Sunday, September 20, 2020

RELENT "Heart Attack"

 

(c) 2020 Rockfest Records

  1. Six Feet Under Me
  2. Changed
  3. Rise
  4. Without You
  5. Send A Miracle
  6. Addicted
  7. Surrendered
  8. Low
  9. Jesus Freak
Miggy--Vocals
Josh--Guitars
Chris--Guitars
Bruce--Bass
Gaston--Drums

Ah, Nu-Metal.  If there has ever been a more maligned sub-genre of heavy metal, I don't know what it was, and, to a degree, I get it.  Once Korn broke big, bands started to try to take elements of that band's sound and formula and recreate the magic.  The problem was that in doing so, Nu-Metal copied itself so much in the late 90s/early 2000s that it imploded in exactly the same manner that hair metal did in the early 90s.  There was just so little originality left in the genre, and as a result very few bands from that once thriving scene managed to survive.

But, as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV), "all things have become new" and Nu-Metal has started to re-emerge in the modern hard rock scene, albeit with some much-needed upgrades to production and a more intense focus on quality songwriting (thankfully!).  One of the bands I am expecting big things from in this updated scene is San Antonio's own Relent.  Wait...did I just suggest a new Christian band could make an impact on the current musical scene?  I did, indeed, and there is zero doubt that Relent fits the bill for the style of band that the modern hard music scene is hungry for, and the reissued edition of their debut EP, Heart Attack, is exactly the vehicle to introduce this extremely talented band!  
Recently signed to Rockfest Records, Relent has just dropped the revamped version of Heart Attack, complete with new artwork and two new songs, stretching the EP from seven tracks to a nearly full album of nine songs.  

The album kicks off with a flurry of crunch and grind from the rhythm guitars in that stop-start chugging fashion so many of the 90s heavy rock bands used, accompanied by a bit more bass than a lot of people may be expecting.  The drums are hard-hitting as well, and from the get go it is evident Relent is out to do something most bands are not doing today with their style and sound.  Miggy's vocals are going to draw a huge amount of attention throughout the record, as there is a definite style similarity to that of Lajon Witherspoon from Sevendust, most of which is derived from the soulful delivery utilized, as well as the ability to both add and subtract a gritty edge when the song calls for it.  From the first note he sang, it was obvious to me that Miggy was going to be a big draw for me with Relent.  

Anyone who says they don't hear bits of Korn in the next track, "Changed", has likely never actually heard 90s-era Korn.  The spoke rap section that intros the song just reeks of something that Jonathan Davis would work into a song, and Miggy absolutely nails the delivery here!  The bass is thick and rumbling beneath the entire track, and the quirky rhythm guitar line here is top shelf stuff!  There are some swirling lead guitars thrown into the discordant mix here and a sick breakdown, just for good measure!  A song about true change from within, "Changed" is blistering nu-metal track that has a little bit of everything good about that style, along with some more modern elements...especially in the production...to update the sound in great fashion.  Definitely one of my favorites here.

While "Low" is the current single (more on that in a bit), I think "Rise" has to be strongly considered for the next track to impact radio.  Once again, while the music is perfectly filled with chugging riffs and thundering drums, it is Miggy that steals the show with his vocal prowess.  Bordering on rap-styled vocals on the second verse, Miggy also delivers that Sevendust-inspired, edge-laden crooning style that just demands to be listened to!  Another excellent track to start the record that will likely have most listeners completely hooked by now.

Miggy is likely at his most aggressive on the next track, "Without You", as his aggro-vocals take on an almost bestial snarl in places, especially when ripping through the words "why?!" and "try" on the pre-chorus sections.   A song asking Christ "where would I be without You?", this is a perfect example of the band not watering down their faith in the lyrics and also remaining just as uncompromising in the aggression of the track's music and performance.

Introduced by Miggy singing the song's title in acapella fashion, "Send A Miracle" features the most punishing breakdown of the record, with Miggy imploring the band to hit the listeners with a "Faith Bomb" multiple times, and this track is pure Sevendust...and God...worship, which I dig in a big way!  Truly excellent stuff on this track that I find myself hitting repeat on numerous times when it comes up.

"Addicted" is another track that I believe has single written all over it.  Featuring some computer-enhanced synth vocals along with a rap section and yet another brutal breakdown, "Addicted" should be all over both Christian and secular modern rock stations the second it is released.

"Surrendered" finds Miggy singing that "on my knees I find my place, at Your feet I give You praise" as he tells a personal tale of surrendering to his Creator, with the most metallic rhythm riffing of the record accompanying him.  Pure intensity fuels the verse sections of this punishing track, while a more melodic approach is used in the choruses, with Miggy again adopting a Witherspoon approach to his soaring, power-filled approach to singing.  Some electronic elements fill in what musical gaps may exist in this dense song, and I would anticipate metal stations may snap this song up even if it is never dropped as a single.    

