Tuesday, June 21, 2016

ATTALUS "Into The Sea"

(c) 2015 Facedown Records

  1. The Ancient Mariner
  2. This Ship Is Going Down
  3. Sirens
  4. Desolate Isle
  5. Man, O Shipwreck
  6. Step Out
  7. Albatross
  8. The Breath Before The Plunge
  9. Into The Sea
  10. Coming Clean
  11. O The Depths
  12. Voices From The Shore
  13. Safe
  14. The Greater Tide
  15. Death Be Not Proud
  16. Message In A Bottle
Evan King--Guitar, Vocals, Bass, Additional Keys & Instruments
Seth Davey--Lead Vocals, Keys
Chris Sierra--Drums, Vocals
John Sierra--Guitars
John Amos--Bass on "Sirens"

Attalus is a difficult band to pin down, style-wise.  At various times, they can come across as something of a modern metal outfit, a post-hardcore band, a modern hard rock band, or something of a heavy progressive amalgam that defies true categorization.  I don't know if that is intentional, if it's just a little bit of all the members' personalities and styles being thrown into a musical blender, or an effort by a slightly disjointed band to try to come up with something at least semi-cohesive to call an album.  What I do know is that while it is fairly diverse...especially for an album from a Facedown Records artist...it is brooding, heavy, lyrically challenging...and a LOT to try to take in all in a single sitting.  Talk about using every second of a CD's recordable space, this album checks in at nearly 79 minutes, and 15 of the 16 tracks here are actual songs, not just intros, outros, or interludes of some sort.

Taking a quick glance at the artwork and the song titles will present the listener with an obvious nautical theme running throughout much of the record, and lyrically that same theme is used to great effect to present the band's straight-forward Christian message of struggle, perseverance, faith, and forgiveness in a fallen world.  

The band has seen recent chart success with the single "This Ship Is Going Down", a somewhat punkish rocker composed of multiple shifts in speed, tempo, and pattern...even styles...within a five minute song, with vocals seemingly ranging from shouted/barked to screamed to sung.  There are drums, guitars, bass, and then random keyboards thrown into the mix, all tossing and turning and churning in a sonic wave that never leaves the listener 100% sure of what they are partaking of, but still finding themselves liking nonetheless.   

"Sirens" does much the same thing, establishing a largely post-hardcore musical approach, which rips right along for the majority of the track before breaking down into a relatively spoken-word style interspersed with shouted responses...and then ramping back up the sonic attack of the guitars and drums.  "Desolate Isle" is a progressive...albeit very heavy and vocally aggressive...rocker that has the feeling of being tossed around at sea, while "Man, O Shipwreck" backs completely off, utilizing Davey's surprisingly strong singing voice and a piano to carry the weight of this ballad that melds into the alt rock stylings of "Step Out"...which in turn explodes back into the disjointed crush of "Albatross"....that then gives way to a jangly, jazz-infused, post-hardcore shouted "The Breath Before The Plunge"!  

And we're only half way through the record!

On and on the album goes in much the same way, throwing you this way then pulling you back the way you came, only to knock you in an entirely different direction once again.  I can only compare it to a feeling of  musical sea-sickness that washes over me at times as I work my way through the album.  I dare say the unprepared listener...which I was, for sure...could find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer scope and volume of music here.  And I'm not completely sure if that's a good thing or not.  

There is a lot of musical talent here, to be sure, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that all the members went to musical school somewhere, met in college, and formed a coffeehouse jam band that just happened to jam way HEAVIER than the usual goateed alt rock strummers one encounters in such coffeehouses.  And maybe its my age starting to catch up with my musical tastes and tolerances, but there is seriously such a mish-mash of styles and sounds going on here that I find myself having to shut it off, walk away, take a breather, maybe hit the gym to flush some angst out of my system, and then return to try to get through a few songs more.  My senses literally can't handle the all-overness of this album in a single sitting...or in fewer than four sittings, to be honest.  

Like the majority of Facedown's roster, this band leaves absolutely no question about where they stand from a lyrical standpoint, as their Christian faith is a huge part of what they do, even if they use nautical themes and various musical styles to get their messages across.  Can there be little doubt of the band's beliefs with lyrics such as "The Tide is coming, o man what wrecks are we becoming?  dive in the Sea of Grace before it changes face.  the sky is turning black -- a sign that Justice is at hand" ("This Ship Is Going Down"), or "follow the One before me, out of the ship into Grace, this is the way to Glory, there's no turning, no turning back no more, sink or swim -- don't care, just dive in" ("Into The Sea").   

It is important to note that this is a concept record of huge scope, utilizing nautical themes to tell the story of a man who sets sail on a voyage (the voyage of life) on a ship (which is the fallen, or "sinking" world), upon an Ocean/Sea, which the listener will discover is God.  I strongly recommend reading along with the lyrics sheet as the album unfolds to not only get a better grip on the story, but also to really absorb the power of the message being delivered here.

There are a few songs here that really stand alone well, with "This Ship Is Going Down", "Into The Sea", "Coming Clean", and "Safe", a flawlessly executed. largely instrumental piece, being the cream of the crop as far as I am concerned.  In fact, I have taken "Into The Sea" and "Coming Clean" and mixed them into a playlist that I use while doing work around the house or in the yard, as I really like these two tracks and they way they mix with a lot of the modern hard rock I find myself listening to these days.  I also really, really like "O The Depths", which is just a beautiful, emotionally piece of music that I returned to several times when I was first working through this record.

Amazingly performed in places with a musical skill not found in a lot of the hard music world, and poetically written, and just brutally dense, deep, and emotionally draining from a lyrical standpoint, Into The Sea is a huge project that leaves the listener feeling challenged and drained and almost washed-out if they manage to get through everything in one sitting.  I would have no clue how the band could perform this in a live setting, as I think it would exhaust all of their energy reserves just to get through the first ten or eleven songs...and they would still have five more to go!

Rating:  A concept record of immense proportion, Into The Sea is crankable from a talent and execution standpoint, I give this an 8, but I do so with a warning that the average human will not likely be able to swallow more than half of this record in a single sitting.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

7EVENTH TIME DOWN "#God Is On The Move"

(c) 2015 BEC Recordings

  1. God Is On The Move
  2. Hopes And Dreams
  3. I Still Believe
  4. Lean On
  5. Always
  6. Unbelievable
  7. Pray It Down
  8. Kingdoms
  9. Beautiful Life
  10. Revival
  11. Promises
Mikey Howard--Lead Vocals
Eric VanZant--Guitars
Cliff Williams--Bass
Austin Miller--Drums

Additional Musicians:
Scotty Wilbanks--Keys
Mike Payne--Guitars
Tony Lucido--Bass
Rob Venable--Programming
Anthony Porcheddu--Keys, Programming
Barry Weeks--Programming

Change is an inevitable thing in music, or so it seems.  This seems to be especially true in the hard rock world, where we regularly see bands experimenting with new sounds and styles, whether it is incorporating rap/hip-hop vocals (Anthrax was a pioneer here) or dub-step programming (KORN, Papa Roach), or steering their sound in a completely Nashville-styled modern country approach (Bon Jovi, Steven Tyler, Bret Michaels, etc.).  The same holds true for the Christian hard rock market, although the trend for this niche tends to find bands sanding off their rough edges, polishing up their sound, and heading in a decidedly more pop...or at least AOR...direction in what can only be perceived as a grab for airplay and a wider fan base.  This is the direction that 7eventh Time Down has seemingly been steering their ship in with each successive release, and now, on their 4th effort (counting their Christmas release), the band seems to have found the sound they have been seeking.

Its hard to argue with success, especially when it is as substantial as the success that 7TD has found with #God Is On The Move, because the song has managed to reach the number one slot on Christian radio, and the album has charted Top 25 on the Christian Rock charts (#21) and the Top 20 on Billboard's Heatseekers Chart (#16).  And, they have done it without changing their line-up...at all.  The four members here were all on the band's debut album, Alive In You, in 2011, and Just Say Jesus, from 2013.  Scotty Wilbanks has moved from a full-time touring member to an "additional musician" on this record, but no one has left and no one has been added.  So, one can only draw the conclusion that this is where the band wanted to go with their sound, they executed their plan solidly, and now they are reaping the benefits of staying the course.

The production is top-notch, polished AOR-meets-CCM, with crisp guitars, strong lead vocals from Howard and excellent backing vocals, and a nice, tight rhythm section that is solid, if not flashy.  The previous Daughtry comparisons are still going to be made, especially if the more recent efforts from that band are used as the measuring stick, but comparisons to bands like Train and Jars Of Clay will also likely come into the discussion for #God Is On The Move, as well.  

If there is one weakness on this record it is that it does tend to bog down a bit in the middle, as several of the songs start to really sound alike tempo-wise.  The songs are still executed well and passionately performed, especially in the way that Howard delivers his vocals and with VanZant's hooky riffing on the guitar, but another uptempo number being wedged in somewhere between "Lean On" and "Unbelievable" would probably help to break up the logjam a bit.  That being said, the reworking of "Lean On" from the classic Christian hymn, "Leaning On The Everlasting Arms" is pretty cool, although there is no way the little blue-haired lady in the pew in front of you is likely to recognize where this track gets much of its verbage.  

Stand-outs here are varied, depending upon what you are looking for from the band.  They still maintain their ability to rock, especially on the title track and the amped-up rocker "Pray It Down", which is a really nice kick-starter for the second half of the record.  In fact, "Pray It Down" is the track that fans of the first two albums are likely to point at and say..."there!  That's the band I knew so well!", as the guitars are punchy and the drums kick pretty hard throughout.  "Always"starts off presenting itself as almost a ballad, but it eventually kicks things up a notch to become a nice mid-tempo rocker that I envision being one of the high points of 7TD's live set.  I really like this song as it is one of the most passionate, powerful songs on the record and one that I find myself returning to with its story and message of redemption that it presents.  "Hopes And Dreams" is a highly polished mid-tempo rocker with a solid hook and an easily sung chorus that will also have many fans on their feet.  Despite coming off as much more of a country-rocker in its overall sound, "Revival" is a track that reminds me a LOT of "Road Of A Thousand Dreams" by Trixter from that band's Hear record, and I could actually imagine it garnering some country airplay, especially on Sunday gospel shows.     
All in all, I think #God Is On The Move is a solid album and a very well put together record, even if it abandons some of what I liked about the band's earlier output...especially their second studio effort.  If you are looking to band your head and pump your fists endlessly, then this is not the record for you by any means.  If you are looking for a more polished musical affair with impassioned, up-front Christian lyrics, and catchy, toe-tapping mid-to-uptempo rock, then I would imagine #God Is On The Move is exactly what you are looking for.  

