By Adrien Begrand
When the world first heard of Chris Jericho’s band Fozzy in 2000, it seemed like nothing more than a fun one-off by a WWE wrestler who happened to have a keen interest in classic metal and a good set of pipes to boot. The Winnipeg native and his collaborator, Stuck Mojo guitarist Rich Ward, did a surprisingly good job covering the likes of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Krokus on their first two albums Fozzy and Happenstance, and most of us didn’t expect the project to evolve much further than that.
Something happened along the way, though, as the band discovered they could take things in a more serious direction, and 2005’s All That Remains, their first album to be comprised completely of original material, turned out to a harmless but reputable attempt at Pantera and Black Label Society-inspired metal. With Stuck Mojo still churning out the nu-metal and Jericho enjoying a second wind with the wrestling gig, it took Fozzy five years to put a proper follow-up together, but the resulting Chasing the Grail doesn’t miss a beat whatsoever. In fact, it turns out to be a surprisingly good record that should prove the band’s legitimacy once and for all.
Musically, the band knows they’re not fooling anyone: this is for the most part your basic middle-of-the-road modern hard rock, the kind of stuff you hear on Sirius’s Octane channel, the riffs still heavily indebted to Dimebag and Zakk Wylde. But when it comes to music like this, we’ve definitely heard a lot worse. The fact remains that Jericho and Ward have turned into a very competent songwriting team, as tunes like the swaggering, Godsmack-like “Martyr No More”, the churning riffs of the Ozzy-inspired “Let the Madness Begin”, the thrashy “Pray For Blood”, and the very effective Black Label knock-off “Grail” get the album off to a rollicking start.
As ambitious as the album is, the band pushes things a touch too far at times. Jericho’s higher register vocals are processed to a distracting degree at times, “Broken Soul” is too close to post-hardcore for comfort, and “New Day’s Dawn” is a cloying ballad that clashes too much with the rest of the record. For the most part, though, Fozzy pushes all the right buttons throughout the album, a fine example being the dopey but irresistible “God Pounds His Nails”, which seems destined to be a WWE entrance theme. However, it’s the 13 minute closer “Wormwood” that proves to be the biggest surprise, a progressive metal epic in the vein of Iron Maiden and Dream Theater guaranteed to win over any remaining skeptics. A collaboration between Jericho and guitarist Mike Martin (also of Stuck Mojo), it’s a remarkable piece of work, but seeing that Fozzy remains Jericho’s and Ward’s baby and Martin is no longer in the band, it’s unlikely we’ll see Fozzy venture further in that direction. As it stands, though, Chasing the Grail is a mighty impressive effort by a band many of us didn’t take very seriously before.