There aren’t that many of those pioneering legends still alive that can boast a 5-decade career fronting some of the most influential outfits in the history of rock and heavy metal. The iconic, award-winning songwriter and vocal dynamo, Joe Lynn Turner, sure can – and more importantly, he shows no signs of slowing down. October 28th, 2022, marks the release date of his eleventh full-length, entitled “Belly of the Beast,” due out via Mascot Label Group‘s subsidiary Music Theories. While the new outing nods rather deeply towards the tried-and-true virtues of heavy metal, it also marks the turning of a new chapter in his life; he presents his natural likeness publicly for the first time. The thing is: he was diagnosed with alopecia at the delicate age of three, meaning that he’s had to deal with all the emotional damage caused by all sorts of assholes from a very early age onward. After wearing a hairpiece for years, for decades, he now sports a shaved head in public – as if to show the world an empowered version of himself. It must be said that the latest promo pictures do resonate with an almost regal air of dignity, like that of an ancient, Egyptian pharaoh. It adds rather nicely to the overall mood of his new album: “Belly of the Beast” sounds almost as though it’s cracking open some hidden mysteries of old, with the overarching themes being about the spiritual warfare going on around us, the eternal battle of good versus evil. Clichéd as it may sound as a concept, the music is just as top-notch as you would expect from such an elderly statesman of heavy metal.
Turner‘s stint in RAINBOW lasted only a few years in the early 1980s, but it certainly left a mark on his songwriting quill. The title track setting the grind in motion on his new selection resonates with perhaps the most robust air of this pioneering British heavy-metal monolith. The album opener storms out of the gates on a barrage of airtight, old-schoolish heavy-metal riffs, while showcasing Turner‘s impeccable vocal power. The lyrics come off balancing between the conspiracy theorists’ latest and the staple heavy-metal imagery of devils and Lucifers. It sounds as though Turner is set out to put some extra intrigue back into rock ‘n’ roll here. I have a feeling it might rub some people the wrong way but, then again, heavy metal has always been about stirring us up a bit. I would maybe even go as far as to claim that one of the fundamental functions of art, in general, is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.
On this album, Turner has joined forces with established producer Peter Tägtgren (HYPOCRISY, PAIN, LINDEMANN). At face value, this collaboration might seem rather unconventional. In the press release, Turner notes that it happened completely by accident and continues, “some of the best things happen.” Judging by the outcome, Turner‘s legacy seems to have weighed more in this creative partnership, albeit I reckon the somewhat “epic” feel in some of the arrangements probably stems from Tägtgren‘s side – in the choruses of songs such as “Tortured Soul” and “Desire,” for instance, where the pounding pile driver of RAMMSTEIN meets the vintage ramming-machine of DIO. In general, the songs resonate more with the vintage air of heavy metal than the tightly quantized polyrhythms of modern metal. The production is of today’s higher resolution instead of the somewhat muddy hi-fi of yesteryear – and it is perhaps one of the tell-tale signs betraying this album has not, in fact, been made in 1983.
The chemistry of this somewhat offbeat metal duo worked wonders in the studio, quite obviously, since the songcraft is thoroughly and consistently sublime on the album. In a way, “Belly of the Beast” is more than slightly reminiscent of those revered and cherished metal classics of the 1980s: there are no tracks to skip. Even the ballady numbers deliver triumphantly up to specs – “Dark Night of the Soul,” in particular. I’m not sure whether the song refers to the 16th-century poem, La Noche Oscura Del Alma, or to the difficult patches in life in more general terms, but it does its magic, regardless. When it comes to hard-rock excellence, tracks such as “Black Sun” and “Tears of Blood” stand out, sporting nothing short of sublime riffs and catchy, singalong choruses. Then, “Don’t Fear the Dark” rolls out 4 minutes of power-metal brilliance like nothing.
Rock ‘n’ roll is all about entertainment but it doesn’t hurt to have a message beyond “titties and beer.” In this modern era where everyone seems to have sold their soul to major corporations, who is left to say, “We aren’t going to take this shit?” Well, Joe Lynn Turner, if no one else. His new album is a tight selection of banging hard-rock perfection with a good few points to make. With the release of “Belly of the Beast,” Turner joins the pantheon of angry, bald metal elders and does it with style and elegance. I know that RAINBOW released “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” well before Turner joined the band but, anyhow, it is exactly the song that comes to mind when listening to his new effort for a number of reasons, of which the song’s nothing short of an appropriate title is not the least.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Belly of the Beast
- Black Sun
- Tortured Soul
- Rise Up
- Dark Night of the Soul
- Tears of Blood
- Don’t Fear the Dark
- Fallen World
- Living the Dream
Joe Lynn Turner – vocals
Peter Tägtgren – production
Music Theories Recordings / Mascot Label Group