Rating:  Definitely rock-worthy, I step this one back just a notch from their 2013 effort, slotting this one in at 6.5, with only the sameness of several tracks really hurting the overall rating of the record, as it is a truly solid effort and one I enjoy.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

ANOTHER LOST YEAR "Alien Architect"

(c) 2016 EMP Music

  1. Intro
  2. Wolves
  3. Bastard Sons
  4. Trigger Finger
  5. Best Is Yet To Come
  6. Run The Tank Out
  7. This Is Life
  8. He Took Beautiful Away
  9. Memories
  10. We All Die Alone
  11. On And On
  12. Holding On: Letting Go
Clinton Cunanan--Vocals, Guitars
Adam Hall--Bass, Backing Vocals
Jorge Sotomarino--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Nathan Walker--Drums, Backing Vocals

Evolution is a process; it doesn't happen overnight.  Or at least it shouldn't.  Sure, sometimes bands "evolve" musically seemingly from album to album, but these "evolutions" are usually just massive shifts in musical style and philosophy, or outright genre jumping.  But these aren't the types of evolution that North Carolina-based rockers Another Lost Year have experienced over the past couple of years.  No, we are talking solid, honest-to-goodness musical growth that is a natural progression from what was already an above average band.  But where Alien Architect finds the band in 2016 is leaps and bounds beyond where they left us with their last full-length studio effort, Better Days, and their breakout radio hit, "War On The Inside".

Evolution for this band starts with a change in members, first and foremost.  Cunanan and Hall remain from the last album, but Sotomarino and Walker have climbed aboard the Another Lost Year train.  Also new for the band is Dave Ellefson's EMP Music Group label, as the Megadeth bassist obviously liked what he heard from the band and threw in with the lot.  The results of having a big name and a high quality studio behind the music is nothing short of amazing on this record as everything is bigger, bolder, thicker, and punchier in the recording this time around, giving additional bounce and life to each of these songs.

But in the end, it is the songs themselves that have evolved the most.  The songwriting here is nothing short of stellar, in my opinion.  At times deeply personal, introspective, angry, hopeful, and every possible combination of these and other emotions, the self-described "Freedom Rock" songs here have a life of their own, yet meld together flawlessly to create a nearly perfect musical landscape.  As good as "War On The Inside" was and is, songs like "Run The Tank Out", "Trigger Finger", and "He Took Beautiful Away" simply blow that hit single away.  From the first time I heard the lead single, "Wolves", I went on record and stated that it was going to take something MASSIVE to knock that song from the Best Song of 2016 position for me.  And wouldn't you know it...it's Another Lost Year themselves that attempt to do just that!  How?  Where?  Hang on, I'm getting there. 

First off...the one lone weak spot for me.  The intro.  There is absolutely NO SECRET about my disdain for intros/outros, and nothing changes here.  So, that is a definite strike for any album when I have to auto-skip the very first track...but at least it is a separate track and not part of an actual song.  Okay, now that that is out of the way...

Lead single "Wolves" comes screaming out of the gate, setting the tone and attitude for the rockers on this album from the word "go".  Punchy rhythm guitars and thundering drums just crush from the start, drawing Cunanan's soulful vocals forward as he challenges the listener "I'm giving you one last chance to run like hell before I come"!  Hall's backing vocals are the perfect match for Cunanan's on the chorus harmonies as both men possess soaring tenors of great power and depth, and the song is just relentless in its catchiness and snares your attention with multiple hooks, both vocal and instrumental.  Months later, this is still the best song I have heard in 2016...

"Bastard Sons" picks up right where "Wolves" abruptly ends, with more chunky rhythm guitars and some nice, thick bass work, along with a blistering solo from Sotomarino that leads into the final bridge and chorus of the song.  Once again, Cunanan's voice soars through this track and easily glides over the backdrop of buzzsaw guitars, churning bass lines, and some catchy drum patterns.

"Trigger Finger" showcases an energy and urgency that is missing from so much of the modern hard rock scene today as everyone seemingly sounds the same now.  Not the case with this song, which has some nice tempo changes that really highlight Walker's skill behind the skins, and which give the guitars little windows which they can use to perform almost mini-breakdowns at the end of the choruses before ripping wide open once again.  There's some funky bass work here, also, that gives further life to this crunchy number that additionally sports some cool jack-hammer snare and a ringing fret run of a guitar solo.

"Best Is Yet To Come" is the first time the album even allows you to take even a slight breather, but don't imagine that we have backed off into ballad territory, for that is simply not the case.  The track starts off starkly with just Cunanan and an acoustic guitar, then Hall chimes in with his harmony vocals, giving the track a tease of balladry, but the guitars come ringing in shortly thereafter, bumping the energy forward without pushing the pedal down past mid-tempo, speed-wise.  It reminds me a lot of the track "Better Days" from their previous album, at least as far as style and tempo. 

"Run The Tank Out" is another piece of musical brilliance about youth, growing up, and making memories for a new generation.  Heck, by conjuring up lyrical images of Jack and Dianne (look it up if you need to, kids...) for THIS generation with lines such as "my hand between your legs and your arm around my neck" and "stars light the path so I know it's right, turn the headlights up and run the tank out tonight", this song could've been part of the sound track of MY youth growing up in the country with seemingly nothing to do on those long, hot summer nights.  The song incorporates just enough reverb on Cunanan's vocals to give them a ringing, haunting quality that further adds to the nostalgic essence of the track, and the rhythm is simple-yet-catchy as it drives you down that dusty country road of your soul.  Love this song and it is easily a top three track for me!   

I could go on and on about each and every song here, as there are no bad ones at all.  However, I feel that there is one song that still deserves extra-special mention, and that would be the hauntingly gorgeous "He Took Beautiful Away".  Surprising in its initial approach, the song starts off with just a simple drum and guitar line before a mournful slide guitar comes wailing in, along with some background handclaps, setting the stage for Cunanan to spin his web of heartache from a shattered relationship.  You can hear Cunanan's voice drip with ache and angst as he wrings each word of the chorus out in his rich tenor as the guitars moan perfectly in the background, adding their sorrow but not stealing anything from the lyrics.

"Memories" doesn't turn the heartache down much on the next track, but the band manages to start the slow climb from the emotional depths they pull the listener down to with "We All Die Alone", which, admittedly, doesn't sound like it's exactly shiny, happy music, either!  Make no mistake, however, "We All Die Alone" adds solid, hard-edged guitars back into the mix an the tempo takes a fairly sharp jump from "Memories", but not so much so that there is an obvious jolt in the flow of the record.  "On And On" is another nice rocker with a jangly guitar line under the verses, before "Holding On: Letting Go" rounds things out in fine fashion with a snappy drumbeat and some more catchy rhythm and bass guitar work bolstering Cunanan's top shelf vocals as they lead into a smoking guitar solo from Sotomarino.

It is a rare thing that I am so moved by an album that I am actually willing to repeatedly stream it, as I do NOT like to listen to audio streams, whether it is for reviewing a record or for personal consumption.  I want to be able to jump all over the place, skip forward, jump back, pause, re-start, shuffle, and do any other number of things to the music I listen to.  But with Alien Architect, I was more than content to be absorbed into the experience as it was being presented to me.  I can't even put an accurate number on how many times I sat through this album in its entirety.  Ten?  A dozen?  Twenty times?  Its possible.  But the amazing thing is that no matter how many times I played it, it still sounded fresh and it hooked me...sucked me in.  I felt like I was there, a part of the music, a member of an exclusive audience that was being treated to something extra special.  And, I guess in a way I was because I got the honor of hearing this expert piece of music days and weeks before the rest of the world, and all I can say is I feel sorry for those of you who have to wait.  This album is as close to musical perfection as I have encountered so far this year...and it really isn't all that much of a competition.

As 2016 slides into it's sixth month, it is without hesitation that I state that Alien Architect is the album of the year at the midpoint, and it is going to take something STUNNING to knock it from its place atop the heap.  It is truly that great.

Rating:  Crankworthy to the extreme.  Crank this to 9.5, with only the intro holding it back...and I almost wavered on that!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

AUSTIN JOHN "Love Sick Radio"





  1. Clique To Follow
  2. The Plague (featuring Sophie Summers)
  3. Carry You
  4. Howlin' (featuring Jessie James Decker)
  5. Road To Paradise
  6. Hate That I'm Loving It

Austin Winkler--Lead and backing vocals
(No other musicians credited in the press release)



Take a good look.  No, seriously...get close.  Look familiar?  Even a little?  If you think yes, but can't place the guy in the photo, that's because it's Austin John...Winkler...as in the former singer of Hinder.  Yeah!  That guy!  Thing is...he forgot how to rock once he was kicked out of/departed from the band.  Like so many others doing the trend jumping thing, Austin has decided to try his hand at country music now, at least on this track.  But we're not talking conventional, traditional country here...no, no, no.  We're talking Florida Georgia Line, hip hop Bro country, with looped drum beats, rhythmic rap-esque vocals, and no real sign of actual instruments being played...just a bunch of beats strung together with some keyboard sounds and various layers of Winkler's vocals mish-mashed together.  "Clique To Follow" is a prime example of this.  It's not rock, it's not country, it's not rap...heck, it's not music, if you ask me!  What an uninspired mess this thing is...

"The Plague" gets a little better, as Winkler relies more heavily on actual singing, Summers seems to have some degree of talent (although I have no clue who she is), and I think there may be actual instruments played here, but the drum loops and drum machine are tired sounding.  You can hear the "Lips Of An Angel" vocals coming from Winkler here, however, and the listener is given reason to believe that the first track was just an anomaly of some sort.

"Carry You" is pretty dark sounding and has elements of modern rock mixed in with what would most likely be labeled as electronica and it is one of only two songs on this collection I would say that I like, with Winkler's voice sounding especially strong here.  In fact, I could even go so far as to say I could tolerate an entire album of material like this from Winkler...err, Austin John...although I'm guessing that won't happen.  Hinder it is not, but at least there seems to be aim and direction with this track.

"Howlin'", according to the press release, features "country star, Jessie James Decker", but, as someone who used to program a country station and who currently books country and alt-country acts from time to time, I can honestly say I have no clue who Jessie James Decker is.  I will say this, however...she is attractive and she can sing, for sure, but I don't know how someone born in Italy and who sings this type of music can consider themselves "country".  But I digress.  This is the best song here, and that is largely because of relatively strong songwriting and another strong vocal performance from Winkler, coupled with Decker's equally strong presence.  Again, I wouldn't call this "country" music by any stretch, at least not in the traditional sense, and if this is what passes for country now, I don't think I would even know if I accidentally turned a country station on.  Again, we have looped drums and minimal actual instrumentation here, but for a quasi-ballad, its actually not a bad song at all.  As with "Carry You", I could probably listen to an entire album of this style of music without having an aneurysm or some sort of seizure...probably...if I had to...

"Road To Paradise" reverts to the brutal schlock that the first couple of tracks was, with a particularly inane chorus and a keyboard line that sounds like it was borrowed from a clown act at a circus...on an island populated by Kenny Chesney and Jimmy Buffet and their fans.  Just...plain...bad...  If I could program my CD player to auto-skip, this could well be the first song of 2016 that I would blow right past without a second thought.  Horrible.

"Hate That I'm Loving It" mercilessly brings the EP to a close.  I say mercilessly instead of mercifully because there is no mercy given here.  This is a blatant stab at airplay in some kind of non-rock genre...country, hip hop, college, alt...SOMETHING...and it is just bad.  Yeah, you can recognize Winkler's voice to a degree, although it is a bit more strained at the top end than on the couple of decent songs here, and it is by no means a good song.

I have no idea what Winkl...sorry...Austin John's...goal is with this EP, but if it is to completely alienate Hinder fans, and also to turn off 99% of the music listening population of ANY genre related to this EP, then he succeeded, because this is a disaster.  I think the reason there are no musicians credited here is because either there ARE NO MUSICIANS on the record, or they simply didn't want their name associated with this dreck.  All I can say is, for their sakes, I hope Summers and Decker have strong fanbases that are going to be willing to overlook this steaming pile of horridity, or else their careers may be in danger (assuming they have careers...I still have no clue who they are!).

