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Wretch - Man Or Machine

Wretch
Man Or Machine
by Rachel Montgomery at 05 March 2019, 7:39 PM

WRETCH, a Power metal band from Cleveland, Ohio (not to be mistaken with Doom Metal band WRETCH from Indianapolis, or Black Metal band WRETCH from South Carolina), are  still stylized under the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWBHM) sound of the early 80s. Formed in 1983 as MX, WRETCH released their debut album “Wretch” in 1987, and through a long hiatus in the 1990s and several lineup changes, the band is still going strong with their new album, “Man or Machine”, carrying over a classic, heavy sound that harkens back to its genre’s roots. They are touring Europe beginning this March to promote the album.

The album opens with thrashing guitars in the title track “Man or Machine”and we’re taken back to early 80s metal stylings, reminiscent of JUDAS PRIEST and IRON MAIDEN. However, the song becomes pedantic with a long and repetitive chorus. The second song “Destroyer of Worlds,” is better with changeups and progressions. The instrumentation is strong, but the lyrics gave me an impression that the song was trying too hard to be similar to “Two Minutes to Midnight” by IRON MAIDEN.

This brings me to my biggest criticism. When listening to lead singer Juan Ricardo’s vocals, I can’t help but think back to more prominent NWBHM vocalists, especially Bruce Dickinson of IRON MAIDEN. Since the vocal stylings are so close to Dickinson’s, I also can’t help but compare the two, and that includes noticing shortcomings. While even coming close to Dickinson’s vocal ability is a tall order, the vocal quality falls short of Dickinson’s unmatchable timber, vibrato, and range, especially on the higher, operatic notes of the opening song. However, when he channels Rob Halford on their cover of “Steeler” or stylizes Dave Mustaine in his lower and middle registers, that’s where his vocals shine. On the acoustic hidden track, his voice was melodic and smooth, and that’s where I thought the vocals were best.

However, my favorite part of the album was the guitar stylings of Nick Giannakos and Michael Stephenson. Their versatility – going from guttural on the verses to high and soaring on the solos – blew me away. They didn’t just transport me back to the NWBHM era that the band comes from, they added elements of Thrash and modern Power Metal that I greatly enjoy. My favorite track is “Steeler” (their cover of JUDAS PRIEST), followed closely by “Requiem Aeternam”. Stephenson lets the speed of the song and the melodic guitar solo run wild on “Steeler” in a way that pushes the old song to its melodic and rhythmic limits. I can see myself driving down the highway blasting it out of my speakers. “Requiem Aeternam” is the most symphonic and instrumentally diverse track, and I love the tempo change/tonal shift in the middle of the track.

The lyrical content is vaguely conceptual, and while there isn’t a unifying theme per se, each song deals with its own story arc. I can see a loose arc about the fall of the world and a return to a medieval sword-and sorcery society near the end. The last composition (or 3) on the album “The Inquisitor Trilogy” are obviously reminiscent of IRON MAIDEN ballads such as “Run to the Hills,” and is the best example of the concept, and carries the strongest unified theme.

Overall, the production sticks to an 80s sound with some clear, modern polish. I recommend listening to the album on quality headphones or speakers, or the clarity can get lost.

Summary: WRETCH’s latest album has a solid sound firmly rooted in early 80s Metal and is good for a listen if you’re hankering for a parallel style to MAIDEN or PRIEST. Aside from the acoustic hidden track, the album is a fast, powerful run that doesn’t let up until the end. It is a solid, cohesive album with a unified style and good, overall sound, but ultimately plays it too safe by sticking to a tried-and-true style without risk-taking or pushing boundaries.

Songwriting: 8
Originality: 7
Memorability: 7
Production: 8

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Man Or Machine
2. Destroyer Of Worlds
3. Schwarzenberg
4. Steeler
5. Strike Force One
6. Requiem Aeternam
7. The Inquisitor Trilogy Part I: Castle Black
8. The Inquisitor Trilogy Part II: The Inquisitor
9. The Inquisitor Trilogy Part III: Fire, Water, Salt and Earth
10. Man Or Machine (Acoustic) - Hidden Track
Lineup:
Juan Ricardo - Vocals
Nick Giannakos - Guitar
Michael Stephenson - Guitar
Tim Frederick - Bass
Jeff Curinton - Drums
Record Label: Pure Steel Records
     


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