal skills. Elsewhere, those background vocals prop up bigger and better choruses in the badlands tale of “Hard Road To Home” (the closest Breaking comes to a ballad) or in the grittier “Hard City,” while Harvey manages a Dee Snider-ish gut-level gusto on the anthemic “Give Me Rock.” The title track beats its chest with an Adams / Demaio bravado, the classic heavy metal song about the glory of metal and all things metallic. The chorus of the closer “Deadly Eyes” could’ve been lifted from a classic Dokken number, if that band pushed up the speed limit and had two George Lynch’s. (The latter of those points is likely Don Dokken’s worst nightmare.)
Like the Pounder album before it, Breaking The World is an homage to the Eighties, to the golden daze of traditional metal. Where that earlier album certainly exhibited a level of respectfulness and professionalism, it also suffered from a few shortcomings that, being the respectful professionals that they are, Pounder has directly addressed in the time between. All the major talking points have been improved upon: By foregoing the power ballads that require a melodic ability they don’t have, Pounder pounds harder, focusing on their strengths. Noticeably lower budget before, the production on Breaking The World is more balanced, simply better all around; it’s not slick, but it’s strong, allowing the guitars to lead the charge, full-bore across the rhythm section of Corredor and guest drummer Gus Rios. And credit where it’s due: Harvey’s lead vocals have improved since the debut. Bolstered with the added support from Draper’s backgrounds, they’re handily stronger here, more commanding, more engaging.
Had Breaking The World come out in about 1987, like it’s clearly intended to look and sound like it did, some jackass like me would be telling you how it’s a fun undiscovered gem somewhere at the intersection of trad metal, hard rock, and speed metal, and how it’s charming that the singer goes for it and doesn’t always get there. Charming may not quite be kingly, but sometimes it’s good enough to give you rock. And rock is all you need.