Rating:  Turn it down...WAY down...to 3, and that's only because I didn't projectile vomit on my monitor or keyboard when "Carry You" was playing, and I almost caught myself tapping my foot to "Howlin'".


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DECYFER DOWN "The Other Side of Darkness"

(c) 2016 Fuel Records

  1. Rearrange
  2. Dead Skin
  3. Nothing More
  4. Believe In Me
  5. The Other Side of Darkness
  6. Beautiful Lie
  7. Lifetime
  8. Anchor Me
  9. Don't Walk Away
  10. Burn Back The Sun (acoustic)
Brandon Mills--Guitar
Chris Clonts--Guitar
TJ Harris--Vocals, Guitars
Benjamin Millhouse--Drums
Chris Furr--Bass

After taking a couple of years off, modern Christian rockers, Decyfer Down, returned to the scene as part of the successful City Rockfest Tour with Disciple, Nine Lashes, and Seventh Day Slumber, and almost immediately had fans begging for new music, as it was evident the band's spark was still there in their live performances.  To that end, the band has answered the call with a brand new album, The Other Side of Darkness, and a new set of tour dates to go along with the new record.  

Returning on this record are the three longest-tenured members of the band, Harris, Mills, and Clonts, who have all been with Decyfer Down since at least 2008 (Mills co-founded the band in 1999), along with relative newcomers Furr and Millhouse who take over the rhythm section of the band, and to my ears, they have never sounded tighter.  Continuing to evolve musically while still sounding like, Decyfer Down, the band retains a bit of the southern rock-meets-post-grunge sound of the last album, Scarecrow, but for the most part they return to the more aggressive, straight-forward modern rock sound fans grew to expect from them prior to Harris taking over as the singer following the End Of Grey album.  As such, Decyfer Down plunges right back into the modern hard rock waters they so expertly navigated previously when songs like "Desperate", "Burn Back The Sun", "Fight Like This", and others were burning up both the Christian Rock and Modern Rock charts.  While Scarecrow failed to produce any charting singles of it's own, there is no denying the power of songs like "Westboro" and "Worst Enemy", especially in the craftsmanship of the songs themselves, so it should come as no surprise that both eras of the band have been melded together to bring out quite possibly the best album in the band's catalog.

 The lead single for the album, "Nothing More", is a prime example of where the band is at musically, as it comes out charging hard from the get go with a crushing, Sevendust-inspired guitar riff and pummeling drums, setting the stage for Harris' edgier, angrier sounding verse vocals, only to ease back slightly to allow his more melodic singing style take over on the chorus sections.   Fans obviously took to this approach from the band as it almost instantly managed to crack the top ten on the Christian Rock charts and garnered airplay on mainstream modern rock stations as well.  My personal favorite from the record, "Dead Skin", and album opener, "Rearrange" are also of this same angry, chunky modern rock style, incorporating aggressive rhythm guitars, tight bass lines, punchy drums, and snarly verse vocals in front of  more melodic chorus vocals.  The fact that the band is now a three guitar outfit should not be lost on listeners, as the overall sound is now much fuller, particularly on the harder, heavier numbers, with virtually every nook and cranny crammed with distorted six string angst of some sort. 

The band does take risks on The Other Side of Darkness, however; I don't want to give the impression that all is aggression and channeled rage at a fallen world.  "Believe In Me", for example, is far more laid back and melodic in every way, Incorporating an un-credited piano/keyboard, "Believe In Me" backs off on the tempo and the rasp and allows Harris to display a very strong tenor singing voice on what I am guessing is a deeply introspective song with some touching lyrics about others seeing more in us than we see in ourselves.  I have a hard time seeing a situation where this song isn't just soaked up by both Christian Rock and Christian CHR radio charts, as well as on modern rock charts and stations, as it is expertly performed.  Likewise, older fans of the band will undoubtedly appreciate the updated, acoustic take on the band's classic hit "Burn Back The Sun" which hit number 1 on the Christian Rock charts ten years ago.  Harris' voice is different from the band's previous singer, yet he does an excellent job on this track which is stripped bare of any pomp or power in this acoustic state, which would leave a lesser singer exposed and vulnerable vocally, especially when presented to a fan base that knows the song so well.  Harris handles it perfectly, in my opinion, and makes the song his own here.

Other favorites here for me are the title track, "Beautiful Lie", and the love song, "Lifetime", which has just a hint of a CCM feel to the first verse before kicking into a melodic-yet-rocking chorus.  Definite wedding material here for the rocker crowd!  "Anchor Me" is another really solid hard rocker that is top three or four for me here, and "Don't Walk Away" is a great ending to the new material here, giving way to the previously mentioned acoustic remake of "Burn Back The Sun".

In all honesty, there are no weak songs here, and nothing here is overly blown up or bloated by excessively long performances, as the longest track clocks in at just 4:05.  Nothing feels rushed, nothing feels shorted...each of the nine new tracks here feels complete and given appropriate amounts of time to grow and build to their respective high points.

The packaging is very nicely done, with complete lyrics, songwriting credits, thank you's, and production information.  There's a cool full-band photo under the tray insert, as well, and the whole project has a very professional feel despite being an independent project.  The production and mix are spot-on as well, with no muddiness or slurring of sounds anywhere on the disc, and there is plenty of punch to the drums without having them dominate the mix.

Overall, one of the best start-to-finish products of the first half of the year for me, and a powerful return to form for this excellent band.  As much as I enjoyed the change in style on Scarecrow and the maturation of the band's songwriting, there is something to be said for a band fully embracing who they are, and then taking that identity and moving forward with it.  Decyfer Down does just that on The Other Side of Darkness.

Rating:  Definitely a cranker, here!  Turn it up to 8.5!

DIAMOND REXX "Dead" Single

(c) 2016 Pavement Music

  1. Dead
Nasti Habits--Vocals
SS--Guitars
Andre--Bass
Johnny Cottone--Drums

Diamond Rexx has recorded their first new song in nearly 8 years...at least...as they have reunited to play a special show on June 18th in Illinois that will feature the band playing their cult classic album, Land Of The Damned , in it's entirety from front-to-back.  That day will also see the release of this new single, "Dead", which sounds...well, it sounds like Diamond Rexx.  Sure, Nasti's vocals don't have the higher end they did on Land of the Damned, but the guitar hooks are still there, and the energy level is still high as the guys tear through this somewhat modern-sounding take on the band's classic sound.  The track comes our with a chugging guitar riff from SS, and the lower-range snarls of Habits, with a solid, if unspectacular foundation laid by the drums and bass of Cottone and Andre, respectively.  SS rips off a nice solo starting at about the 2:30 mark, leading Nasti back into his angst-fueled rant against people who may be foolish enough to cross him.  The song continues to chug along through another chorus and verse before coming to an abrupt halt a little more than four minutes after it started.  Not revolutionary by any means, but still sleazy, still a bit punkish, and still Diamond Rexx, "Dead" will hopefully be the start of a new project for a band that really snagged me when Land Of The Damned came out nearly 30 years ago!

SLAVE RAIDER "Take The World By Storm" REISSUE

(c) 2016 Divebomb Records
(c) 1986 Jive Records
  1. Take The World By Storm
  2. Backstabbin'
  3. Make Some Noise
  4. Burnin' Too Hot
  5. Long Way From Home
  6. Survival Of The Fittest
  7. The Devil Comes Out In Me
  8. The Black Hole
Chainsaw Caine--Vocals
Nicci Wikkid--Guitars, Vocals
Lance Sabin--Guitars, Vocals
Letitia Rae--Bass, Vocals
The Rock--Drums

Reissuing long out-of-print material has become the lifeblood of many a small, independent record label, to varying degrees of success.  Some labels take great care to find new material...whether it be songs, interviews, magazine articles, etc....to include in their reissues, along with cleaning up and enhancing sound, updating artwork, and all the other bells and whistles that make a reissue great and worth the money.  Others do absolutely NOTHING, even going so far as cramming two albums on one CD but cutting out songs to make room for the "majority" of the tracks, simplifying full booklets into single sheet inserts, and doing nothing to better the quality of the material being presented.  Thankfully, Divebomb Records falls into the first category, as they have done me a HUGE service by reissuing this long out-of-print, impossible-to-find-cheaply gem from Minnesota rockers, Slave Raider.

Slave Raider was something of an oddity to a lot of people.  Looking something akin to Twisted Sister versions of pirates...albeit pirates wielding a chainsaw WAY before Jackyl made it cool...yet sounding far more metallic than their glammy image would seem to indicate, Slave Raider was a massive success in and around the Minneapolis area, but that success never translated into broader appeal, even with the band signing to a major label.  The main problem was that the label was Jive Records which knew NOTHING about how to handle a rock/metal band like Slave Raider, because they were too busy with the likes of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (Will Smith to the uninitiated), Kool Moe Dee, and Samantha Fox.  The label's target audience...pop rap and dance pop...had no idea what they were purchasing if they bothered to pick this album up, and most would likely discard it upon hearing it, as they were certainly NOT fans of the style that Slave Raider presented.  Wrong label, wrong band, wrong relationship, plain and simple.

Musically, Slave Raider wasn't really "hair metal", which had really exploded into full-blown, nationwide popularity by 1986, and they weren't thrash, a la Metallica, Anthrax, etc.  Looking...and, honestly...sounding more like a band such as Lizzy Borden, or the equally fringe Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction, Slave Raider combined heavy guitars, thundering drums, and snarling vocals  to create a hit-and-miss collection of hard rockers that, at their best, were catchy and solidly anthemic in their style and sound.  Take for example the cult classic title track, which has stuck with me since I first heard it back in '86 or '87 on a VHS recording of Headbanger's Ball (I lived in the country and didn't have cable! The HORROR!!!).  The guitars absolutely shred on this song, and Caine is in excellent vocal form as he snarls about the success his band is going to achieve as they "take the world by storm".  Lyrically, the song is uber-simplistic, but catchy as all get out, and it's the type of sing-along, pump-your-fist type or rocker that labels were looking for from bands such as Slave Raider, and it is likely what Jive Records latched onto when they were first presented with the opportunity to sign the band.  Other top rockers include more mid-tempo audience chanter, "Make Some Noise", "Long Way From Home". and the second-to-last track on the record, "The Devil Comes Out In Me".

This is where the "at their worst" part of my previous statement kicks in.  Lyrically, these guys are not poets or philosophers, to be sure.  Even on the nicely rocking tunes, it soon becomes apparent that the above average rocking can only go so far to cover up sub-par lyrics.  Whether we are talking about "The Devil Comes Out In Me", which is a reflection by the band on their partying ways, taking about "...drinking some whiskey/Maybe a snort of some 'caine", or the equally rocking "Burnin' Too Hot", with such inane lyrics as "Smooth talking - fast walking/Grinding machine/Wearing a pair of painted on blue jeans/Came up to me/One thing on her mind/Told me I was one of a kind", the lyrical content just leaves me kind of....yikes...  And, the really ironic part of it all, at least for me, is that the band was billed as having deeper,  more insightful lyrics that went beyond the party rock cliches of their peers.  Huh?  Outside of the title track and "The Black Hole" (more on that song in a minute), pretty much EVERY song here is about partying and having a good time.

