It’s been a while since Tony Martin’s last solo album, 2005 and Scream, by my reckoning. This means that Thorns has been a long time coming, and for many, myself included, eagerly awaited.
Tony Martin – Thorns (Dark Star Records/Battlegod Productions)
Release Date: 14 January 2022
Words: Mark Rotherham
But solo artist or not, you can’t spend eight years singing for the single most important Heavy Metal band ever and not be associated with them. So it’s no surprise that when you mention Tony Martin, you think Black Sabbath, and you especially think of those soaring vocals, that seamless scream, and the deep, atmospheric lyrics, all of it synonymous with Heavy Metal.
And I have to confess, I’d never heard any of Tony Martin’s solo stuff until this album, so I was unsure what to expect. Would he sound the same? Has the moment passed? What’s his voice like now?
All of my questions were answered, and how.
The album kicks off with As The World Burns, with its machine-gun staccato intro and vocals that are Tony Martin through and through, dark and doomy. And yes, his voice remains one hundred per cent, full of depth, smooth and soaring. Demons and devils dominate the lyrics’ message, but with his pedigree, are we surprised? After the solo, the pace slows right down for a doom-laden warning before the brutal riffing once again picks up the speed.
The thrash-type riffing continues with Black Widow Angel, which has a slow, doomy start before TM’s vocals are launched at us like a whole phalanx of Scud missiles. Tony’s voice has lost none of its power, while Black Widow Angel is a typically cryptic Heavy Metal message that offers hope and despair at the same time. Sure, it’s a little clichéd, and we’ve heard it before, but it’s also just what we like, and hey, if Iron Maiden can get away with the same winning formula, so can everyone.
Book of Shadows is a six-minute atmospheric epic, as Tony tells us the story of the dark, diabolical book of shadows. We’re three songs into this album, and already we’ve got the theme, the influences, and it’s easy to see just why he got the job with Sabbath. It’s not just his voice, which is, of course, world-class. It is also his lyrical choice and his presence. He fits seamlessly into that dark, doomy genre within a genre. The song is backed up by a great keyboard solo and some excellent riffing, truly something for everyone. The chilling child’s narrative at the end seals the song perfectly. I love this track.
At this point, the album’s diversity really kicks in, with Crying Wolf and its nice acoustic intro. But the power of Tony’s voice is still there, always there. There’s a refreshing clarity to his singing, and it just hasn’t dated, hasn’t aged after all these years, retaining all the power that was there from Eternal Idol and onwards.
Then everything goes up a gear with Damned By You, which is the first more midstream Metal track, and with lots of nice keyboarding as well, which isn’t something I say very often. It’s got a very full sound, emphasising that while this is a Tony Martin album, it’s backed up by a solid wall of Metal musicianship that showcases the whole spectrum of band members. This is one of those songs that you just absolutely want to see played live. There’s a phenomenal super-shred solo in the middle, accompanied by atomic drumming—a real, real, huge, Heavy Metal dark-themed monster of a song.
No Shame At All is another high-tempo riffmeister of a song. It just powers along, overlaid by Tony’s soaring vocals about the world, about the people, real-life people who, you’ve guessed it, have no shame at all. Graham Bonnet once said that singing about real life is always much heavier than other topics, and while Tony can certainly rock it out with all sorts of other diabolical themes, in this song, at least, he’s definitely singing straight from the Graham Bonnet school of subject matter.
The pedal comes off the gas slightly with Nowhere To Fly, but the power of the song remains. Despair and struggle flow through the lyrics like lava. Nowhere to fly, nowhere to run, nowhere to go, that’s what this song is all about. We’ve all been there, and while hopefully, we’re not there anymore, this song will so easily remind you what it was like when you were.
The next song, Passion Killer, is similar to the opening tracks, with a melodic slice dipped into the overall flavour, overlaid with some supersonic drumming. The title says it all. There’s some real relationship bitterness in this song. Dark stuff, maybe, but this guy sang for years with Black Sabbath. Were we really expecting anything else?
The heavy, riff-centric music continues with Run Like The Devil, which is a bit like a weird combination of Metallica meets Joe Lynn Turner-era Rainbow. But you know what, it works. Imagine the Black Album being produced by Martin Child, and this is what you’d get. You think it won’t work, but it does. It so does.
Next up is the album’s absolute wild-card curveball, This Is Your Damnation, with its acoustic, redneck hippy blues. It sounds like the devil coming back from Georgia, using the modern world’s ills as its theme, and then Tony’s vocals cover the whole thing with a smooth Heavy Metal voice. Sounds weird? Sure it does, but just like everything else on this album, it just works, simple as that. Whoever put this song together is an absolute musical genius, and I love it.
This just leaves us with the title track, Thorns, and the one with the softest intro. Gentle acoustic notes accompany this ballad. Yes, a ballad, but not one of your eighties commercial copouts. This one has a real hard edge to it. Thorns, like the song, like the album, the song’s sharp edge soon announces itself, and you’ve forgotten what you might have initially thought this song was all about. The riffs begin to tear into you, like thorns, the vocals rip into you, like thorns, and all saved for the very end.
Who dares say that Heavy Metal is not deep? It is. You know it, and I know it, and this album confirms it.
Tony Martin is a singer with an impeccable pedigree, and this album utterly endorses that. Thorns does that very unique thing of staying within the narrow genre of Heavy Metal while at the same time showing just how different it can all sound. This is a varied album that will appeal to everyone.
What a great way to start the year.
Tony Martin – Thorns
As The World Burns
Black Widow Angel
Book Of Shadows
Damned By You
No Shame At All
Nowhere To Fly
Run Like The Devil
This Is Your Damnation