By Mike Delano
In the metal labyrinth of Ripper Owens’ brain, the soundtrack is Painkiller all day, every day. Whether it’s his work in latter-day Priest or Iced Earth, his delivery is always 100 percent over-the-top metal mania. Seeing as how his voice is the most recognizable aspect of Charred Walls of the Damned (drummer extraordinaire and Howard Stern cohort Richard Christy is the real driving force), you know what to expect: A kick to the balls of subtlety. For the first half of the album, it’s a perfect fit, as song after song pummels you with glorious, heaping portions of stick gymnastics, solo shredding, and Ripper’s thunderous wail. When the band wants to change it up a little bit, though, Ripper isn’t quite up to the task: The melodramatic (comparatively, of course) “In A World So Cruel” could use a little restraint, rather than dragging out every note, and while “The Darkest Eyes” is a burner musically, it feels like filler on a tight album that should have none. In the end, though, the enthusiasm on display is so endearing that it forgives most faults: “Blood on Wood” is a love song to a drum kit (!), and the incredible “Manifestations” justifies the whole thing plus Ripper’s paycheck and then some. Here comes the metal meltdown. Run for your lives.