Another frustrating thing for many listeners will be the fact that on an album that is only eight songs long...which was VERY frustrating to teens on a limited-music-budget back in the day...there are two tracks that take up almost half of the album, time-wise!  "Survival Of The Fittest" is so bloated with an intro laden with speech outtakes from various American presidents about the use of atomic/nuclear weapons, and so plodding in its musical pacing and approach, that it knocks an almost-seven-minute hole in the record that its hard to recover from.  With Caine sounding a LOT like Lizzy Borden, vocally, the album's closer, "The Black Hole", is even more guilty of bloat-for-bloat's sake.  The song clocks in at over 8 minutes in length and does less work than the classic Twisted Sister opus, "Horror Teria (The Beginning)", half of which is the similarly paced, styled, and performed...but significantly more memorable  and impactful..."Captain Howdy".  The main problem on this track is the MASSIVE, minutes-long instrumental break  which starts at about 3:45 and carries on for the next four-plus minutes without Caine ever singing another note.  The first guitar solo is nice and skillfully performed, but its followed by a rather monotonous and uninspired drum solo, which bleeds into a really cool-sounding, but equally unnecessary bass solo, which THEN leads into a couple more guitar solos and another drum break...all of which has left me plenty of time to go make a sandwich, vacuum the main floor, finish reading a chapter in whatever book I have my nose buried in, and STILL get back before it all ended!  I don't know if this song was played live, and if it was I don't know that all these solos were included, but if they were I would imagine there was massive flooding going on in the bathrooms as everybody knew they had time to hit the head before the song finished.  Seriously, the musical section at the end is LONGER THAN THE LYRICAL SECTION...and Slave Raider was not a "jam band"!  So, what you end up with are two songs that take up nearly 15 minutes of an album that runs only 34 minutes total, and neither one is a top 5 song for me from an eight track album, so there is an obvious issue for me.      

Sound-wise, Divebomb has done an excellent job of cleaning up and beefing up the sound of the original record, giving a bit of extra thunder to the bottom end...especially the drums...and making sure that the volume is equally leveled throughout the album's entirety, which I felt was an issue on side two of the original (I had this on cassette back in the day).  

The packaging here is top notch, as is to be expected from Divebomb.  A full 20 page booklet has been added to the packaging, which includes not only a band introduction/biography, but also full lyrics to all eight songs, an inlay of the original cassette "J card", the band's original press release for the album, a full article from Kerrang!, a collage of various concert posters and flyers, and several new color photos that I had not seen previously.  Very, very cool stuff.  

Overall, this is a remarkable reissue package and well worth the money.  If you have never heard of the band, or have only heard the couple of singles they managed to squeeze into rotation on Headbanger's Ball back in the day, you would do yourself a service to track this reissue down and not pay the insane amounts of money commanded on eBay and trading sites for what is, in all honesty, an inferior product now that this excellent reissue is available.

Rating:  The album is still the album, original flaws and all.  As such, I would rock this at a solid 6.5...but as a package, this easily cranks to 8.5!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

RAZORBATS "This High" EP

(c) 2016 Self-Destructo Records

  1. The Hurricane
  2. This High
  3. Born In The Fast Lane
Even--Vocals
Kjetil--Guitars
Stig--Bass
Knut--Drums

It's been just five short months since the Razorbats took home he crown as having the best record of 2016 according to us here at Glitter2Gutter, as Camp Rock quite simply blew us away with its hard-charging 70's retro rock sound, intermixed with a bit of the early 80's scene and a punk attitude in places.  Not wanting to lose the momentum they had established, Razorbats returned to the studio to record this little 3-track EP, This High, and are set to unleash it upon the world digitally in June of 2016, and again on vinyl in September 2016.  Our good buddy, Kjetil Wevling, the guitarist for the band, was kind enough to send us a preview copy of the release so that we might get you pumped for what's to come.

This mini-EP kicks off in fine fashion with "The Hurricane", which feels like a direct continuation of Camp Rock, complete with a beautifully fuzzed-up 70's guitar tone and a great, simple but snappy drum line that just drips 1978 from the start.  With only three tracks to compare here, there is still no doubt that this is my favorite on this little effort, as it is completely in the band's wheelhouse, with Even delivering another impressive vocal performance and Kjetil ripping off a nifty solo between the choruses.  Reminding me of the style of "Planet Riff" from Camp Rock, fans of T. Rex, the Sweet, or early Cheap Trick are going to cling to this track right from the start.

The title track, "This High", shifts straight into high gear right from the start, with a short, staccato snare burst from Knut before Kjetil comes charging in with the guitars, accompanis by Stig on a nice, driving bass line.  Even's voice continues to retain it's young Joe Elliott qualities, but with a nice punk edge to them, and the backing vocals are solid here as well and add a nice touch in the chorus sections.  Kjetil states that this punkish number is about "two junkies in love who enjoy each other...and enough dope to kill a small Norwegian village".   I can't speak to the killing off of a portion of the Nordic population, but I can attest to the tongue-in-cheek nature of this energetic rocker which also would have fit very nicely on Camp Rock, especially the edgier tracks from that record.

The EP closes out with the ballad, "Born In The Fast Lane", which Kjetil describes as "a reflection on what happens when a successful band breaks up and you find yourself broke and sleeping on other people's couches, but still feel like a star".  Stark from the outset, with a somber guitar riff and Even setting the stage, this beautifully crafted rock ballad (NOT an 80's power ballad, mind you...), has a really nice lyrical approach, echoing the subject's pain and frustrations, but also indicating hope for something better, especially with the ringing refrain of "keep your eyes on the road and your dreams close to the heart".   Slow, without becoming plodding, the track is of the same ilk as one of my faves from the band, "Desolation Highway", from Camp Rock, and its a winner all the way.  Strong performances abound here, from the understated approach of Stig's bass and Knut's drums, to the way  Kjetil just lets his guitar sing along in the background as Even channels a bit of Art Alexakis from 90's alternative rockers, Everclear, in the way he pours extra emotion into his vocals.

The production is solid and not polished at all, which is as it should be, as the distortion in the guitar is a huge part of the sound of this band.  One thing I did notice here is that the 80's elements that were mixed into Camp Rock in small doses are pretty much non-existent here, and that's fine.  The addition of a touch of the alterna-rock 90's on "Born In The Fast Lane" is masterfully done as well, and is not a hindrance to the overall sound of the track or EP in any way.  Growth, even in a retro-styled band, is essential, and Razorbats take just enough of a tiny step here to keep this EP from feeling like nothing but a collection of outtakes from Camp Rock.  

Being an all-digital preview, I have no ideas about packaging for the vinyl edition which will come out in the fall, but the cover sketch is pretty cool and fits the retro stylings of the band well.

While I obviously would've preferred a full-length release, I have to say I am not only fully satisfied with the quality of this EP, but my thirst for new material from this outstanding band has at least been slaked for the time being.  I truly hope that these songs find a home on an upcoming full-length release in the near future, but for the time being, I would encourage anyone who loved Camp Rock, or anyone who loves extremely well-done, 70s-inspired hard rock, to seek out This High EP when it becomes available in June.   

Rating:  WAY TOO SHORT on time, but plenty long on what it delivers, This High EP is definitely crankable.  Twirl the knob to 9 for the quality of material here, as I feel it is completely a continuation of the greatness of Camp Rock.

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Monday, May 2, 2016

ARMORED SAINT "Win Hands Down"

(c) 2015 Metal Blade

  1. Win Hands Down
  2. Mess
  3. An Exercise In Debauchery
  4. Muscle Memory
  5. That Was Then, Way Back When
  6. With A Full Head Of Steam
  7. In An Instant
  8. Dive
  9. Up Yours
John Bush--Lead Vocals
Jeff Duncan--Guitars
Phil Sandoval--Guitars
Joey Vera--Bass, Vocals
Gonzo Sandoval--Drums, Percussion

Additional Musicians
Eric Ragno--Piano, Keyboards
Pearl Aday--Vocals "With A Full Head Of Steam"
Kayleigh, Jezebelle, Giuseppe--Vocals on "Up Yours"

Armored Saint is one of those bands that, unless you were TRULY into metal back in the 80s, you probably heard about but didn't actually hear.  Oh, sure, you might have heard an early song or two, most likely "Can You Deliver", and they may have owned the CLASSIC Symbol Of Salvation album, which I think is one of the 100 truly must-own metal albums of all time, but most people would likely be hard pressed to name a dozen Armored Saint songs...again, unless you are a true, dyed-in-the-wool metalhead.  

But you know what?  Armored Saint doesn't care if you've never heard of them.  They play because they love to play, and to heck with everyone that doesn't understand or believe.  You know how I know that's the attitude they have?  Because NO ONE keeps playing for 30+ years with little to no recognition unless they are in it for the love of the music and for what they are doing.  And that describes Armored Saint to a "T".

2015 saw the return of the Saint with what I consider to be one of their three best albums ever, in Win Hands Down.  Now that John Bush has returned to the band full-time following his long stint in Anthrax, the band has come out swinging for the fences, in my opinion.  Yeah, they released a couple of "okay" records while Bush was with 'Thrax, but Revelations was really nothing to write home about with the exception of "After Me (Comes The Flood)" and a couple of other above average tracks, and the new material on Nod To The Old School really did nothing for me.  But, with La Raza, the band took a solid step back in the right direction, even though I think that record lacked the focus and intensity of Symbol... or this newest record.  

Win Hands Down is a solid chunk of metallic hard rock that is excellent at its best and very good at its worst.  Kicking off from the very get-go with the angry screaming of Duncan's and Sandoval's twin guitars and Gonzo's thunderous drum sound, it is obvious that the Saint is here to kick some teeth in as the title track, "Win Hands Down" comes blaring from the speakers! A big, scream-along chorus, ferocious power chord grooves, and Vera's signature bass rumbling deliver on this traditional-sounding Armored Saint track that could easily have slid into the mix on Symbol Of Salvation, shoving its way into the mix right after "Dropping Like Flies" and just before "Last Train Home", in my estimation.  Even the atmospheric..dare I say trippy...interlude at 2:40 doesn't slow down this machine, as the ripping guitar solo at the 3:22 mark just blazes away anything resembling doubt about how great this track is!  Bush is in top-notch form vocally, and everything on this track works to near perfection!  

"Mess" has a bit of a throwback sound to the intro guitars, which is pretty cool, and the urgency here is undeniable.  Again, Gonzo has some massive drum lines in this track, backed up perfectly by Vera, and the guitars just chew through your ears all throughout the track.  The overall pattern and rhythm of the song is a bit odd, to be sure, especially going into the choruses, and there is some downright strange instrumentation used right after the first chorus...is that a sitar???...but, again, it works for me and I really like the sonic experimentation here.

"An Exercise In Debauchery" is definitely an old school Armored Saint-sounding track with a much more accessible chorus than "Mess", and some truly frenetic guitar work throughout.  Vera gets the chance to step up to the forefront and drop some truly great bass SOLOING into the mix at about the three minute mark, which simply has to be heard.  