The last two tracks here are the new additions to Heart Attack.  "Low" is the current single and it has been blasting its way across multiple playlists and charts, Christian and secular alike, garnering airplay on terrestrial radio stations, as well as Octane on the satellite, and TheBlast.FM and ChristianHardRock.Net on the Web!  Tackling depression and addiction, "Low" has enjoyed a huge amount of success at Christian radio, and has also crossed over to Octane on SiriusXM.  Heck, it has even been re-released in Spanish form.  With a big bottom end, both clean and aggro vocals, and some serious crunch to the guitars, "Low" is a great indicator of what to expect from Relent and the rest of the Heart Attack release.




The album rounds out with an interesting song choice, as the band tackles one of the more popular Christian hard rock tracks of the past couple of decades in DC Talk's "Jesus Freak".  Let's be honest; deciding to take on a track with that much popularity takes a level of confidence a lot of bands don't possess...and rightfully so!  Relent, however, not only takes the track on headfirst, they aren't afraid to experiment a bit and make the track their own.  For starters, the Relent version is noticeably heavier and down-tuned, bringing out an angrier, darker tone.  The bass is aggressive here, and the guitars have a bottom-end crunch that wasn't present in the 90's hard-edged alt rock style that DC Talk utilized.  Another thing that will immediately catch people is the slight change in the delivery of the lyrics in the chorus.  So catchy and so sing-along is the song that people are invariably going to jump in and join the band, but when Miggy stretches the word "they" a bit, everyone that is singing along will already be onto the word "hear" already.  I know I was!   There are a couple of other minor differences here and there, but not to the point the song is unrecognizable and fans of the DC Talk version will likely enjoy this take, as well, though there is no doubt that Relent's version is definitely the heavier, more aggressive version by a good stretch.   

As much as I hate it when people say, "such and such band is the Christian version of so-and-so", it is going to be very obvious that Relent is heavily influenced by my favorite Nu-Metal band, Sevendust, and elements of P.O.D., Pillar, and even a little bit of Korn filter through the mix.  Never, however, do you feel like you are listening to a knock-off band, however, as Relent is a band all their own, with an approach that will have fans instantly fist-pounding and head-banging along!  To drop a likely over-used pun, Relent is absolutely relentless in their approach, both musically and lyrically, leaving no doubt as to what they are about.  

Rating:  Oh so crankable...and so difficult to pry out of my player!  Crank that dial to 9!

DISCIPLE "Love Letter Kill Shot Deluxe Edition"

 

(c) 2020 Tooth & Nail Records


  1. Cuff The Criminal
  2. Reanimate
  3. Wake Up
  4. Panic Room (Featuring Andrew Schwab of Project 86)
  5. Play To Win
  6. Fire Away
  7. Misery
  8. Chemical Wisdom
  9. Never Too Late
  10. Touch of Pain
  11. Walk With Me
  12. Best Thing Ever
  13. Darkness Dies (New)
  14. Enemy (New)
  15. Kingdom Come (New)
Kevin Young--Lead Vocals
Josiah Prince--Guitar, Bass, Backing Vocals
Andrew Stanton--Guitars
Joey West--Drums, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians
Dane Allen--Backing Vocals
Andrew Schwab--Guest Vocals on "Panic Room"

Okay, allow me to rant for just a second.  I LOVE when bands release new music.  Love it.  It is something that I look forward to with great anticipation, whether it is new bands that I am excited to hear from for the first time, or long-established favorites that I get to hear something new from.  It just gets me jacked up thinking about it!  BUT...I hate, and I mean HATE, when bands re-issue an album that isn't even two years old with new material on it (Skillet, I'm looking at you!).  I'm then left with three choices, none of which makes me very happy.  One, I can re-purchase the entire album, and then have to figure out what to do with the original.  Two, I can digitally purchase the new songs and then rip the original CD and burn it again with the new songs included.  Three, I can just live without the music.  Well, option three ain't happening, folks, which really leaves only options one and two, and neither is ideal.  And with Disciple, you only have option two because the three new tracks are only available as digital downloads (which could send me off on an entirely different rant, but I'll let that go for another day).  Why not just hold off until you have two or three more songs, maybe a remix and a live track also, and then drop a physical EP?  I get that with the lack of touring going on bands need to come up with ways to generate an income, and I am more than happy to help out in that arena, but I am still a physical-product guy and I hate being backed into the digital-only corner.  Anyway...rant over...for now....

