Review: Joe Lynn Turner – Belly of the Beast
Music Theories Recordings / Mascot Label Group (October 28th, 2022)
Reviewer: Jason Hopper
Joe Lynn Turner is back and he is looking to shake up his career. An artist known mainly as an AOR/hard rock singer, he has toyed with heavier material in the past, such as his all too short pairing with Yngwie Malmsteen, but he has never tried what he is attempting here with his latest release ‘Belly of the Beast’. This is heaviness like we have never seen from him before, tackling dark material usually found in power metal bands. This is very far removed from his recent band Sunstorm. A quick look at some of these song titles will tell you what you can expect – ‘Black Sun’, ‘Tortured Soul’, ‘Tears of Blood’. Yep, no ‘Street of Dreams’ here.
The album opens with the title track, and it’s a take no prisoners approach. Modeled after a similar riff to Judas Priest’s ‘Nightcrawler’ and a melody Primal Fear could write in their sleep, it’s sure to piss off some people as there’s a lot of allegories to the recent pandemic, and JLT is not happy with how some things were handled (“Sheltered in your prison, hide behind your mask” …..”Take the vaccination and kill the population”). JLT has never sang with such vitriol.
‘Black Sun’ opens with keys in the style of Rainbow before kicking into a mid-tempo heavy groove. This song emphasizes the unique background vocals present in the rest of the album, a male choir of baritone vocals in the chorus that thicken up the sound and compliment the material. These vocals were present in the opening track, but they are prominent here as well as in the following track ‘Tortured Soul’, a thick and powerful mid-tempo rocker heavy in atmospheric keys and chants.
I am a big proponent of sequencing and pacing. As I listened to the album, I noticed that it was assembled perfectly in that faster songs are interspersed with slower, heavier songs making for a nice auditory balance. You never are left hoping that the album speeds up or slows down at any time.
While there are dark themes throughout, there are a few bright spots in all the lyrical darkness, with the charging, chugging guitar bombast of ‘Rise Up’ and the melodic, hard rockin’ vibe of ‘Living The Dream’. The latter is the one song that sounds like something JLT would record with his prior band Sunstorm and will surely be the track most accessible to fans used to his past material.
While most of the album is fabulous, there are a few songs here that I will not be returning to. ‘Fallen World’ sees JLT attempt a funky, almost rap-style approach to the verses, sung over music that has a distorted, Slipknot feel. It’s certainly a stand-out track, but not for the right reasons. It is not a style that suits his abilities. The chorus also drags by bringing the choral vocals down a pitch. Final track ‘Requiem’ is too slow and plodding for my tastes. Sounding like an unreleased Avantasia track, it’s not a bad track and his vocals are some of the best on the album, but a heavy, atmospheric song does not finish this powerful album on a strong suit.
So the question is what will long time fans of the singer think of this new material? If you can keep an open mind to a side of JLT you have never seen before, you will find some incredibly strong material here. As a fan of music that ranges from AOR to Power Metal, I had no issue with hearing him tackle this material. Before this, I found his work with Sunstorm was getting a little stale. This release to me is a step in the right direction.
The man is 70 years old and it’s amazing that he was able to pull off this material so late in his career. To me, this ranks as high as the debut Sunstorm album and the ‘Odyssey’ album he did with Yngwie Malmsteen. It’s some of my favorite work from him and is one more stellar release in an extraordinary career.
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