"Muscle Memory" is an interesting track, showing a band that has matured and has become introspective as it has grown longer in the tooth.  A bit more laid back in approach than the first three barnstormers, "Muscle Memory" has some cool guitar effects layered into their classic 80s metal sound, but the song is written with a wisdom and understanding of one's legacy that the guys in the band couldn't have even begun to approach in their younger days.  One of my favorites on the album, the song reaches Iron Maiden epic territory with its seven-plus minute running time, with hints of Ragno's keys being interspersed throughout and some cool percussion sounds thrown into the mix. 

"That Was Then,Way Back When" turns the pace back up a bit with a galloping, metallic rhythm guitar line and a straight forward drum attack, but it lacks some of the real grit and the teeth of the first few tracks despite the inspired interplay of Bush's vocals and a quirky solo section after the second chorus.

"With A Full Head Of Steam" is an interesting number, starting off rather sparsely with some simple bass rumbling and rim-shot drum work under a laid back guitar riff, only to burst forward in a...pardon the title-borrowing here...full head of steam as it charges into the first verse, which finds Bush trading off a couple of lines with Mrs. Scott Ian, Pearl "My Daddy is Meat Loaf" Aday, who sounds decent here with her husky-yet-still-feminine vocals, although she still pales compared to the powerhouse vocals of Bush.  The guitar solo here isn't typical Armored Saint material, and comes off as something far more modern than most of the other stuff on the record, although Vera's bass work is still something to behold.  Not a horrible song by any means, and it has some interesting time changes throughout the track, but this one took several spins before it really clicked with me.

"In An Instant" is a really strong track about the Boston Marathon bombings that packs a good deal of emotion, interspersing acoustic guitar sections with some equally hard-hitting, angry moments.  Again, this is a track that only an older, wiser Armored Saint likely could have written, and is one that shows not only the depth of the band lyrically, but also gives them a chance to stretch their musical muscle and step outside their normal metallic box.  A top 4 track for me on this record for sure.

"Dive" starts off with a really cool piano intro and Bush actually singing, rather than snarling, on a track that reminds me a LOT of some of the things Queensryche was doing with their slower, more progressive material on Empire or Promised Land.  The only true "ballad" on the album, "Dive" really impresses me with its ability to incorporate a new approach, experiment with atypical Armored Saint instrumentation, and a softer vocal approach from Bush.  Not saying I would want an entire album of this type of material (which I jokingly called "Armored Floyd" when I was describing it to a friend of mine), but as a stand-alone moment on this album, it works very well and I like it a lot.

"Up Yours" closes the record with the most acerbic, biting lyrics on the record and finds the band in a rather chippy mood as it finishes things off in rip-roaring fashion, even incorporating some screamed "up yours" chants from Bush's children, Jezebelle and Giuseppe (not sure who Kayleigh belongs to) into the final run through of the chorus.  Showcasing the fact that these "old guys" still have their chops, a raging guitar solo rips through the middle section of the track, leaving little doubt that while time may have matured the band from an overall songwriting stance, they are still metalheads at the core and are at the top of their game when they are snarling, spitting, and screaming in your face...up yours! 
  
The packaging is pretty good...for a digipack...grrrr....and the booklet contains all lyrics, thank you's, writing credits, etc.  There are no band photos, at least in the traditional sense, but otherwise its a nicely done package.

A great return for a criminally overlooked band, Win Hands Down easily made the top twnty albums of the year for me and is the album from the band I turn to most outside of Symbol Of Salvation.  If you haven't done so, seek out both of these albums immediately, and go ahead and snag March Of The Saint and La Raza while you're at it.

Rating:  Utterly crankable, Win Hands Down is a really, really good record.  Crank this to 8 with no hesitation!


  

Sunday, May 1, 2016

FIERCE HEART "Fierce Heart" Re-issue

(c) 1985 Mirage Records

(c) 2016 AOR Blvd Records

  1. Echoes
  2. Fierce Heart
  3. Out For Blood
  4. Lion's Share
  5. Search And Destroy
  6. Heroes
  7. Never Gonna Make Me Cry
  8. Bad Maureen
  9. Loose Lips
  10. Getting Lost Inside Your Love (Bonus)
  11. Bad Child (Bonus)
  12. Power To Rock (Bonus)
Larry Elkins--All Vocals, Bass
Rex Carroll--All Guitars
Chris Lord-Alge--Drums and Fairlight programming

It took thirty-one years, but Fierce Heart's one and only release, the self-titled Fierce Heart record, has finally received a proper reissue.  I say "proper" because this album has been "reissued" no fewer than three times previously, once by Retrospect Records, once by some company called Unidisc Music (an unauthorized release, I have been told), and one other time by some bootleg label (Russian, I believe) that didn't even put their name on the outside of the product (and trust me...its a bootleg, no question).  I am told by other collectors that there are at least two other boots out there as well, so who knows how many times this album has been knocked off, and by whom?

One thing should be obvious, however, with this many people willing to make illegal copies of a record.  There's a market for them.  Why?  Quite simply, its because the album is a very, very good piece of early-to-mid 80's polished hard rock, not overly far removed from much of what was starting to explode out of the Hollywood scene, despite the fact that the "band" (really only Larry and Rex) was actually from Chicago.  Now, I know, I know, people are going to say this sounds "dated", which is a term I hate.  Of course it sounds "dated"...it was written and recorded 30+ years ago!  Do you expect it to sound like it came out this week?  Look, if you don't want music to sound like its "from the 80s", don't buy music FROM THE 80's!

Now, AOR Blvd has promised that this is a remastered version and that some of that "80's sound" has been updated, but that's a lot of hooey.  Is it remastered?  Yes, no question.  Does this reissue sound better than the bootlegged copies I have or have heard?  Yeah, absolutely!  There is no question that the original nine tracks sound very crisp and clean.  The Russian (I'm assuming) disc, for example, sounded like it was recorded straight from vinyl, so there was a hiss to the sound, which was annoying, and the others sounded rather tinny to my ears.  Also, there are some volume issues on the previous versions I have/have had.  Those issues have largely been cleared up, as AOR Boulevard has obviously boosted the volume on this new release, making it much more listenable at a decent volume (meaning you don't have to turn it up to 8 to get decent volume out of it, which, in turn, increases the noise factor on just about any pre-2000 CD, in my opinion).  But regardless of what you may have read into the statement that the sound is "updated", it still sounds like 80's hard rock, as it should.  It's not like they brought back the layers of guitars that Rex mentioned in his interview with me, or that they changed the drum machine out for a live drummer.  Additionally, the three bonus cuts are all very demo sounding, with little to no mix to them at all.  Still cool to hear, and, if I'm not mistaken, a couple of these riffs were lifted from these songs to eventually become Whitecross riffs, as they are VERY familiar to me.  (Note--Rex verified this when I got the chance to update his interview, which you can read HERE).

Musically, the album sits somewhere between Journey and a band like Dokken, or the lesser-known band, Eyes, for example.  It's harder-edged than the poppy stuff Journey had their greatest success with, but not as glammy or "hairy" as the hair metal acts of the time.  Relying on strong songwriting, killer guitar riffs, big hooks, and catchy choruses, this album is exactly what most radio stations were gobbling up.  I would go so far as to say it is one of the truly underrated gems of its time as far as this type of polished hard rock goes.  Elkins actually is a rather strong singer, sounding at times like a younger version of Jeff Scott Soto on power rockers like "Lion's Share", and the backing vocals throughout the record are also superbly done, as is evidenced on a track like "Heroes" or "Bad Maureen".  For his part, Reynolds was also quite a gifted vocalist on the three tracks presented here, with a bit more upper-end to his range, which is really shown on the ballad, "Getting Lost Inside Your Love".  However, it is Carroll's guitar work that really steals the show on the majority of these tracks, whether it is the tight rhythm work on "Out For Blood", the hook-laden "Bad Maureen", the catchy-as-sin title track, or the demo-form shredder, "Power To Rock".  "Bad Child" also shows some flash from Carroll, but this song also features one of the best rhythm sections on the whole project and I think it really showcases an edgier, harder sound that would have translated well with the later 80's crowd as hair metal and harder-edged rock were starting to really dominate.  It's really too bad that there is no way to get the original source tapes from this record and to have it properly mixed, as Carroll has told me that there were usually dozens upon dozens of guitar tracks laid down for these songs and that the sound was huge at one time, but, true to the 80's mentality, the tracks were condensed down, the drums (drum machine) was pushed out front, and the sound comes off as a watered down version of what it could have (should have) been.

If you have another version of this record, and you enjoy it, I highly encourage you to seek this new remastered version out, as the sound quality is definitely cleaned up and superior, and the bonus material is a nice addition.  Additionally, the packaging on the reissue is top-notch, with all of the lyrics now included, as well as a new cover, new tray artwork, and an interview with Rex and Larry included in the booklet.  Rex also covers some...but not nearly all...of the issues we discussed in his interview on this site. Kudos to AOR Blvd and Rex for putting together a really nice package here.

It really is too bad that this band didn't get the shot it deserved (to find out why, check out our newly updated interview with Rex Carroll HERE), as I think mid-80s radio would have eaten this record up with the correct push.  As it stands, this is a piece of melodic hard rock history that many still have not heard in a good, clean sounding version, which is exactly what AOR Blvd provides here.

You can order the project directly from Rex's website at www.rexcarrollmusic.com

Rating:  An album I have long-enjoyed is given top-notch treatment here, and the music really is strong here.  Crank this to 7.5.

Back To Reviews Index  

Saturday, April 30, 2016

TALKIN' TRASH WITH...CAREY "KOSHER" WOMACK of ONE BAD PIG!

It's been more than twenty years since Christian punk/thrash/crossover pioneers One Bad Pig last released an album, but that is all about to change, as the Swine have entered the studio to record a new, Kickstarter-funded effort for 2016!  Lead screamer, Carey "Kosher" Womack was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to talk all things One Bad Pig with us, to talk about the long layoff, and about why the band feels now is the perfect time to unleash the Pig once again!

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G2G:  Carey, first I want to thank you for taking time out of your recording schedule to talk with me for a bit...


Kosher:  Absolutely, although I must say that in this case, its not taking time from my recording schedule but from my songwriting, teaching, and pastoring schedule.  I'm in Tennessee currently, where I'm getting ready to teach an Old Testament course at Bethel University, as well as getting ready for weekend worship.  I'll next be in Austin with the guys for recording the week after Mother's Day.  I do want to say thanks so much for doing this interview, as well as for your great support of our new project!

G2G:  I have been such a big fan of the band for so long...I feel like I know you and Paul Q-Pek (guitarist) and Daniel (Tuchek--bassist) on an almost personal level.  In fact, I've corresponded with Paul and Daniel through the mail, of all things!

Kosher:  Awesome!  Thank you!

G2G:  So...is it okay if I call you Kosher?  (Laughing)

Kosher:  Of course...Mr. Parker...

G2G:  (Laughing)  Okay, so, for those not familiar, One Bad Pig is a skate/punk/thrash crossover band that has been together...in one form or another...since the early 80's.  More than 30 years now.  And you've never officially broken up...

Kosher:  Yep...still squealin'...

G2G:  How does the band and your style of music continue working after all of these years?

