Before we even really get into the album in question, I think it’s important to bookend this retrospective with some surrounding context of the band in question – Vancouver’s 3 Inches of Blood.
Whether you want to admit it or not, heavy metal is an incredibly image-obsessed genre. It’s very common for fans to say “No way dude, it’s all about t h e m u s i c” but let’s be fuckin’ real, we absolutely shafted some great bands in the early to mid aughties simply because they didn’t look the part. The obvious example is The Black Dahlia Murder, a group full of short-haired guys with earlobe gauges and neon-colored merch who nevertheless played a monstrously ripping brand of heavily melodic death metal without ever losing the vicious derangement of the old school classics. And yet, it wasn’t until like five or six albums into their career that the general population of the metal underground started taking them seriously, and not-coincidentally that was around the time when the earlobe guys had left, and everybody else had grown their hair out and quit making their t-shirts so colorful. Yeah sure they’d evolved musically to some degree, but only superficially. Essentially they’d been writing the same song for nearly 15 years at that point, but suddenly they were good when they looked the part.
3 Inches of Blood suffered a similar fate, but their story ended much more tragically. They officially formed in 1999 and featured a five-man lineup, most notably including vocalist Jamie Hooper and guitarists Sunny Dhak and Bobby Froese (keep these names in mind, they’re going to be important later). They didn’t make much of a stir until their first two worthwhile releases, the Sect of the White Worm EP and their debut full length, Battlecry Under a Wintersun. In the scope of their greater career, neither of these are particularly worth noting. The EP is pretty standard Maiden/Priest worship, and the LP is an undercooked version of what’s coming next, which we’ll obviously explore in-depth. The main thing that helped them stand out at this point, apart from the total rarity of being a brand new band playing old school trad metal in 2001, was the addition of a second vocalist, Cam Pipes. Y’see, Hooper isn’t a singer, he’s a screamer, it would be weird to have a melodic trad metal band fronted by a dude whose main (and possibly only) skill is screaming in monotone; so they brought in a second guy who could carry a tune, and in doing so they landed on one of the strangest enigmas in metal history. Probably the most accurate way to describe his voice is that of Rob Halford and King Diamond getting melded in the transporter from The Fly. His voice was full of melody for sure, but it was exclusively delivered in glass-bending falsetto with an almost inhuman amount of rattle. He sounds like a haunted drag race, just banshee screeching his way into the afterlife on the back of some cartoonishly large hog with twelve exhaust pipes while wearing a human skull for a helmet. He is all power and no control, and that’s exactly what makes him so fucking endearing, as objectively ridiculous as he is.
I can only speculate that he was the thing that made 3 Inches of Blood stand out enough for Roadrunner to pick them up, and shortly afterward they released their sophomore album, Advance and Vanquish. To put it lightly, Advance and Vanquish is one of the best god damned albums of the last decade. Every single second of the thirteen tracks on display is packed to the gills with explosive riffage and high flying shredding. Hell, the little guitar lick that plays during the verses of “Revenge is a Vulture” is complex and flashy enough to be a solo by itself. Cam’s vocals may have been the hook that jumps out at you, but the drug that kept you addicted was always Sunny and Bobby’s riffs. This album is just jam-packed with excellent tunes, sitting in some nebulous center of all forms of non-extreme metal. The riffs can get fast and mean on tracks like “Lord of the Storm” and “Dominion of Deceit” but they never truly turn into thrash metal, and they can sit back and rollick along in a mid-paced groove with a focus on catchy hooks above all else like “Crazy Nights”, but they stay heavy and biting enough to never fall into hard rock. They were ostensibly just a Defenders of the Faith era Judas Priest clone, but the way they presented these tracks was so fucking confident and powerful that it didn’t matter.
It’s not a perfect album by any stretch, it’s definitely too long, and you could’ve cut “The Phantom of the Crimson Cloak” and “Crazy Nights” and not missed much of anything, resulting in a much more concise album. I love this to pieces, but thirteen tracks is a bit much, no doubt about it. The lyrics tend to be inconsequential and silly as well, but there’s admittedly something endearing about fist-pounding anthems about a time-traveling robot that kills humanity 3000 years in the future sharing an album with typical medieval fantasy songs and a three-part suite about a doomed pirate excursion. But those are honestly my only complaints with it. Cam is at his absolute peak here, never layering over himself and only layering over Jamie, adding a fuckload of grit to the absolutely belt-tightening high notes he hits on tracks like “Deadly Sinners” and “The Isle of Eternal Despair.” Jamie himself may not be as much of a highlight simply because there’s no absurdist novelty involved in his voice, but he was integral to 3 Inches of Blood ‘s unique identity. Who else was making any waves by playing balls to the wall speed metal with an honest-to-goodness harsh vocalist? He integrated into the sound so well and was such a perfect complement to Cam’s ridiculous wailing that they became an instantly recognizable duo, one that couldn’t really survive ever being split up.
