Blaze Bayley – Circle of Stone

Blaze Bayley – Circle of Stone
Blaze Bayley Recordings
Release Date: 23/02/24
Running Time: 44:08
Review by Simon Black
10/10

In recent years Blaze Bayley has really turned people’s perceptions of him around, starting with my own. Being an old fart myself, I remember vastly appreciating his cocky and entertaining performances in Wolfsbane back in the day (yes indeed, I was a Howling Mad Shithead myself back in the day – Dark Juan). His brief stint in Iron Maiden wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but those were impossibly big shoes to fill, and I don’t think he had the luxury of enough time to work out how to get people familiar with his own style of footwear at a time when traditional Metal was very much out of vogue before it was all over. There’s a bit of a gap for me in his output between then and this decade, and it’s only in the past few years that I’ve actually had any exposure to what Blaze has done subsequently. However, having had the opportunity to review most of his output so far this decade, I cannot help but be impressed at his latest self-reinvention, and he consistently earns good marks from this jaded old hack.

It would be too easy for Blaze at this stage in his career to sit on his laurels and relive past glories, but I would argue that the calibre of new material so far this decade has been absolutely top notch, with 2021’s “War Within Me” being an album I have played an awful lot since it first landed on my review platter. In addition, the partnership he has formed with the Appleton brothers (and indeed the whole Absolva crew) seems to be paying huge dividends (although I feel for the boys when they pull double shifts live) as it’s not only leading to some fine material both in studio and live, but shows that the only way to survive in this scene is to work together, and work damned hard. Given that the man is also recovering from a serious heart problem last year, the fact that he has bounced back with a new release and an imminent tour is proof of this, should any really be needed.

“Circle of Stone” is a different beast from its immediate predecessor, however. In fact, if you are listening to this on vinyl, the difference in tone and content of the two sides is immediately apparent. The first six tracks seem, on the surface, to lean on some of Bayley’s more recent experiences. When you spend time in hospital after a serious illness, you have a lot of time for introspection, and all of these tracks seem to echo aspects of this. The second set of material you could again be forgiven for thinking was a work in progress when illness struck, as it’s a mini-conceptual piece about a lost Stone Age tribe, but actually dovetails well with the other material as it’s an allegory for the modern material age, where ones’ ancestors raise their spiritual eyebrows in judgement rather like the pages of The Guardian do these days. 

The reality however, is that both sides were written and recorded before disaster struck, but subsequent events just make their meaning and import more heartfelt. They are both more upbeat than you might expect as well, and the overall feeling is one of positivity and gratitude for life, which just makes me like the guy even more than I already did given what happened to him afterwards. That said, there are some ballads in here that must count amongst the best material he has ever written, from the deeply introspective and apologetic self-criticism of ‘The Broken Man’ and the heart-wrenching duet ‘Until We Meet Again’, take you where it hurts.

But then catching you out in a positive way is what Blaze is all about these days, and for me this album picks up where its predecessor left off. …And I can tell that once again, I am going to be playing this one a lot when I should probably be reviewing new stuff. But then, finding gems like this is why I do this in the first place. Don’t think of him as one of Maiden’s ex-singers, just appreciate him for what he now is – a down to earth powerhouse of delivery with an innate ability to engage an audience. Long may it continue.

Blaze Bayley – ‘Mind Reader’

TRACKLISTING:

01. Mind Reader
02. Tears in Rain
03. Rage
04. The Year Beyond This Year
05. Ghost in The Bottle
06. The Broken Man
07. The Call of The Ancestors
08. Circle of Stone
09. Absence
10. A Day of Reckoning
11. The Path of The Righteous Man
12. Until We Meet Again

LINE-UP:

Blaze Bayley – Vocals
Chris Appleton – Lead Guitar
Luke Appleton – Power Guitar
Martin McNee – Drums
Karl Schramm – Bass

Guest Musicians:
Niklas Stalvind – guest vocals on ‘Circle of Stone’, ‘Call of the Ancestors’ & ‘A Day of Reckoning’
Tammy-Rae Bois – guest vocals on ‘Until We Meet Again’
Anne Bakker – Violins
Vicky Kennerley – Bag pipes

LINKS:

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