USPM from California
One album. That’s all it took to forever change the way I view metal music.
The year is 2008 – the global economy was thrust in turmoil, the United States elected its first black president, and I had just begun my descent into the metal underground. I was a bright-eyed fourteen year old eager to discover new sounds when I first discovered Tyrant’s Too Late to Pray. I had barely scratched the surface of USPM at that point and I was hit with a massive, almost overwhelming sound that I didn’t know how to react to.
Aside from the basics and essentials (Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Judas Priest, etc.), my metal journey started with European-style power metal. I loved the empowering and uplifting approach of the music – the sheer nerdiness of the lyrical themes and keyboards was a total plus! As my familiarity with metal grew and I started delving into the world of extreme metal, my interest in the EUPM sound waned. I was so engrossed by bands like Bathory and Death that I was ready to forget power metal all together. Eventually, as the novelty of first discovering extreme metal began to wear off, I was ready to incorporate power metal back into my standard rotation. I had heard about the American-style of power metal that was supposedly rougher around the edges and more straight forward; it was time to go exploring! At the recommendation of virtually everyone I spoke to at the time, I started with Jag Panzer’s mighty Ample Destruction. Wow. It was aggressive, powerful, and completely removed from the power metal I was used to. I was instantly hooked. A whole new world was open to me, a sound that was deeply rooted in the traditional vein of metal, but with a unique twist. Crimson Glory. Helstar. Queensryche. Riot. Fates Warning. Omen. The big names were awesome and I kept discovering killer album after killer album. I started to really get in the weeds and that’s when I found it.
Too Late to Pray. The album had an ominous, blood-red cover and an equally foreboding name. My interest was certainly piqued to say the least. I put it on and was immediately greeted with a dark, evil, and chilling to the bone intro titled “Tyrant’s Revelation II”, a slow, doomy riff accented by a synth and beating drums with the powerful voice of Glen May bellowing over it all. It was packed tightly together by a thick, almost overwhelming production. Following the intro, the album immediately kicked into the title track “Too Late to Pray”, a mid-paced number featuring heavy-as-hell riffs, falsettos, and blistering solos. What the fuck was going on? What was I even listening to? How was it possible to write traditional metal with such an atmosphere? I was completely taken aback by what I was hearing. I didn’t know how to react.
I was shell-shocked for the rest of my first listen. Even when the album slowed down for numbers such as “Valley of Death” and “Babylon”, the apocalyptic atmosphere never let up. I knew I absolutely loved what I heard, but I needed time to digest this monster of an album. It was a week before I revisited Too Late to Pray, but my second listen just reaffirmed my initial reactions. This was something truly special.
It’s been a little over ten years since I discovered this album and it has withstood the test of time like no other for me. I can safely say that after all these years and hundreds of full listens, this album is my heavy metal paragon. It has everything that I could possibly ask for – heavy metal at its purest. I put it on and still get the same “how is this even possible?” reaction that I used to get on my first few listens.
It’s tough to single out an aspect of this monolithic album to highlight, but it would just be wrong not to mention Glen May, the powerhouse vocalist at the helm. Glen’s bellows are powerful and his impressive range is used to its full extent. His vocals are perfect for the album at hand – extremely aggressive and testosterone filled to the max. Glen typically sits at a baritone, but Too Late to Pray has impressive Judas Priest-like falsettos sprinkled in the background throughout virtually every song that demonstrate the range he’s able to hit. There are slower moments on songs like “Valley of Death” that call for cleaner vocal melodies and May is able to execute those with just as much quality as the more aggressive vocal lines.
All of the guitar work, including the leads, is handled by Rocky Rockwell. Rocky is the master of the crushing riff. As mentioned previously, most of the songs found on Too Late to Pray are mid-paced numbers, but some of the album’s best moments come when Rocky and co. slow it down. This album has a healthy dose of doom laced throughout which becomes front and center in songs like “Tyrant’s Revelation II”, “Babylon”, and “Eve of Destruction”. Rockwell’s lead style is an interesting and unique piece of the equation. In addition to the standard solos you’d expect to find in the traditional vein of metal, he incorporates a plethora of short, but blistering-fast solos throughout the album which help lend to the apocalyptic vibes at hand.
By far the strongest element of the album is its production. In reality, the music here is excellent but it isn’t a drastic departure from the band’s debut, Legions of the Dead. The production here is thick and unbearably heavy. It does an excellent job of allowing the drum and bass to highlight Glen’s war cries and Rockwell’s massive guitars. It’s really rare to find an album with such a presence and atmosphere outside of black metal yet here it is on a USPM album no less.
Too Late to Pray is an exercise in the dark and epic. It is a massive, time-weathered album that will certainly not be replicated anytime soon. It’s become something that I come back to time and time again when in need of pure heavy metal. Too Late to Pray has turned into the measuring stick by which I compare other albums to. Admittedly, this release is not for everyone, it’s a terrifying journey through Armageddon with nothing but a bunch of dudes from California to guide us through it.
Do yourself a favor and give this one a whirl if you haven’t already. Who knows – maybe it’ll have an impact on you the same way it did on me.
Absolutely essential listening.
Favorite Track: Babylon
Album Rating: 100/100