Ross the Boss Friedman is one of hard rock and heavy metal’s premier guitarists. You probably know him originally from headbangers Manowar or punk rockers The Dictators (or both), possibly in addition to one or more of the many subsequent stops on his guitar god/shredding journey. Personally, I’m a big fan of one of the lightest rock entries in his discography, his blues-rock band Heyday, which released one self-titled album back in 1994 after his Manowar and Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom stops. It was proof positive, as if that’s even necessary, that this man can excel in just about any style, even if he’s primarily a heavy metal guitar god. Most recently, Ross the Boss have been largely performing as leader of a band sporting his own name, Ross the Boss.
Now, as I’ve mentioned in a few of the reviews I’ve written this summer, I’m working my way through a review backlog necessitated by more than two years of barely writing, so this review is of Ross the Boss’ 2018 release, By Blood Sworn. He and his band have a 2020 release, Born of Fire, as well. Whether I take a stab at reviewing that in the future or simply leave it up to you to check it out on your own remains to be seen. But I’ve been enjoying this album for a couple years now, so the review is overripe…
Obviously, Ross the Boss’ guitar drives this record. It provides the melody and the power, as By Blood Sworn is a fast-driving, energetic, cathartic heavy metal album. He’s joined by Marc Lopes on vocals and keyboard, Mike LePond on bass, and Lance Barnewold on drums. Important to the band’s style is vocalist Lopes. Lopes’ other rosterships are with thrash outfit Let Us Prey and ’80s metal/hard rock cover group Kobra Kai. Bringing that thrash vocal edge to the tunes on By Blood Sworn, Lopes helps maintain the frantic energy level on the disc, with his voice cutting through the music while adding to its intensity, as much an instrument as a lyric delivery device. Yet there’s a tuneful, melodic edge to Lopes’ growl that’s almost certainly what makes him the ideal vocalist for this album.
As any good metal album should, By Blood Sworn begins with foreboding lyrics, a wall of guitar, and vocal wails on its title track. And Ross, to no surprise, steers the songs’ melody, power, and finesse with his guitar. That’s a common thread throughout the disc, as is the driving power emanating from the rhythm section.
Some tracks, like “Among the Bones,” mix a bit more of the haunting Dio-esque lyrics in segments, and well-placed, finesse-filled, frantic guitar solos dot the album’s musical landscape. Throughout the record, there are interesting musical and songwriting features. The water-falling-up guitar bit opening “Faith of the Fallen,” a song that would serve as By Blood Sworn‘s ballad (in that you can slow-dance to it, among the wailing guitars) is one that always catches my attention. And there’s a guitar bridge during “We Are the Night” that gives the feeling of finding a clearing in a dense forest before the aggressive guitar (and the forest) returns. The musicality of the entire disc is full of really cool moments like those, each fitting well within the context of its song.
One song that stands out for its uniqueness, “Mother of Horrors,” is the closest this disc comes to straight-up hard rock, with a blues rock rhythm and guitar line that somehow manages to be jacked up to full metalhood to fit into this album quite well, while also being a song that could be performed easily by a mid-tempo rock band with no connection to metal whatsoever. That’s just awesome songwriting. Of course, very few people could match Ross’ guitar runs and solos, but the song would be a fun rock ‘n roll romp even without them. Obviously not as special, but still.
Top to bottom, By Blood Sworn is an excellent album without any weak spots. Of course, everyone’s likely to have different favorite tracks. The songs I most often find stuck in my head are “Devil’s Day” and “Fistful of Hate.”
On “Devil’s Day,” I catch myself singing along with the chorus, “I am the true destroyer…” while digging the rhythm, which pushes forward as if it’s restrained but constantly tugging at its leash. Oh, and there’s a serious classic rock-style shredding guitar solo toward the end, too.
The energetic run on “Fistful of Hate” that gets stuck in my head is the chorus that begins with “I see the world through different eyes than you…” The song itself is a fast-paced rocker, exactly what you’d play to get yourself psyched up for an evening out, for competition, or just to get the blood pumping in the morning. And when it ends, so does By Blood Sworn. Time to take a deep breath, stop pumping your fist in the air, and collapse back into your chair exhausted, refreshed… and maybe ready to start the album over again.
Avid fans of Ross the Boss probably already have By Blood Sworn in their collections. More casual rock fans – or those of us whose attention is diverted from constantly seeking out new music by working a demanding job, spending time with my family, and writing reviews (OK, that’s me) – may have missed that Ross the Boss had emerged with this talented cadre of co-conspirators to release By Blood Sworn in 2018… and, just this year,, Born of Fire, which I look forward to seeking out. Certainly, By Blood Sworn is a great, energizing, adrenaline-filled heavy metal ride.
As I mentioned twice already, Ross the Boss released a new album, Born of Fire, earlier this year. To catch live performances, check the “tour dates” page of Ross the Boss’ website. A 3-week European tour is slated to kick off on November 11th in Sweden, with dates in Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy. A two-week tour of Spain and Portugal is slated for April-May 2021. And Ross the Boss is slated to perform on July 2, 2021 at the Big Gun Festival in Pereslavl, Russia.