By Bill Adams
Right off the top, before anything else is said here about Primal Rock Rebellion or their debut, Awoken Broken, it needs to be said that this record stands as proof that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks. Because this band is the pet side project of Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith, it would be easy enough to assume that Primal Rock Rebellion’s default musical composition position would be somewhere near to the epic/operatic guitar wankery that Maiden has been peddling for decades. There’s no arguing that it would be a valid assumption, but it would be incorrect; as “No Friendly Neighbor” starts searing synapses to open the band’s debut, it becomes plainly apparent that this band and this record are both going to be a more feral affair than anyone could have expected.
Throughout Awoken Broken‘s run-time, listeners won’t be able to stop themselves from expecting PRR to snap and fall into Maiden-ish, “Run To The Hills”-esque histrionics at any moment because it’s there in the band’s background – but it never happens. Rather, what spews forth from this record is an invigorating toxic stew of more modern metal grinding which owes as much (if not more) to such metallic alt-rockers as Korn and Alice In Chains as it does to the band members’ “other” bands. In the cases of songs like “No Place Like Home,” “I See Lights” and “White Sheet Robes,” listeners will find themselves shocked at how far Awoken Broken is from what they expected it to be as Smith plumbs the lower registers of both his guitar and bass parts (he plays both all the way through this run-time) and stirs up some truly fetid and twisted tones for singer Mikee Goodman (who’s dayjob is fronting SikTh) to whine, weedle, shriek, bleat, howl and bellow over.
That summation may sound dismissive, but it isn’t meant to be; the register and style with which Goodman works here is nothing short of astounding as he carries each of those timbres off masterfully and then simply abandons them to pick up another to do the same thing with it. The control over his voice that Goodman flaunts here is truly a thing of beauty and quickly becomes the thing that listeners immediately flock to song-by-song; while the guitar work is both great and a great departure for Smith and guarantees that Maiden fans will want to delve deeply into Awoken Broken to both revel in and criticize the differences between the guitarist’s styles for the different projects, Goodman’s voice is the stylistic skeleton key which will make both the album accessible to metalheads of every taste and stripe.
“But,” you ask, “how long will it last?” That’s the question, isn’t it? The truth is that no one can say what the future will hold for Primal Rock Rebellion. With Iron Maiden having given no impression that their days are numbered in any way, PRR will have to remain an “on-again-off-again” affair until further notice. That’s unfortunate, but listeners can hope that Maiden will come off the road for a while in the near future so Smith will have the chance to give this project some proper promotion; Awoken Broken and the change of pace it represents certainly deserve it.
Bill Adams is the editor in chief of groundcontrolmag.com