Blaze Bayley – “December Wind” (Blaze Bayley Recordings)
Blimey, ol’ Blaze Bayley must be on a roll or something! Having just impressed me with “Infinite Entanglement Part III – The Redemption Of William Black”, along he pops back with yet another new album, this time as a solo artist. What then could this release be? Also featuring the acoustic talents of classical / flamenco / rock guitarist Thomas Zwijsen, who himself had a Maiden tribute album called “Nylon Maiden” in 2013, and collaborated with Blaze on 2012’s “The King Of Metal” and it’s “Russian Holiday” EP follow up in 2013, “December Wind” is 8 acoustic tracks penned by the two, along with 5 bonus tracks taken from that aforementioned EP so I guess it must be Christmas after all! Joining them on occasions is Dutch violinist Anne Bakker who adds more drama through her own strings when more gusto is called for, although in the main it’s Blaze and Zwijsen who provide the blood across the numbers that also include renditions of ‘2AM’ and ‘Sign Of The Cross’, both of which emanate from the “X-Factor” album of Blaze’s Maiden period. Theatrical and operatic while still brimming with plenty of red blooded passion, it’s easy to see why Blaze was chosen as their vocalist, and his solid pipes put on an even more bulldog performance here, open and sincere for everyone to appreciate on the material, which while being sometimes dark and melancholic is equally folky and upbeat during other moments. Blaze and Zwijsen work very well together indeed, complementing and trading off one another to bring life and a real heartfelt touch to the numbers, which definitely creates a warm feeling ideal for winter. Both enjoyable in its entirety as well as being impressive given Blaze’s performance, I was particularly drawn to the dramatic flamenco of ‘Eye Of The Storm’ with Blaze’s manly vocals soaring majestically while Zwijsen, who is known for his classical arrangements of famous rock and metal songs, did exactly that on this enthralling opening number. Likewise, the title track ‘December Wind’, although more gentle with its delicately plucked strings, allowed Blaze to pour his seldom seen tenderness ever so movingly into this truly emotional piece that built subtly until fading away at the end beautifully. Still part of Maiden’s repertoire, the 10 minute ‘Sign Of The Cross’ was the perfect way to end from Bakker’s sombre violin intro to then all three musicians ploughing in their power and furore as Blaze sang out the incredible chorus that still resonates among the Maiden masses to this day. Call it nostalgia or just getting old, but there was definitely a tear in my eye after listening to “December Wind”, and even more so from hearing Blaze in all his glory once more.