Before I listened to Belly Of The Beast, my experience of Joe Lynn Turner was when he was in Rainbow and then Deep Purple, and I remember a singer with an impeccable, smooth voice. While sometimes skirting the odd social issue, his lyrics remained well and truly in the accessible and largely radio-friendly wing of this beautifully broad church that is Heavy Metal.
Cue Belly Of The Beast, and despite the album title, despite the ominous and frankly pretty damn scary artwork, I was kind of expecting more or less the same.
Boy, was I in for a shock. Joe Lynn Turner has gone thoroughly badass!
Joe Lynn Turner – Belly Of The Beast (Music Theories Recordings / Mascot Label Group)
Release Date: 28 October 2022
Words: Mark Rotherham
The album kicks off with the title track, ramming straight into your face with a sudden, no-announcement super-fast riff intro, launching shreds of high-octane guitar all over your senses. Is this really Joe Lynn Turner? Have I got the right album?
This is Priest-style speed and Metal. Surprised? Oh yeah. Liking it? Oh YEAH! I’m abducted and taken through orchestral, Accept-like choruses, and I’m asking myself again, is this the same guy who sang in Rainbow? I mean, I’m not complaining. I’m just so, so surprised. This is unexpected with a capital U, and even after just one song, I’m left thinking to myself, Heavy Metal, don’t you just love the curve balls it throws at you?
The second track, Black Sun, has an amazing, super-slick, powerful synth and guitar intro. Slower vocals and this really shows us what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. It’s like a fusion between the Joe Lynn Turner we’re more familiar with alongside a so much more aggressive tone and approach.
I have to tell you that since the ’80s, this boy has got angry, this boy has got bad, and we’re only on the second song. All credit to the production as well. This is smoothly crafted Metal that still keeps its edge, and I’m hooked and willingly taken along for the ride. Joe’s voice is perhaps a shade lower than I remember, but he’s lost none of his smooth power. That’s a sheer pleasure to listen to. This is dark. This is ominous. This is brooding. Goddam, this is good.
And the good times just keep on coming with Tortured Soul. It’s got a slow-tempo start, but it doesn’t stay that way for long, with some awesome riffing that’s thickened out with sublime keyboards. This is a dark, ominous song about a man’s lifelong regrets, lamenting a more innocent time and wondering where it all went wrong. Nordic-style chorusing plays testament to a cross-section of influences that is effortlessly brought together.
By this stage, I thought I’d got the formula worked out. Dark, thunderous riffs, accompanied by deep tone and similar content lyrics from Joe. Well, I thought I’d got it all worked out until I listened to Rise Up, which started with an Alice Cooper-like doomy piano intro, oozing horror-flick malevolence, before an explosively heavy riff kicked in and sent me cartwheeling across the room.
Known for his mirror-sheen voice, this song sees JLT give it some hell with a real gravely feel to this tub-thumping anthem that sounds to me like a mix of Iron Maiden, Nightwish and yeah, Saxon, but all mixed up with Joe Lynn Turner’s singing. It’s dark, doomy and catchy, all at the same time. And if anyone thinks that’s an easy thing to create, think again. This song does what it says on the tin, telling the listener that all is not lost, no matter how bad things get,
“Rise Up,” sings Joe, “break the chains. We are stronger than before.” An old message from Metal, but also a very potent one, and one that we endlessly love.
By the time you get to Dark Night, you might think that a pattern is emerging with the slow start and then a swift speed up. But no, Dark Night is a slow burn, with more familiar lyrics for Joe, but it’s sung and performed in a very much heavier tone. It’s still dark, still brooding, an introspective song of Metal damnation, a lost spirit beyond saving, “in the dark night of the soul.”
Then we’re into Tears Of Blood, which kicks things up a gear, and the dark themes of defiance continue, but again, with really, really slick production. Pain, addictions, and confessions are harsh words sung with an edge that is so unlike the Joe Lynn Turner we know.
“Carry my cross, I stand betrayed,” sings Joe, “my crucifixion is your disgrace.” Wow, you’d never hear him sing like that in Rainbow, but perhaps one of his predecessors might have done it. And there it is, a hidden, unspoken influence that seems to be there throughout, an influence that Turner embraces and makes his own.
But, it would be a mistake to say that Belly Of The Beast is all darkness and doom and nothing else. Desire, with its reverb, echoing intro, is full of emotion and atmosphere, and then a full-throating Metal riff kicks in that’ll have the whole of the mosh pit headbanging come the tour.
There are no pretensions on this album. You read the title, you hear the lyrics, you know what each song is about, and each one hits you straight between the eyes (sorry, I couldn’t help it). This song has a brooding menace, telling you exactly what motivates our Joe, “your deadly sin, I feel no shame.”
And you know that feeling you can only get when you hear really great, addictive Metal? When you only have to listen to it for a second, and it makes you feel invincible like you could take on the world?
Well, that’s what you’ve got here with this little beauty, and not just this song. You’ve got it on every single track.
And never mind that Maiden album with a similar name, Don’t Fear The Dark is a chugging, thunderous song with an insistent keyboard line going along in the background. Despite the ominous title, this is a song that encourages the listener to face their fears. But this is encouragement, Joe Lynn Turner style, so face your demons, defy the voices that drive you insane, because if you don’t, they’ll drag you down…probably to hell. So yeah, don’t be scared of the dark, but don’t be scared, or else? Who would have thought we’d be hearing Joe Lynn Turner giving us this message? Not me, that’s for sure.
Joe’s been around the block and then some. And Fallen World reminds the old, old Rainbow fans, like me, of Can’t Happen Here. It’s the same subject matter, but in keeping with this album, the story is told in a much darker way. The sound, Joe’s voice, and the lyrics have so much more of an implicit threat than his earlier work.
After goodness knows how many decades as a musician, he’s still sounding original and fresh, and yes, hungry. This album has an energy that you’d expect from, well, someone much younger, and it’s a revelation to hear.
With a title like Living The Dream, surely, I thought to myself, we’re into optimism, a cup half full? Musically, the song has a complete, almost commercial-type riff. The lyrics are a reflection on life, a life well-lived, with a hint of realism. This is a song about facing life’s challenges, and even if the dreams don’t come true, even if they don’t always turn out the way you wanted them to, you still tried, and you still lived your life. It’s a fabulous, realistic, honest look at all of us and a celebration of all of our lives, be they magic, mystical or mundane. This song is quiet, understated brilliance.
Requiem is the absolute ideal name for the album’s final song. And it’s a song of life’s end, a sombre reflection of desperation, of barren regret. It’s also got an orchestral, Steinman-like big production sense about it, and it brings the curtain down on the album with a sense of great theatre. You just couldn’t predict the song’s construction, and that unpredictability is something that runs through the whole album.
If I’m honest, I’m not an expert on all of the twists and turns of Joe Lynn Turner’s career, but Belly Of The Beast is still utterly removed from what I was expecting. I thought I would get an album of sophisticated, mid-road and not particularly threatening music, yet all delivered by a fantastic voice.
And you know what? I’d have been quite happy with that.
What I got, though, was so much more. Here is a singer who has utterly re-invented himself and shown what an absolute hugely talented singer and songwriter he is. What vision he has as well.
I am quite literally blown away by this album. It is sheer perfection.