Disciple has re-released their latest album, Love Letter Kill Shot with three new tracks, much to the excitement of a fairly rabid fanbase.  I have attended a lot of shows from a lot of bands, and I haven't come across many bands that have the devotion that Disciple fans have, which is an awesome thing since Disciple is also a band that gives a lot back to their fans.  It's a truly symbiotic relationship.  As such, I am certain the band is currently selling thousands of downloads of the three new tracks, and probably hundreds of downloads of the new album in its entirety.  Me, I just went with the three new tracks, which I then burned onto a CD with the entire album to make my own "deluxe CD-R" of the album.  According to Joey West on a live Instagram video earlier this summer, there are currently no plans to put out a physical re-issue of the album, although that could change at some point OR, as I mentioned in my rant above, I could see the songs being released at a later point on an EP, similar to what the band did with the Vultures EP a few years ago.  

For the purpose of this particular review, I will only be covering the new songs.  If you want to go back and read my thoughts on the full Love Letter Kill Shot album, just click on the album title and you can check that out. (Hint...I love this record!)  

The first of the three new tracks is, in my opinion, by far the best, and one of my favorite Disciple songs in years...which is saying a lot.  I absolutely love "Darkness Dies"!  Love...it...!  The album kicks off with some electronic elements, but then a big, aggressive drum fill from Joey fires the song into motion, and once the rhythm guitars kick in, things are off and running.  Again, there are some subtle electronic elements running beneath the first verse, which Kevin delivers with a slightly breathy approach, before the pre-chorus hits telling the listener to "put your money where your mouth is, put your faith in what you're doubting, if there's no telling where the Truth is, they why (do) you keep looking?!"  From here, the soaring chorus bursts forth, with Kevin singing, "I'm not a savior, I'm just a man, and I'll let you down if you give me a chance...", imploring people to seek the Light rather than look to man for answers to their struggles in life.  Following the second chorus run there is a breakdown of sorts, and while there is no true guitar solo, the six string work here is top notch and aggressive!  I repeat this song two or three times every time it comes up, no exaggeration.



"Enemies" is up next, and it is, in my opinion, everything "Darkness Dies" is not.  "Enemies" starts off with an angry-sounding Kevin screaming "I only have nightmares when my eyes are open!"  Then a staccato guitar chug-chug-chugs to life, crunching alongside the pounding drums through the verse sections, before a slightly more melodic chorus.  Kevin's angry tone is incorporated throughout the second verse, and those hard-hitting rhythm guitar riffs just reek of anger and aggression in a way that Disciple hasn't really delivered in some time.  Yes, "Panic Room" hits hard on this record, and there are some aggressive tunes on each of the past several albums, but "Enemies" takes that aggression to a new level.  Stop-start electronic effects are added into the mix, and then seemingly out of nowhere a soaring, melodic guitar solo sings out (I'm guessing from Stanton, as it sounds like his style of playing), which leads the track into the final run through the chorus, with Kevin singing "Deliver me from myself", before the final musical flurry closes things out.

"Kingdom Come" closes out the new tracks, and for people who ordered the Love Letter Lockdown internet concert during Covid quarantine this summer have already heard a live version of this track.  To me, "Kingdom Come" is a track that falls in the middle ground between "Darkness Dies" and "Enemies" as far as style of these three new tracks goes.  Still edgy and aggressive, but carrying a melodic tone that "Enemies" really only hints at.  This is a really well-written track, with tempo changes, aggressive rhythm playing, rapid-fire drumming, and a solid bottom end from Prince's bass work, and Kevin reins in his vocals just a bit from the aggressive screaming of "Enemies" but still delivers with plenty of passion.  Not quite as catchy as "Darkness Dies", and not as angry or metallic as "Enemies", 'Kingdome Come" is a bit of both and works very well to close out this deluxe album edition.

Look, I'm not a digital fan, but at only 99 cents a track on Amazon...and available on every streaming and downloading platform that I am aware of...all three are worth downloading and ripping to create your own deluxe version, and the purchase will help out one of the best, most passionate, most fan-friendly bands going in the Christian scene.  Hopefully a track like "Darkness Dies" will get the band some crossover attention with the Octane crowd, and maybe "Enemies" will even find its way onto the Liquid Metal playlist on SiriusXM.  Request these songs (and "Kingdom Come") from your favorite local radio stations and on Christian internet stations to get some love for Disciple to start spreading.  It has worked recently to get some national attention for bands like Seventh Day Slumber, so perhaps Disciple will be next to explode out of the Christian-only market!

Rating:  As an entire package, Love Letter Kill Shot Deluxe edges up slightly to a 9 now!  I truly hope it will be available in true physical form at some point.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

RED JUMPSUIT APPARATUS "Emergency EP"

 


 (c) 2020 A+R Productions/CMG

  1. Brace Yourself
  2. A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Called LA
  3. Don't Buy Into It
  4. Is This The Real World?
  5. Stuck On Repeat
  6. Please, Unfriend Me
Ronnie Winter--Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Josh Burke--Lead Guitar
Randy Winter--Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals
Joey Westwood--Bass
Danny Resnick--Keys, Backing Vocals
John Espy--Drums

I will be the first to admit I have always kind of avoided Red Jumpsuit Apparatus purely based on the name.  I mean...what the what?!  And I know that's terrible of me, because an attitude like that has probably prevented me from hearing dozens of bands that I really would have loved.  As I have gotten older, I have been ignoring that inner-urge to discard a band based solely upon its name, and I gave the new RJA release, The Emergency EP a shot.  What I got was both surprising...not surprising...and in one instance downright shocking.