Kosher:  Well, while our music definitely isn't for everybody, neither is it very specifically and narrowly for a very specific group of people, either.  What I mean by that is our music has never been confined to one very narrow genre.  While its fair to call us a punk band, you can't say that we sound like the Ramones or the Sex Pistols or some other classic punk band.  We also don't sound like the pop punk bands that exploded in the late 80's and the 90's.  We've always been a bit of our own thing, mixing in elements of thrash, metal, and rock n roll, all with plenty of hooks that can be appreciated by anybody.  And, of course, everything we do is topped off with a big dollop of humor and with a real passion for what we are singing about.  So...we don't limit ourselves to a particular time or genre or sound, and we are able to reach and appeal to a greater cross-section of people across different age groups and periods of time.  At least those are my thoughts...you can tell me if you think I'm right...

G2G:  I would agree with that.  There are so many different elements to your sound, especially as you transition from album to album.  There has been a definite evolution to your sound throughout your studio records, but its always still One Bad Pig, without question.  So, can we expect continued growth on this new album?

Kosher:  Oh yeah!  Everyone will hear what is unmistakably One Bad Pig...very familiar...but you'll also hear some new sounds that are brand new to One Bad Pig.  Among other things, this is the very first studio album we have ever done with two guitarists in the band, and Lee Haley is a very different guitarist than Paul Q-Pek, so you really get to hear some great new flavors in each and every song.

G2G:  Speaking of members, One Bad Pig has had something of a revolving door of members throughout the years, with you and Q-Pek being the two consistent cogs in the machine.  Do you keep in touch with members who may have drifted away from the band through the years?  Do you hear from Streak (bassist on Smash), for example?

Kosher:  Unfortunately, Bryan "Streak" Wheeler is the guy that has been the hardest for us to keep up with.  He has had some tough things happen in his life since his time in the band.  Lift him up in your prayers.

Mike Connell and Jon Taylor we keep up with occasionally through social media.  I even saw Jon in Jackson, Tennessee several years ago when he moved to a similar area of Tennessee that I had.

We bump into Kevin Phelan every now and then, but we've connected with him a good deal more recently as he worked with his dad, Carl Phelan, on the "One Bad Pig Forever" book project.

As far as Phillip Owens (drummer on all previous studio albums) goes, God is using him in some astounding ways, and I still regard him as a part of the band that just isn't able to participate in this project.  And that's not to lessen Paul Roraback's contribution as the drummer to this new project, or his place in the band, at all.  He's been great.

G2G:  That's awesome to hear.  So, I have to ask you...why after all of these years, why did you guys say, "you know what?  It's time to unleash the squeal one more time?"

Kosher:  (Laughs)  Well, it was a combination of things.  In January and February of 2015, I made a trip to Austin to be with my dad.  I made it a point to try to arrange a get-together with the guys from the band, and as it turned out, Paul (Q-Pek), Daniel, Phillip. and Lee were able to come out and meet at one of Austin's Chuy's restaurants (a New Mexican twist on Tex Mex with a cool, quirky atmosphere).  Doug Van Pelt showed up as well.  (Interviewer's note:  Doug was the long-time editor of Heaven's Metal Magazine)

Whenever we get together, it's a blast...and it was once again!  We had a great time reminiscing and laughing...mostly laughing...and the conversation turned to whether we were at all interested in trying to get together to do something for our 30th anniversary, which was approaching.  We were all intrigued by the idea, knew we would have fun with it, and felt the Lord would use it.

But...on the other hand...we are all very busy with our lives, responsibilities, and families.  And, being in a band is expensive.   It costs a lot of time, energy, effort...and of course money...and so we had to consider whether it was worth it to try to put something together.

We sensed that our culture needs Jesus more than ever.  We talked about how there were many who walked with the Lord...both in and out of bands...back in our heyday that no longer did so.  But WE do, and WE are just as passionate about Him as ever...if just a bit less energetic and idealistic.  We felt that our continued commitment and conviction to follow Jesus was a statement in and of itself, and we felt like we still had a message to share.

Plus...there were also rumors of a possible AudioFeed booking, but nothing was concrete.

So...fast forward a couple of months, and we were gathered at the house of Carl Phelan, the father of
our founding bassist, Kevin, and grandfather of one of Flyleaf's guitar players.  Carl had already written a book about that band (Flyleaf), and he was working on a self-published book project about us called, "One Bad Pig Forever".  So, we all gathered at his house to have a MAJOR recorded reminiscing session to help him with his research.  Well, we also watched a video of the very first one Bad Pig performance, at the 1985 Zilker Park Labor Day Christian Music Festival.  It was awesome, and really got us excited and thinking even more.

So, again we talked about getting together and about possibly playing AudioFeed, which had become a genuine invitation by this point.  We wondered if we could make it financially work without losing our shirts.  Phillip was interested, but not absolutely positive, as he had to leave a bit early.  We discussed the idea of doing a crowd-funded recording project to stir the interest in the band and to get out the message we had such conviction about...plus, it helps to have new merchandise to helps to provide capital to cover our costs to AudioFeed.  So, we told AudioFeed "yes", but Phillip said he would have to bow out as his daughter was getting married, he was working extra, and he was leading worship at a major conference in Italy, and simply couldn't make his schedule work.       He was disappointed to not be able to participate, but encouraged us to go ahead and play the show with another drummer if we wanted to, which we agreed to do, although we hoped Phillip could still be on the new record.  He is just such a good drummer, writer, singer, and especially friend and brother.  But, as it turned out, Phillip felt it would be too much of a drain on his time and energy at such an important time for him and his family and the ministry that God had called him to.

(The "A Christian Banned" demo)
G2G:  That's too bad because Phillip has basically been there forever, other than the A Christian Banned demo...

Kosher:  Absolutely,  It was very hard, no doubt.  But at the same time, the others of us felt a new
project was absolutely essential to make the trip to AudioFeed in Illinois possible financially...plus, we were excited about it!  So, we agreed to explore drumming and recording possibilities and to see what transpired as we continued to think and pray about it.
(2016 L-R: Roraback, Tuchek, Q-Pek, Kosher, Worley)

Some of the guys had gotten to know Paul Roraback who had been the drummer in Grammatrain and who had also spent a couple of years with Bloodgood.  He had moved to Austin and had done several projects of artful, tasty progressive rock, in which he played guitar and sang.  He had self-produced and recorded these projects...wait for it...at his home studio!  So the Austin-based guys got together with him, prayed about it, and he agreed to drum on the album and to record and engineer the project at his home studio.  Praise the Lord!  Paul is a fantastic brother with a great family who loves the Lord and shares a lot with us.  We have been having a great time getting to know him and spend time with him.

G2G:  So how did the idea to go to Kickstarter come about?

Kosher:  Well, crowd-funding has really changed the music world.  When our deal with Myrrh Records came to an end, Christian record labels were being bought out by secular giants, and they were trimming the rosters to only the artists they felt had big commercial potential.  That meant that not only were bands like us parting ways with Myrrh, but so were awesome artists like Phil Keaggy and The Choir.

In the years since that, the world of technology, the Internet, and crowd-sourcing has made music a lot more feasible for the little guy, so it seemed the obvious...and likely ONLY...way for us to go.

G2G:  Personally, I've been on-board with the band almost since the beginning through the Christian metal underground music and magazine scene of the 80's, so I was glad to contribute to the Kickstarter fund and just so excited that you guys are back and doing a new record!

Kosher:  Thanks for being with us all those years, Arttie.  Those stories mean a lot...

G2G:  Was it hard to get back into "Kosher" shape, vocally, after just being Carey for so many years?

Kosher:  To a certain extent, I was NEVER in Kosher shape!  (Laughing)  If I didn't have my voice loud enough in my monitors, I would just keep pushing harder and harder in a lot of shows to try to make sure I was heard.  So keeping my voice from getting shredded was always a challenge.  That said, the years have made hitting the high notes harder to hit, and its taking some work to try to get the stamina back.

The other challenge is that we've always written and rehearsed tuned together before...and sometimes to a small extent, after...going into the studio.  But now, with technology, I'm hearing a rough mix of tracks for my rehearsal purposes before even arriving in Austin to record vocals, not having worked through them live with the band.  After all these years, that is actually particularly hard.  I also have a weird timing issue, partly due to me being a music fan first, before being a musician.

I'm also going to need to get into MUCH better shape physically.  I've lost a lot of weight in the last year, but I really need to get my cardio up for a proper Pig gig!

(1991 album, I Scream Sundae)
G2G:  Too many ice cream sundaes? (laughing)


Kosher:  Yeah, too many ice cream sundaes and a lot of other stuff for the prior weight gain!  But, or course I was never a little guy.  It's more about spending too many hours in front of a screen or in a car and not enough chasing my kids, working outside, playing basketball, swimming or running.

G2G:  Back to your voice for a second.  Was it a conscious effort to get something akin to a pig's squeal at the top end of your vocals...as in "Bowl Of Wrath" or "You're A Pagan"...or is that just how your voice comes out?

Kosher:  Actually, on that particular squeal at the beginning of "Bowl Of Wrath", that was some kind of little toy that I think Phillip had picked up.  We recorded it on several tracks, slapped some effects on it, and there you have it.

However, I think Billy's (Billy Smiley, producer on all previous OBP records) favorite part of recording was when we got to a part where I was doing some really serious squealing/screaming.  They'd get me going on it and I would watch him just doubling over with laughter in the sound booth.  The fact that Billy is still rocking and getting ready to release the Union Of Saints And Sinners today is that I gave him an injection of youth through all that laughter he enjoyed at my expense.

G2G:  I want to take you back to the 80's for a minute.  It seems to me that there was a lot more of a Christian metal community at that time.  I mentioned to someone in another interview...maybe it was Rey Parra or Rex Carroll...that I always had this sense that everyone at Pure Metal Records, or everyone at Sanctuary Church...whatever...that they all just hung out and barbecued and were great friends and such.  Is there any reality to that belief?

Kosher:  I think there was a lot of community that occurred, but not necessarily centered in the labels.  That may be more true of some labels than others, though.  For instance, in our time with our first label, Pure Metal, we were geographically isolated from the label itself, from the other bands on the label, etc., and we basically did nothing with them.  Community occurred when there was real opportunity for relationship, especially for bands who were in it with sincere motives, when we found ourselves at an event or at a show together.  There was an instant camaraderie born of shared purposes and commitments.  And, if we were in it for the Lord, we tended not to take ourselves too seriously or have a prima dona complex.

(Bloodgood's 1986 self-titled album)
So, that's why you would see the guys from Bloodgood, Whitecross, and other bands bigger than us banging their heads on our live video.  We wore Bloodgood's wireless mics for that  show.  There was definitely an "all for one" or perhaps better said, "all for THE One" attitude on a lot of occasions.

I also think the Sanctuary bands had a community because they lived near each other, they worshiped together...at least in some cases...and they shared similar spiritual leadership.  But, once again, it comes down to relationships.  That's the basis of real community.  And, if shared relationships with the Lord are involved, the process is facilitated and hastened, partly because "How shall brothers walk together, except they be agreed".

G2G:  I talk with Rex Carroll from time to time...just yesterday, in fact...and he said much the same thing.  Which kind of leads me to my next question.  There seems to be several more Christian bands hitting the mainstream now...Skillet, Thousand Foot Krutch, Red, Flyleaf, etc., but they all play festivals with secular bands and tour with secular bands...not that there's anything wrong with that at all.  But I do wonder if there is that same sense of camaraderie there.  The 80's Christian scene just seemed so tight and so organic...  Maybe that was due to the more underground nature of the scene...

