Grim Reaper were one of the few second-division success stories of the NWoBHM, a band completely in the right place at the right time who rode the wave for all it was worth, and good luck to them…
Their first three albums, all naïve mixes of hackneyed riffs, repetitive choruses and incredibly basic production values undeniably struck a chord with audiences, especially in the US – despite that territory being rich in its own trad metal heritage at the time – and the band definitely carved in stone its own niche in the heavy metal annals. Guitarist Nick Bowcott snared a nice gig with Marshall Amplification on the back of his success, whilst vocalist Steve Grimmett hitched is wagon to UK thrash titans Onslaught for a while before retreating into relative obscurity with acts like Lionsheart and Onslaught offshoot The Sanity Days.
But such are the nostalgia-obsessed times we live in, it was inevitable that the clamour for some sort of Grim Reaper reunion would be too loud to ignore, so here we are. Except its just Grimmett – this is actually ‘Steve Grimmett’s Grim Reaper’ we’re talking about, with other original members Bowcott, bassist Dave Wanklin and bassist Lee Harris nowhere to be seen. Grimmett has actually been touring under the Grim Reaper banner on and off for the last ten years, and Walking in the Shadows is the culmination of this process.
Unfortunately, it’s not all that much cop. Grimmett and his band stay remorselessly to the well-worn NWoBHM path, sounding for the most part like fellow travellers Tank but without the songwriting sophistication. Simplicity is the name of the day – from the imagination-free song titles (Wings of Angels, From Hell, Rock Will Never Die, Come Hell or High Water – you get the picture) through the general issue rifferama to Grimmett’s unreconstructed bellow, everything here is set to underwhelm. Opening track Wings of Angels is a pale rewrite of Iron Maiden’s Aces High, the title track is Saxon minus the grit… and yet there are signs here that the band is capable of so much more; Blue Murder, for instance, is a fantastic song. Could it be mere coincidence that more thought seems to have been given to the songwriting and vocal arrangements on this track? I don’t think so.
At the end of the day this album has been constructed to sound like that ‘classic’ eighties triumvirate of records, and on that level I guess it’s a success. But when you hear what the band is capable of when they put their minds to it, then that success becomes relative. I’d like to hear them not worrying so much about what they think the public wants from the ‘Reaper in 2016, and concentrating on giving us instead the best album they possibly can, which on the evidence of Blue Murder would be quite some album. A missed opportunity.