However… there was one problem…
WHAT?! Who are these posers? They have short hair!! What the fuck are the dumb metalcore kids doing trying to infiltrate heavy metal like this?! Don’t they know this genre is sacrosanct? This is what my preamble was setting up, because to the surprise of absolutely nobody, 3 Inches of Blood was met with either indignant vitriol or snide derision. It seemed like, for a sizeable portion of metal fans, these guys were either metalcore interlopers giving metal a bad name or they were disrespectful little shits who were making a joke out of our favorite music. You’ll notice the word “metalcore” never appeared before now, but it was a really common thing thrown at them at the time. 2004 was the era of As I Lay Dying and Killswitch Engage and metal fans were experiencing full-blown moral panic over these trendy kids with swoopy haircuts stealing In Flames riffs while mainstream press treated them like the collective second coming of Metallica. There isn’t even the tiniest bit of metalcore on Advance and Vanquish, it was 100% pure molten speed metal from the opening seconds, but they had a guy who looked like the human version of the cartoon version of Cyclops from X-Men who screamed instead of sang so obviously they must’ve been metalcore. What other kind of metal-adjacent genre has harsh screams? The entirety of death and black metal? No, don’t be silly; this is a metalcore calling card. They have songs about how awesome metal is? Well, fuck everybody knows that it’s kinda goofy when Manowar does it so if anybody else does it they must be making fun of us! So 3 Inches of Blood, whose only crime was having a four-word band name and some guys with the wrong haircuts, became something of a pariah in the mid-aughts and were scrutinized as some inauthentic joke for years and years. Even down to dumb shit like what patches where on their vests (“Oh he’s got a Massgrave patch, he’s trying so hard to prove he’s into crust” instead of the much more obvious “Oh he’s got a Massgrave patch, he must like that band“).
In the following years, their career took a… weird turn. They enjoyed a lot of success immediately following Advance and Vanquish, earning an opening slot at Ozzfest and heavy rotation on the few music channels left on TV, but they never earned the underground respect they deserved. My theory is that this is something that really, really bugged them. Their followup album from 2007, Fire Up the Blades, was also a commercial success, but there was some weird shit with the drummer being fired shortly before recording and being replaced by none other than Joey Jordison of Slipknot, who also produced and co-wrote the album. Slipknot was still persona non grata because the aughties were just a weird time for metalheads, so there was a stink over the record before it was even released. People didn’t trust it, and when it dropped, people were greeted with three incredible tracks right at the start (“Night Marauders,” “Goatrider’s Horde,” and “Trial of Champions”) before getting like ten filler tracks in a row. Hooper was also much less prominent in the mix while Cam found his voice layered and processed to the point where he sounded like he was singing from behind an oscillating fan. Sunny and Bobby also left before the writing really started, and it shows because the riffs and hooks are significantly less impressive and ear-catching. The album was a success regardless, and all of the new permanent members slotted in well enough, but there was a sinking feeling that something was just missing.
The death knell for 3 Inches of Blood came when Jamie Hooper finally was forced to leave in 2008, leaving the group with none of its founding members. The excuse given at the time was that he had blown his voice out and could no longer tour, but ever since then he’s been performing in Congress and Erosion (which are hardcore and powerviolence respectively) so forgive me if I say that reeks of bullshit. New guitarist Justin Hagberg took over the harsh vocal duties, and amazingly, suddenly people started liking them! Now they were unique and interesting, now the “metalcore screamer” was gone and the music was all the better for it, now they were finally good. Justin’s voice is fine, but he sounded much more “normal” than Jamie ever did, who was a veritable monsoon of high pitched grit that gave the band even more character than they had initially. Replacing him was the exact point in which nothing cool ever happened to the group again.
Running through the rest of their career is pointless because it barely happened. Here Waits Thy Doom and Long Live Heavy Metal were incredibly dull albums that had nothing going for them apart from Cam’s iconic screech, and then in 2015 they broke up because they weren’t making money anymore (that’s not to imply they’re sellouts or anything, just an unfortunate reality of being a professional musician). The weird thing about their twilight years was that despite the albums being lame and their mainstream popularity completely evaporating, they finally had that “true metal” respect they so desperately deserved a decade earlier. Right when they finally died, they became cool in the eyes of many of their previous detractors. And what was different about 3 Inches of Blood at this point?
Now, these guys look like real, passionate metalheads! Look at them! Look at the beards and the tattoos! They look like part of the Glanton Gang. They look like the kind of dudes who drink liquor out of unlabeled jars with rattlesnakes in them and routinely eat live baby birds just so they can feel death inside them. The music, fundamentally, did not change. They still played catchy traditional/speed metal, the lyrics were still goofy nonsense about how cool metal was, they still had a prominent interplay between harsh and “clean” (as clean as Cam can get at least) vocals, the only difference is that the hooks got weaker and 3 Inches of Blood started looking like what you’d expect a metal band to look like. That’s it. And yet at this point, metalloids were finally able to look them in the eye and say “yes, you guys are a metal band,” and that’s just fucked up.
In the scope of their career, Advance and Vanquish was something of a fluke. It was their one truly great album, the one time they managed to get all of the most important elements together in a room and hone their ideas into something razor-sharp and eternally memorable. Sunny and Bobby’s riffs were damn near on par with those of Sherman and Denner twenty years prior, and Jamie’s howl was sorely missed the instant it was replaced with a less distinct gruff bark. They never came close to writing songs as good as “Lord of the Storm” or “Swordmaster” again, they were this weird, idiosyncratic thing that seemed to spawn out of the ether and pissed off most of its target audience because they had the audacity to be so good at it that nerds assumed they must have been faking it. I think what really contributed to their career faltering, in the end, was simply the fact that they seemed to be trying hard to reinvent themselves into something they already were. They were already a roving pack of cliches, but they managed to be good anyway because the songwriting itself was so stellar. It felt like they started focusing less on making the songs great and more on pushing the idea that they were true heavy metal dammit. The leaned into the cliche lyrics and dumbed-down songs to make the message all the more clear, and the music suffered for it.
But there was a glorious period somewhere from 2001-2004 where they didn’t seem to care about all the superficial bullshit regarding people not taking them seriously for bad faith aesthetic nitpicks. And during that time, when all of the brightest minds and most unique talents were all in the band at the same time, they managed to release Advance and Vanquish, a stunning relic of what could have been if only those three secret geniuses from the beginning had stuck around.
Advance and Vanquish was released on September 28th, 2004.