Kosher:  Well, it's a much different strategy in the model you are talking about today.  I suspect that much of the ministry that takes place in those circumstances are the Christian bands forming authentic relationships with other bands, roadies, tour personnel, etc.  Not all will be open to their relationships with the Lord, but some will.  And, the are actively bringing light into the world.  They may not shut down the music and preach a sermon with an altar call, like Glenn Kaiser (Resurrection Band/Rez)...or even your's truly...but they are not in an atmosphere that is conducive to that.  I hope that they are doing it that way because they feel called to do so.  If they're serious about serving the Lord, that's a tougher road because its a more lonely, more challenging atmosphere.  But, I believe God is using many of them in great ways.

G2G:  Did you encounter any bands who were in the scene for the wrong reasons?  There are a couple of regularly mentioned instances...

Kosher:  Yes, but I'm not naming names!  (Laughs)  Bear in mind that a lot of people in many of these bands were young and immature, getting their first taste of fame...even as a medium perch in a small pond...away from home, and perhaps they had spent more time emulating their rock and roll heroes than Jesus.  Others wanted to commit their music to the Lord but weren't sure what that meant.  And of course, we were all human.  We were assuming roles that carried great responsibility, so we were role models whether we liked it or not.  But the proper role to play was not perfect saint on a pedestal.  Ideally, we would model a humble,authentic desire to serve and followJesus, while being real but not parading our brokenness.

All of us in One Bad Pig had our moments, as we.  One of us had an interaction with a girl...nothing scandalous, but not appropriate...that later came to the attention of Glenn Kaiser.  He called me up and asked that we deal with it biblically and seriously, and we did.  I, myself, had more than one instance in which I was confronted about significant sin of one kind or another.  We took it seriously, we involved our pastors, I repented, and I took steps to change my behavior.

The bands to be concerned about were the ones willing to portray themselves on a pedestal and the ones...sometimes the same bands...who had little-to-no interest in authentically serving the Lord or walking closely with Him.  And, while I know I saw that on several occasions, we need to be careful about where we point our judging finger.

Look, some of these bands were being forced into the ministry band mold, and they were not even called to do that.  All believers are called to be true to the Lord, but our specific callings, especially vocationally ad publicly, can be quite different.  Some of these bands had members whose faith was not truly owned by them or fully formed.  Some were just playing a role.  I think its a key question for any believer in the arts; what exactly is God calling ME to do with my art?  Some people will say that being evangelistic or message-driven with our art is just propaganda and that it is bastardizing the value and authenticity of our art.  I would argue that our art, such that it is, is not "selling our faith", or some such thing, rather it is so much a part of who we ARE and what we are ABOUT that it IS an authentic expression.

G2G:  Looking back now, did you have any inkling that One Bad Pig would be recording a new album some thirty years after this thing started?  I know you couldn't have known specifically, but did it ever occur to you that you might be onto something really lasting and special?

Kosher:  Thinking about when or if we thought that we had something special...in a way, EVERYTHING that has happened has been a huge surprise.  But, at the same time, from very early on there have been inklings.

I don't know how much your readers know about the origins of the band, but it was really kind of an accident.  In fact, it was a joke.  Two threads of events among a certain group of friends in Austin, Texas led to the birth of the Pig.  In Thread 1, as I am sure is the case in many locales, a bunch of us who were interested in edgier Christian music had managed to find each other.  One regular activity that we developed coincided with our weekly Christian rock radio show.  Paul Q-Pek was a disc jockey at KIXL, an AM Christian radio station that allowed him a slot on Friday and Saturday nights where he could play whatever was hot and rocking in the Christian scene.  Some of us got the idea to go down to some of the punk and metal clubs in town after the radio show and engage in street witnessing with the kids and people who were there.  I can remember running down the sidewalks with a couple of friends singing early Undercover and Altar Boys songs acappella.

G2G:  I would imagine that was a sight!

Kosher:  Right?!  Well, Thread 2 is that several of us had heard about the first ever Cornerstone Music Festival in the summer of 1984.  A guy named Curtis Tarpley and I drove up to that first one together in my VW Bug.  It was AWESOME!  For Cornerstone '85, we brought Q-Pek and Melvin Gene "Freedom" Noble, a West-Texas bred Jesus hippie who was totally into JPUSA (Jesus People USA), creators of the festival.  We stopped in a suburb of St. Louis at a Pizza Hut for lunch, and they
(KSHE's SweetMeat)
were doing a promotion with a local rock radio station, KSHE, selling these wraparound chrome sunglasses with the KSHE logo on it.  We thought it was a tough looking pig (which turned out to be a female pig named Sweet Meat), and I saw that and said, "Man, that is one bad pig!"  Paul said that sounded like the name of a punk band, and it was the start of a running joke that would last the entire trip...and then beyond!

So, weaving those threads together, a bunch of us had been working on planning a local Christian music festival in Austin caled the Zilker Park Labor Day Christian Music Festival.  After we got home, we thought, "why not play a short set as One Bad Pig, as sort of a joke?"  Our weekend radio schedule began adding music rehearsals to our agenda after that.  Freedom wasn't able to play, so we found a bass playing friend, Kevin Phelan.  We decided we needed a drum kit, so we recruited a young drummer from Q-Pek's band, named Phillip Owens.  We worked on covers of some Lifesavors and Undercover songs, and I wrote the lyrics to an original song that Paul set to music.  It was called "Anarchy Is Prison", and it was directed at the anarchist philosophy espoused by at least some punks.
Well, on Labor Day, we did our thing and it was outrageous!  It was also ROUGH!  (Laughing)  It was also, by far, the most aggressive act at the festival.  We went into it with a bizarre combination of treating it as both a joke and something serious at the same time.  As the band cam on stage, a svelte, shirtless Paul Q-Pek, with a full head of hair leading the way, I came barreling down the hill from behind the audience, screaming and leaping onto the stage to deliver something never seen or heard before...PIG MUSIC!  Playing up the pig reference, I delivered a sermonette that riffed off of George Orwell's Animal Farm, screaming at the crowd, "We are One Bad Pig, YOU are One Bad Pig!", saying that we were all unacceptable to God unless washed clean by Jesus' blood.

The thing is, despite offending our share of the crowd, a large number responded positively, even if they hated the music.  We prayed with some audience members backstage after the show, and a friend led one person to the Lord, bringing them over to pray with us.  People said they could sense God using One Bad Pig that day.  From there we started working our way into clubs that we had been witnessing outside of.  Repeatedly, we had the experience of seeing an open door, praying about it, then walking through.  I don't know that we ever foresaw the scope of the impact we were to have, but all along the way we kept getting glimmers, and open doors, and we kept walking through.  It was as though God was giving light for the next few steps but never really telling us the final destination.

Now, it was not all one smooth slope.  There were all sorts of bumps, lulls, and interruptions along the way,  Yet, one thing kept astounding us--God would use something foolish in the eyes of the world, something that started as a joke...our band...and if we would just make ourselves available and allow Him to use us, He would do just that,

G2G:  Here am I...

Kosher:  Exactly.  So, in a sense, every new step and every new opportunity was...and is...a surprise we would never have anticipated along the way.  But, on the other hand, He's done it so often that all these surprises aren't surprising at all.

G2G:  You mention offending a segment of the crowds at your early shows, and I was going to ask about that, so it worked out perfectly.  Did you have a lot of push back, a lot of doors shut in your face due to your look, sound, name, etc?

Kosher:  Absolutely.  In fact, that's the source of the name of the first, self-released demo EP, A Christian Banned.  There was a local punk label who liked us called Unclean Records.  The owner really wanted to sign us.  However, he was distributed by a big punk distributor in California and they refused to sign us because we were "too Christian", even though punk was all about self-expression.  Within a day or so of hearing that disappointing news, we were turned down to play a coffeehouse hosted by a local church that met at a shopping center.  We had even previously played there.  Why?  Because we were "too worldly".  So, we found ourselves, in the words of the great Mark Heard, "...too sacred for the sinners/And the saints wish I would leave/Now I'm stuck here in the middle..."

G2G:  Alright, let's fast forward to a bit more success for the band, because it really isn't all that far down the road that you find yourself working with a man many consider to be THE original punk...the original rebel...Johnny Cash...

Kosher:  Yep.  What an honor it was to work with Johnny.  That voice was AMAZING!  He was so humble, and he really wanted to serve the Lord and to contribute to what we were doing.  Very cool.  We need a lot more like Johnny around.  It was very clear that he wasn't a perfect man, but his transparency about that and his need for Christ made his faith and testimony that much more real and powerful.

(L-R: Phillip, Kosher, Johnny, Daniel, Q-Pek)
There was actually talk later of us getting to do the Tonight Show, or something like that, with Johnny, but that talk never got very far.  We've never really been able to do "The Man In Black" live before, but this summer we're going to get to do it, at least on one or two occasions.  There's an Austin band called The Band In Black that started by doing Johnny Cash covers, and now does originals in that same vein.  Their singer, Jason Birdwell, does a pretty mean Johnny impression, and he's going to do it live with us a time or two.

G2G:  So, how did the Johnny Cash teaming even come about?  You aren't exactly likely to show up on the same radar screen very often...

Kosher:  We had several special guests on our first two records with Billy Smiley, and we really wanted everything on our third record, I Scream Sunday, to be just us, unless we had one REALLY special guest on the album.  So, the Johnny Cash connection started as a case of our people talking to his people, specifically our A&R guy, Mark Maxwell.  After it became a realistic possibility, Paul Q-Pek worked up the great arrangement of the song, "The Man In Black".  I recorded my vocal part and a scratch vocal of Johnny's part.

As the time approached to make some final decisions, a few things happened.  I had gone back to Austin to leave the mixes to the other guys, and we got invited to a John, Jr. 18th Birthday Bash being held at a massive club out in the boonies outside of Nashville.  I had read Johnny's book, The Man In White, a novella about the Apostle Paul's conversion upon encountering the Man in white on the road to Damascus, and I was impressed.  A lot of people were.  Even Billy Graham called it the best fictional treatment of Paul he had ever read.  But I was not only impressed with the book, but
also with Johnny's forward to the book in which he explained how he came to write it and much about his spiritual walk.  I wrote him quite a long letter explaining what we were about and what I hoped would be contributed to our mission as a band by his participation in the project.

The record company flew me back out to be there for John, Jr.'s party. and we went with the hope and expectation of meeting Johnny and spending a little time with him, getting to pitch the idea of him doing the duet.  But, as it turned out, this place was packed with hundreds and hundreds of country music elite.  It was filled with smoke and warm bodies an is perhaps the most crowded place I've ever been in my life.  We finally saw Johnny and June take the stage, along with John Jr., and a bunch of others.  But, not very long after that, Johnny announced that June was not feeling very well and that they were unfortunately going to have to leave early.

They started up an aisle from the stage with a press of people and security all around them.  I began to fight my way through the crowd as quickly as I could and spilled outside the door at the top of the stairs just after Johnny had done the same.  With trepidation, I called out to him and told him who I was and handed him this letter.  The next day he called and tld his manager that he wanted to do this One Bad Pig thing.

G2G:  Awesome!

Kosher:  So...the record company flew me back to Austin and then back out again for the recording session.  As we waited for things to get underway, we heard of several print publications that were going to come out and record the session for posterity.  This also included the Crook & Chase country television show.  We were so excited that we were going to have a larger audience to spread the gospel to with this opportunity!  One by one, we learned that none of these organizations were going to be able to come and cover the session that day, however.  We were disappointed.  Not only that, but Johnny was also quite late in arriving.

