What makes a supergroup? The quality of the musicians who comprise said outfit? The Reputation of those involved? The music that they ultimately make? Well, I can think of several so-called supergroups whose output was less than impressive. And I can also think of many who have provided me with unexpected joy. But Elegant Weapons? They certainly have the line-up to excite. With Horns For A Halo, this supergroup demonstrates they mean business with a stellar debut release.
Elegant Weapons – Horns for A Halo (Nuclear Blast Records)
Release Date: 26 May 2023
Words: Paul Hutchings
Elegant Weapons is the vehicle for Judas Priest’s Richie Faulkner, an extraordinary guitarist whose tenure with the Metal Gods is now over 11 years strong. Throw in recovery from an aortic aneurysm under two years ago that saw him undergo ten hours of emergency surgery. It was touch and go, with luck on Faulkner’s side. A fight with the Grim Reaper saw Faulkner triumph and return from the brink to focus on unfinished business. The matter of completing Elegant Weapons and their debut album, Horns For A Halo.
Alongside Faulkner, whose guitar work is as sharp and flashy as one would expect, the line-up features renowned vocalist Ronnie Romero, hand-picked by one Ritchie Blackmore for those Rainbow shows a few years ago. Recording the album during the pandemic, Faulkner enlisted Pantera bassist and friend Rex Brown to lay down the low end alongside Faulkner’s bandmate Scott Travis on drums.
Brown is replaced in the live arena by the legendary Uriah Heep man Dave Rimmer, whilst Accept drummer Chris Williams completes the live quartet. And just in case that isn’t enough, Faulkner rolled in Priest’s co-guitarist Andy Sneap to deliver the production.
With everything prepared, the question can only be, what is Horns for A Halo like? Well, the good news is that it’s bloody good. Rip snortingly good in parts. Unsurprisingly, it’s got the trademark ’70s and ’80s feel of those prototype Metal bands such as Accept, Maiden and, of course, Judas Priest.
Faulkner’s signature Gibson Flying V is fed through a Marshall amp, and he delivers a special performance. Alongside Romero, who can do almost anything vocally, this is a special album. The surprise inclusion of UFO classic Lights Out is possibly the one question, and that’s mainly because the original is so damn good. You can allow a certain Mr Schenker to deliver it live simply because the guitar work is incredible. Here, Elegant Weapons certainly bring a beefed-up version, and Faulkner gives the mad axeman a run for his money. But ultimately, nothing is going to beat Metal Mickey soloing on this song.
However, the rest of the album is far from shabby, from the opener Dead Man Walking, through to the closing song, Downfall Rising. There are riffs a plenty, ample opportunity for muscular posturing, Romero’s full vocal range and a rhythm section that locks everything tightly together.
Faulkner describes the band’s music as “a mix of Jimi Hendrix, Priest, Sabbath, solo Ozzy and Black Label Society, but with a lot of melody; sort of old school and modern at once …” You can hear what he means as soon as Dead Man Walking gets into its stride. There are plenty of lead guitar flicks and tricks, as you would expect with such a line-up, the earth still shakes.
If you want virtuoso guitar work, then the likes of Do Or Die, with its flashes of brilliance, should satisfy you. “Do Or Die is a rip-roaring track about taking the opportunity and giving it your all,” Faulkner told us. “Take the shot, play the game and do it to the best of your ability. It’s the fastest track on the record and is a blast to play.” Romero is a central point, as you would expect, with his vocals instantly identifiable yet versatile enough to adapt to all the songs here.
Punch the sky to Blind Leading The Blind, a hard rocker that is sure to get the crowds bouncing at those summer festivals the band is booked to play at this summer. You can even slow things down to the bluesy Ghost Of You, possibly the most varied song on the album and one that demonstrates a different side to the band. Romero brings a smoky delivery, whilst Faulkner can display a wider range to his talent.
Elsewhere, the title track is described by Faulkner as “Iommi crossed with Alice in Chains.” You can see what he means, with a grungy vibe but with the riffs that kill. It’s when you get deeper into the album that the cuts become more choice.
Aside from Horns For A Halo, which looks at the way we provide reasons for our bad behaviours, the groove of Dirty Pig is another guaranteed to get those festival fields moving. It’s certainly got a dirty Sabbath edge to it, with a huge riff in the second half as well as some stellar guitar work.
The sound is as huge as you would expect, with the bass and drums bringing the noise without overpowering the overall mix. The penultimate song White Horse, a seven-minute masterpiece, moves into a psychedelic feel, with a fuzzy guitar sound mixing with a bit of organ, which grants the song a retro sound.
It’s on this song and Dirty Pig where Romero moves into full Dio mode, a comment which is meant as a compliment, for the singer has some of the attributes of the much-missed legend. There are even flashes of another departed vocalist, the late Chris Cornell, at times.
The final song, Downfall Rising, brings together many of the elements that are evident throughout the record, but in a classic way that sees the riffs fall hard and heavy. This has the biggest Sabbath vibe on the whole album, yet it stands perfectly on its own as the closing track. My first reaction was to hit play again, I enjoyed it so much. But that applies to the whole album.
There is little to dislike, and even my challenge to Lights Out doesn’t detract from an album that is certainly one I’ll have on the playlist for several months.