VII GATES – Fire, Walk With Me


Sound Riot Records
Release Date: November 28, 2003

User Review
0/10 (0 votes)

Recently a friend of mine and I were exchanging notes on our top 10 favorite songs and albums. Upon comparing lists, we realized that both of us had songs and albums that came entirely from 1993 and prior. We kind of laughed and thought either we are getting really old, or the Metal genre just hasn’t put out anything that has “blown us away” in over 10 years. In the end, probably a little of both are true…

Sweden’s VII Gates, though, has changed my perspective with their Fire, Walk With Me album. Simply put, this “Classic” style Metal album is virtually without weakness. The promotional materials that arrived with this CD less than eloquently proclaim the 10 tracks contained within are “Just killers, no fillers!” As a reviewer, when I see statements such as those, I tend to chuckle to myself a bit, because there isn’t a label out there that’s going to say something tepid or derogatory about whatever CD they’re promoting … so the credibility behind such statements is often suspect. In this instance with VII Gates, however, Sound Riot Records couldn’t have been more accurate!

The success of this album starts with the percussion work by Mick van Slowfoot. I’ve got to mention quickly the humor I find in the name “Slowfoot” for a drummer. It’s sort of like a neurosurgeon being named Doctor Jonas Shakyhand, or an opera singer being named Mrs. Layla Offkey! Anyway, the deep-toned percussion especially comes through with rare power in this album. If you’ve ever been to a sound check before a concert and heard the drums being calibrated and tested, you’ve probably felt the air move in the arena as the drums are beat over and over again and the volume is raised. The drum power throughout this album “moves air” in a fashion similar to a live sound check. It’s awesome!

The guitar and bass work is also solid throughout – there are enough original riffs, power chord patterns, and solos to choke a donkey – or at least to satisfy even the most critical Metal fan. JJ Rockford and Robert Makek grind their axes as skillfully and inspirationally as any duo in Metal ever has. Sound-wise, the guitars focus more on bass tones than treble, and their pace typically moves rapidly, but completely under control.

Criss Blackburn’s vocals are the other real strength of this band. He’s got an unusual flavor to his basic singing voice – an audible accent, if you will, much like what you hear from persons who have learned English as their non-native language. It’s far from annoying, however, and actually adds a bit of uniqueness to VII Gates’ sound. Also, Blackburn’s range and prudent sense of when to hit the high notes is truly outstanding. Right out of the gate with “Bounded By Hate,” Blackburn belts out the chorus, “We’re Bounded By Hate,” in Rob Halford (Judas Priest) fashion. So similar in vocal quality, in fact, that on first listen my thought was that Halford must have made a guest appearance on this album. Blackburn’s no spring chicken, though, and this is VII Gates’ first full-length record – so where the hell has this guy been?! After listening to his stellar performance, I can’t help but to think there’s a lot of bands out there who would have given their right nut to land a talent like Blackburn over the years. When Halford parted with Judas Priest in the early 1990’s, Judas Priest should’ve tracked down this guy instead of Tim Owens, because in evaluating the clarity alone of his high notes, many would have thought no vocalist change had ever been made – because Blackburn is that good!

The only minor imperfection contained within Fire, Walk With Me comes at the expense of the keyboard work. Keyboards are used somewhat sporadically in this album, but when they are used, most times they really didn’t need to be there, and sometimes, like in “So Far Away,” their use gets mildly annoying – almost like a mosquito buzzing in your ear that you just want to shoe-away. The keys aren’t a complete failure, however, because there are a few times, like during “The Saviour” and “Under the Crossed Bones,” where their presence adds some really worthwhile effects that further the success of these tracks.

There’s generally no need to go through each track in this review and point out what’s good about them individually, because it will simply end up being an exercise of using one spectacular statement after another. You’re just going to have to go check out this album and see for yourself. It’s funny, but I kept having thoughts to myself while I was listening to this album that “surely the next track will suck.” Then the next track would come, and it would be completely different than the ones prior, and surprisingly each would be of equally high quality. Eight of the songs are fast-paced rockers, and two tracks, “So Far Away” and “The Madman Inside” are rockers, but at a more subdued pace. There’s no Hairband Metal here and there’s no sell out to bag a Top 40 hit – it’s just all straight-forward, Classic-style Metal with plenty of extended musical passages, and it’s all good!

If this band holds it together and is fortunate enough to “make it big” over time, Fire, Walk With Me will eventually be hailed as a classic Metal album that will be held up by many as one of the better efforts the genre has ever produced. My advice to you is to get on the bandwagon now and be one of the first to make this realization before someone tells you you should have 10 years from now!

Guitars: B+
Bass: B+
Percussion: A-
Keyboards: C-
Vocals: A
Lyrics: C+
Recording Quality: A-
Originality: A
Overall Rating: A-
2nd Release Available Date: April 22, 2004


  • Dan Skiba

    Dan is a former partner at Metal Express Radio, and also served as a reviewer, photographer and interviewer on occasions. Based out of Indianapolis, USA he was first turned on to Hard Rock music in the mid-1970s when he purchased Deep Purple's Machine Head as his first album. He was immediately enthralled with the powerful guitar sound and pronounced drumbeat, and had to get more! His collection quickly expanded to include as many of Heavy Rock bands of the time that he could get his hands on, such as Ted Nugent, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath, to name just a few.

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