By the late 80s, Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin was already a seasoned veteran vocalist with a varied resume. He had already sung on Jag Panzer’s Ample Destruction; a rough around the edges US Power Metal classic that needs no introduction. Shortly afterwards, he ventured into more occult dwellings with Satan Host’s Metal from Hell – an album that was equal parts Jag Panzer and Venom. Not one to be limited by choice, Tyrant joined Titan Force in 1987 in what proved to be a near 180 from his previous musical ventures. Titan Force represented the more melodic and progressive side of the US Power Metal spectrum, one which placed emphasis on non-linear songwriting but more importantly – strong vocal harmonies. At this stage in time, metal listeners had already been spoilt to a wide repertoire of fine vocalists – individuals like Crimson Glory’s Midnight or Queensryche’s Geoff Tate. Could Conklin hold his own?
The answer, if it isn’t obvious already, is an emphatic yes. In fact it would be unfair to only single out Conklin’s vocal performance in Titan Force’s self-titled debut, as every musical facet of this record is nothing short of wonder. The guitarists Bill Richardson and Mario Flores are adept at providing both a strong rhythmic foundation and crafting unique guitar harmonies and solos during the entire duration of the record. One of the most stand-out elements of Titan Force among the progressive USPM bands of the time are the bass lines of John Flores. The distinctive production on the record ensures his contributions are not neglected – one of the best instances of this being the elaborate bass solo heard on “Toll of Pain” before erupting into a dual guitar solo by both Richardson and Flores. Stefan Flores, the drummer, is no slouch either as he provides his fair share of divergent fills to complement the faster and slower tempos of the album. Much of these musical talents are left on display with the lone instrumental “Will-O’ the Wasp”, a hyper-melodic number that feels equal parts Iron Maiden with the virtuosity of Yngwie Malsteem.
Part of what makes Titan Force’s first album a frequent listen is the sheer variety happening throughout the 45 minute duration of the record. The record opens with “Chase Your Dreams”, a fast-driven and high impact track that stands out for its anthemic choruses and fun use of gang vocals. In an immediate reversal, “Master of Disguise” and “Lord Desire” are slower tracks where Conklin is left mostly to his own devices, his vocals taken precedent over anything else. Both songs deliver effusive and emotional performances from Conklin, where you can feel him give all his energy and effort. It feels almost impossible to not get caught in the moment and sing along to the chorus of “Master of Disguise”.
There are even shades of Conklin’s past bands, such as the fast bangers “Blaze of Glory” and “Wings of Rage”. Both feel like they could have easily been part of Ample Destruction (or Iron Maiden for that matter), with their warlike and pounding double bass – just with a more melodic edge. These are the tracks where The Tyrant feels the most unrestrained, keeping the vocal harmonies yet unafraid to belt out powerful, piercing screams that fill you with adrenaline. “Fool on the Run”, the closer, delivers a similar punch to the gut through a memorable chorus and beautiful melodies.
In an already crowded field, Titan Force managed to easily stand out from their peers with their brand of melodic and progressive power metal. Part of this was facilitated with the inclusion of such a talented vocalist like The Tyrant, but that would be selling short the rest of the ensemble who are equally as worth of praise. Even if you’re not a fan of the more “fancy” side of USPM, this is a must have for fans of both sides of the aisle – there’s plenty here to please everyone.
Favorite track: Wings of Rage