After a period of time, Daniel suggested we go outinto the larger recording room and spend some time in prayer.  We circled up and began to pray.  It was during that time that Johnny showed up, and he explained to us that he had been on a deathwatch at his mother's bedside.  However, he told us he really wanted to do this with us and he felt he needed to get away for a little while.  Daniel invited him to join the circle and pray with us and we did so.  What a powerful time!

Johnny was incredible.  I cringed every time Billy Smiley would offer a suggestion or ask him to do another take, but Johnny was great and always humble obliged.  Afterwards we posed for pictures and shot Silly String at each other.

As I was traveling home that night, I was reading in Mark's gospel about how Peter protested when Jesus said he was to be arrested and killed.  You might remember that Jesus told Peter, "Get behind me, Satan!"  As I read that passage, I heard the Lord speak to me, "Get behind me, Satan!  You are concerned about the things of men rather than the things of God.  I didn't need you today to proclaim my name on some television show.  I needed you there to pray with one of my children."

Even as I tell you that story today, Arttie, I get tears in my eyes.

It was only last year when we were reminiscing for Carl's book project that I learned that Johnny's mother recovered from that illness and went on to live a few more years.  By the way, I've learned that Carl has had some health probles and I encourage everyone to lift him up in prayer.

G2G:  So, Kosher, as we speak, you Kickstarter goal has been met and surpassed, including the stretch goal which allows for vinyl pressings of the new record.  What does it feel like to you guys to still mean so much to your fans after all these years?

Kosher:  We are thrilled!  And humbled!  It just blows us away what the Lord continues to do, and we are doing our dead level best to really make it worth everybody's while.  We're bathing it in prayer and working really hard.  The creativity of the guys in the band is awesome.  You know, Billy Smiley was the producer on all of our previous releases, and he's already let us know that he really likes how it's sounding.

It's also great to know that not only will we really get to do the CD, we will also for sure now be able to do the vinyl record.  That is so cool, and we are stoked.

I don't know how many shows we are going to get to do with this, but I do know that just like always, it's going to be 110% mayhem and 110% ministry all the way.  No holding anything back.

G2G:  You teack at a college, correct?  I teach high school, myself.

Kosher:  Really?

G2G:  Yeah, I work with juvenile offenders and struggling kids...

Kosher:  That's awesome, Arttie.  I'm a full-time pastor, but I am teaching an Old Testament course as an adjunct at Bethel University in McKenzie, Tennessee this semester.  I truly enjoy it.

When I lived in Austin, I worked over a decade in a hospital/treatment center for head-injured and multiple-diagnosis behavioral disorder patients.  Most of that time I spent working in an accredited school they had on campus.  Then, the last year and a half in Austin, I worked with our county's juvenile offender intervention program, intended as a last gasp attempt before the kids hit the state system.  So, I have some ideas of what you're dealing with.

G2G:  That's awesome...

Kosher:  When we moved to Tennessee and I went back to finish college, I got my degree and teaching certificate in Exceptional Learning and Development (Special Education).  That was before going on to seminary, even though that was the plan all along.

G2G:  I am also endorsed in Special Education...

Kosher:  Very cool...very cool...

G2G:  So, do any of your students know the "Kosher" side of Mr. Womack?

Kosher:  I've mentioned it, but so far they seem pretty unimpressed.  (Laughs)  I'm going to tell a good story from back in the day on Monday, though, so we'll see where that goes. (Laughs)

There's a guy that comes into the math class that meets in our room right after us who connected with me around St. Paddy's Day...you know, all things Irish.  He really likes a lot of the Irish punk bands
(Chicago punks, Flatfoot 56)
like the Dropkick Murphys, so I referred him to Flatfoot 56.  By the way, those who like that kind of thing will be particularly interested in one song on the new record...

It's funny where Pig connections come up, though.  We have some kids at church who go to high school in the next county up.  Their band director, it turns out, is a big Pig fan!

G2G:  So, you're packing up the Pig van for a big show.  How many cans of Silly String go?

Kosher:  Well, I guess that depends on the money left over from the Kickstarter campaign!  (Laughs)  Just kidding...mostly!  In general, we have two cans per band member per show, plus two for our onstage hand, and a few backups.  So, for a standard show, around 15 or so.  For a really big show, with maybe more active stage hands, more like 25.

Pretty early on, particularly when we were a four piece, we decided if we were going to travel with one extra person, we were better off traveling with a stage hand than with a sound guy, and we were right.

G2G:  How about guitars to smash?
(The One Bad Pig SMASH logo)

Kosher:  It depends.  How many guitars can we find cheap?  (Laughs)  Yeah, that's right Pig fans, we;re not out there smashing $5000 guitars...or $500 guitars for that matter...night after night.  We usually go to a pawn shop and say, "Do you have any guitars that you don't have out right now?

Maybe something that's in such bad shape you're embarrassed to put it out right now...", and we go from there.

Of course, we take donations, as well.  (In his best advertisement voice)  Do YOU have a guitar whose better days are way behind it?  An instrument that fights instead of plays?  A six-string that screeches unknown notes instead of sings?  Bring it to us and we will help it go out in splinters of glory!  (Laughs)

Anyway...what were you asking?

G2G:  (Laughing)  How many do you take?

Kosher:  Oh, yeah.  At least one more than we think we'll need.  For a small, routine show, it may just be me smashing one guitar, or perhaps me and an audience member.  For a bigger gig, we'd like to have multiple smashes, and it depends on what we can afford.  Of course, we offered as Kickstarter rewards the opportunity to smash a guitar with us on-stage at either the Audiofeed Festival or the album release show in Austin on June 24.  To be honest, we haven't completely planned our stage set ye, so who knows how many stringed instruments we may have?

G2G:  Do you still give on-stage haircuts?

Kosher:  (Laughs)  Let's Be Frank, Arttie, big hair, long hair...it's not nearly the problem it was 25 years ago.  And, government regulations are likely much more stringent today.  I'd rather eat a Bowl of Wrath!  Frankly, I don't care if a guy's (or girl's) hair looks like a Birdnest, I'm not likely to give them a haircut.  In fact, I may tell them to Take A Flying Leap!  And, if someone doesn't like the way I'm answering this question, I say, "Take A Look At Yourself!"  Ask me if I'm scared; tell me if you See Me Sweat!  (Interviewer's note...all of the above entries in capital letters are titles of One Bad Pig songs that Kosher was throwing in for amusement...)

Actually, we have a large back catalog of songs filled with antics, and we're not going to be doing each and every one of them.  Not likely to get many two and a half hour sets these days.  And we want to play a bunch of these great new songs, so...I don't know about the haircuts.  We'll see what happens.


G2G:  My kids are 8 and 4 and are big "Big Bad Pig" fans, as my 4 year old calls you.  He loves "For A Good Man" and "Birdnest" and "Smash The Guitar", while my 8-year old loves "Never Forget The Cross" and will sing "We Want You" at the top of his lungs.  I realize you don't play out a lot now, but did you see a lot of multi-generational families at shows?

Kosher:  It's funny, but we've seen a lot of young children, down to toddler age...

G2G:  Piglets!

(One Bad Pig's label debut)
Kosher:  (Laughs)  Piglets, yes!  We've seen a lot who love One Bad Pig.  We don't know exactly what that says about our musical credibility.  Purple dinosaurs, Teletubbies, Bad Pigs?!  I can remember when A Christian Banned came out, how a couple were absolutely delighted at how much their 2 year old loved to dance crazily to One Bad Pig.  I think we've seen the growth of the multi-generational thing as the years have passed and parents, like you, have passed it on.  However, we haven't gotten to see it a ton at shows because we've played so seldom over the last 10-15 years.  Since we're hoping to do at least a little flurry of shows with this project, it will be something fun to watch out for.  We'll definitely be looking for the Parker kids!  (Laughs)

(New album artwork!)

G2G:  Well, now that the album has been fully funded, and the name has been dropped (Mitch Connell Presents Love You To Death is the title, with Connell winning his name on the cover as part of the Kickstarter campaign), it seems natural to ask if this will be the "swine song" for the band, or more of a rebirthing of sorts.  Could you see the band doing another record...maybe even just an EP every now and then?

Kosher:  Here's a good rule of thumb for One Bad Pig:  never say never!  Personally, I can't stand EPs!  If you've got five good songs, designed a cover, mixed and mastered, and paid to have them pressed up, by all means, take a little more time and give us five or ten more songs!  That's one of my little pet peeves.

But, to your question, who would have ever believed that God would use us like He already has?  Who would have ever believed we would record again after 25 years?  Let's not get in a hurry and decide what God's going to do a year from now.  As a matter of fact, right now I'm working on a song about giving God room to work, giving the Holy Spirit room to breathe.  So, let's just see what happens.

G2G:  Any chance this new tour...or at least these new shows...could be recorded for a new DVD or live album?

Kosher:  There is indeed a chance, but we don't know what will come of it right now.  The best chance to see the Pig is to make it to Austin, to Audiofeed in Illinois, or to try to line up having us come to your community, wherever you may be.

G2G:  Carey, it has been amazing to talk to you after all of these years of loving what you do.  I'm so very happy that you guys have met your Kickstarter goals, that you have a new album and some new dates scheduled...it just makes me smile!  For those who want to know, how many dates do you currently have lined up, and where?  Is there a website of some sort people can follow, or just Facebook?

Kosher:  Arttie, I've enjoyed this as well.  Are you planning on going to Audiofeed?  Hoping I can bump into you.

G2G:  Kind of like the Pig, never say never... (Laughs)

Kosher:  (Laughs)  Awesome.  At this point, I think Facebook is probably a lot more current than our website.  As we make changes to get the website more current, we will announce it on Facebook.  We'll also announce project updates, new live shows, and perhaps some teasers on Facebook as well.
If someone wants us to get a message directly to or from them, they can message us and give us their email address.

We'll be keeping our Kickstarter supporters regularly updated on that page, also.  We also want to leave information about basic pre-orders and where those can take place just as soon as we can get that set up. 

As far as shows, right now we only have the two "Written in Stone" dates:  Audiofeed in Urbana, Illinois from July first through the third, and in Austin, Texas on June 24.  That's the album release show.  We also have a date in mind, June 30, in or around Camden, Tennessee, but nothing is concrete, so more details will some as we can finalize them.  Other than that, we have a few possibilities being discussed, mostly in Texas.  In terms of doing much more traveling, that depends upon the level of interest and who wants to help us make it happen.  We just want the Lord to use us.

G2G:  Thanks again, Carey...sorry, Kosher...for sharing so much with us.  I've really had a blast!

Kosher:  Blessings to you, your family, your website, and your students, Arttie.  And thank you.

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There it is folks...straight from the Pig's mouth!  Be on the lookout for the new One Bad Pig record sometime in June of 2016, and keep an eye open for the band to possibly play a show or two in the Midwest this summer.  You can check out the band's website at www.onebadpig.com , but as Kosher said, it is not overly up-to-date.  Facebook is a good way to track the band and their schedule, and you can do that here.  There is also a One Bad Pig fanpage on Facebook at this location.  AND...if you haven't had a chance, check out our review of Swine Flew right here on G2G!


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