Sound — 8
Tim Ripper Owens has spent his career as a go-to guy. He's filled in for Rob Halford in Judas Priest, only to relinquish his role when Halford returned. He took over for Iced Earth's Matthew Barlow, until fan demand for Barlow's return became too intense for the band to ignore. Iced Earth have always been Jon Schaffer's band, so it's not like Ripper has ever had a chance to really do his own thing, on his own terms. Until now. Play My Game is a collection of classic metal riffs, which are held together by Owens' high-soaring, hammer of the Gods vocals. The singer invited some big name guests to contribute to the music, as well. Believe is a mid-tempo thrasher with the kind of solos that demand two horns up, while The Cover Up, which features Megadeth bassist (and ex-White Lion member) James LoMenzo and Nevermore guitarist Jeff Loomis firing off leads, is another tune that could easily have been written in the early 1980s. But Play My Game isn't stuck in the past; rather, Ripper and company experiment with a handful of grunge-influenced songs and play with the rock radio style throughout the album, thus generating memorably, infectious songs. The guest lists reads like a Who's Who of metal stars, with TSO's Chris Caffery, Mr. Big's Billy Sheehan and Heaven & Hell's Vinny Appice lending their talents among many others. We could rattle off each and every guest star, but that would defeat the point. There's obviously a lot of incredible musicianship here, making the album that much more polished and of the highest quality.
Lyrics — 9
Ripper wrote most of the songs himself and with the help of his high profile pals. Obviously, his voice, which is what garnered him jobs in Priest and Iced Earth, is the centerpiece of the entire album. He's got a varied range and while he doesn't go as high as one might expect, his voice still exerts power. On Pick Yourself Up, a gloomy number, he exhibits a dark, dirgey, almost grunge-like tone, while No Good Goodbyes lets him flare up against radio rock riffage. Ripper makes it easy to discern his lyrics, thanks to his diction, so you can certainly sing along while pumping your fist to these catchy, melodic songs.
Overall Impression — 7
With Play My Game, Ripper isn't a hired gun. He's Tim Ripper Owens, a vocalist and artist in his own right, doing his own thing. It's everything you'd expect, with a few surprises here and there. But if you're looking for a metal/hard rock record that's driven by the pure power of the vocalists, then you can halt your search with Play My Game.