Had John Singleton's remake of Shaft been released just a few years later -- say, sometime around 2007, when the Heavy first emerged with their gritty mixture of funk and soul -- then the director would've done well to make Great Vengeance and Furious Fire the movie's soundtrack. Blending horn samples and noisy percussion into some furiously beat-driven songs, the Heavy often sound like the sort of street-smart band that would've ignited a bidding war between Stax and Sire Records in the mid-'60s. They combine Isaac Hayes with Gnarls Barkley, Curtis Mayfield with Jimi Hendrix, Mike Skinner's elastic delivery with Prince's falsetto vocals. For fans of retro-urban music, this sounds like a dream combination -- and during the album's first half, it certainly is. "That Kind of Man" is a blistering dance track, its messy production and blaring riffs contrasted by the cool, sexy vocals of bandleader Kelvin Swaby. The frontman loses his head toward the song's conclusion, screaming a handful of "C'mon!"s and "Yeah!"s while his bandmates strut their way though clouds of distortion, cymbal crashes, horn samples, and wah wah pedals. "Colleen" packs an equal amount of sweaty bump-and-grind into three short minutes, and "Girl" finds Swaby performing a half-rapped serenade over a drum'n'bass beat, attempting to woo the title character by complimenting her jeans and offering her a variety of teas. Undeniably British and unapologetically seedy, "Girl" is a welcome display of the band's light-hearted side, especially after the noisy onslaught of the first two tracks. Unfortunately, it's also the place where the Heavy decide to leave their true strengths behind, as most of the album's latter half relies more on atmosphere than substance and melody. The exception is "Who Needs the Sunshine?," which closes the disc with somber piano chords and the audible hiss of an old vinyl record (a production technique that makes the track sound even more like a soulful R&B single from yesteryear). Great Vengeance and Furious Fire is too uneven to be great, but its handful of fantastic singles makes for an extremely promising debut.
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey