While Fight’s debut album War of Words isn’t necessarily dated, it’s the kind of album that could only be released in the early 90s. Groove metal was picking up, and a post-Vulgar world left seemingly every band trying to keep up. It sure would be easy to accuse Rob Halford of doing similarly. From the outside, he seemed to be in a vulnerable position following his exit from Judas Priest, and applying his melodicism to harsher sounds seems like a recipe for disaster, even if 1990’s Painkiller had pushed his screams to new literal highs.
What really separated Halford’s vision from the legions of bandwagoners was his honest-to-god enthusiasm for the style. He developed an affinity for Pantera when the Cowboys from Hell supported Priest on the Painkiller tour, and musicians for Fight were recruited from younger bands developing just under the radar. Halford also wrote the twelve songs on War of Words himself, further reflecting his desire for change and the determination to make it happen himself if necessary. As he once sang on “Let Us Prey/Call for the Priest,” he knew what he wanted, and he knew where to get it.
To Fight’s credit, War of Words is unique by groove metal standards. It’s a rather organized take on the subgenre, as songs are tightly structured and performances are consistently rigid. There’s room for exploration and variety, but the music never goes off the rails with nary a trace of tough guy posturing in sight. Halford himself is in top form, offering a mix of post-Painkiller shrieks, gruff bellows, and occasional melodic lapses. His vocal lines may be more simplistic and songs like “Nailed on the Gun” and “Contortion” are packed with backing gurgles, but it all sounds surprisingly natural.
The other musicians also deserve credit for an organic execution. Fellow Priest member Scott Travis’s drumming is grounded yet technical with a steady mix of double bass and fills. The guitar tone keeps a bass-heavy crunch, processed to match the era but never losing itself to the treble that has sadly diminished much of Dimebag’s power in hindsight. There’s clear chemistry, and the musicians’ ventures through meaty grooves, thrashy beatdowns, and slower moody fare never sound out of place.
But while the songs themselves are sufficiently varied, the actual writing on War of Words can get monotonous. The riffs work well despite their basic nature, but the same boneheaded chants on every song make the choruses damn near interchangeable. It works incredibly well when songs like “Into the Pit” and “Vicious” contrast them with the more drawn out verses, but when others like “Life in Black” and “Laid to Rest” aim for moodier ground, a mere title recital just isn’t going to sustain the atmosphere.
Groove metal would probably have a more favorable reputation if there were more albums like War of Words. Rob Halford’s enthusiasm allows him to take on a new style with confidence, and his experience helps him shape the sound to suit his more structured methods. There’s clear influence from the last couple Judas Priest outings, particularly in the higher vocals and drumming, but Tipton and Downing never could’ve made material like this. It’s a shame that Fight’s second album couldn’t sustain the momentum, but this debut kickstarted a chain of fascinating directions for Halford’s career before the inevitable reunion a decade later. Essential listening for Halford fans, and worth checking out for anybody curious to hear a different take on groove metal.
“Into the Pit”
“Nailed to the Gun”
“Reality, a New Beginning”