What surprised me was just how great this band is musically.  Honestly, I would never have predicted the intensity of the drums, the talent of the twin guitar players, or the near-perfectly executed placement of the keys in a position of support rather than out front (which we all annoys the metalhead in me!).  The guitar solos here are melodic, if not overly elaborate, and the interplay between Burke and Randy Winter is excellent, with some really strong rhythm guitar work driving several of the songs here, with "Stuck On Repeat" coming instantly to mind.  The backing vocals are also spot-on throughout this EP, which really help to support Ronnie's lead vocal approach.  And the songwriting for most of the record is equally strong, leading me to wonder why I hadn't checked out this band before...other than the name...or really heard much from them on radio, satellite or terrestrial.

This brings me to what didn't shock me...at all...which is the relatively emo-style of vocal delivery that I got from Ronnie Winter on about 2/3 of the record.  There are moments on the EP where he allows an angry edge to creep into his vocals ("Don't Buy Into It" has some of these moments, to be sure), and it is at those times that I find myself really cheering for more of the same.  Alas, it typically doesn't last very long, although "Stuck On Repeat" (easily my favorite track here) has less emo drone to the vocal approach, and "Brace Yourself" manages to work around a few weak spots to also be a top-of-the-heap track for me.    

Lyrically, the band doesn't make any bold pronouncements of faith on the EP, but they spend a lot of time on social issues, and steer themselves into some controversial territory with "Don't Buy Into It", a song that could find the band alienating some of their more conservative fans.  In the very first verse, the band addresses the transgender issue as Winter sings about meeting a boy dressed as a girl whom people (presumably Christians) have told will burn in hell for his/her gender decisions.  The song also references the building of the wall between the United States and Mexico, to which Winter encourages "I say build it up so we can tear it down!" on multiple occasions, and he sings in the chorus, "Fear leads to anger to hate," seeming to indicate that anyone who stands opposite Winter's (and presumably the band's) views on illegal immigration are "fearful" and "hateful".  The press release for the album states, "As a Christian, Winter's prism of the religion is far more inclusive than what the gatekeepers preach," with Winter himself being quoted as saying, "These are things that really bother me--with this EP I'm bringing fans to the next level."  The "things" he is speaking of are LGBTQIA+ issues and the Black Lives Matter movement.  While there is growing support in many Christian communities for the LGBTQIA+ issues, hitching one's wagon to BLM is a dangerous move, in my estimation, as I don't know of very many groups...and NO Christian groups...who advocate the wanton vandalism, property destruction, assault, and even murder that have become hallmarks of that group, and for Red Jumpsuit Apparatus's lead vocalist to state his backing of the movement is going to be a BIG "off switch" for many people.  

The band proves elsewhere that they can focus on positivity without becoming controversial.  On the  track, "Is This The Real World?" the band does a far better job of interjecting thought into social issues as they as they encourage people to seek truth rather than simply believing what they read and hear on-line and from the media.  Album opener, "Brace Yourself" has become something of an anthem for First Responders and Emergency Support Workers, with a portion of the sales from the single actually going to benefit families of these extremely important people.  Check out that track below:




For me, five of the six songs here are of above average quality, and all are up-tempo, which helps drive the EP home in relatively quick fashion.  The musicianship, as I mentioned before, is of a surprisingly high level, and I have to admit to being very surprised when I read that all of the songs except closer, "Please, Unfriend Me" were actually written and recorded in the back of the band's tour bus while on the road last year.  As to "Please, Unfriend Me", that track was recorded using technology while the band members were in Covid lockdown earlier this spring.  The best tracks are bunched at the end, with "Stuck On Repeat" and "Is This The Real World" being the biggest winners of the bunch, with "Brace Yourself" the top choice of my 8 year old, who seems to sing it non-stop.  I also enjoy "Please, Unfriend Me" quite a bit, as well.  "Don't Buy Into It" isn't a horrible song musically...not by a long stretch...but I just can't get behind the "think my way" political agenda that Winter seems to be aiming at band fans that don't see things through the same lens he uses.  As to "A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Called LA", while it isn't a terrible song, I just don't feel it...at all.  Seemingly a love story (perhaps Ronnie Winter and his wife's story?), the song is just too cheesy for me and I honestly skip it just about every time I have a free finger while driving down the road.  

All in all, I was impressed with the band's talent and the catchiness of the majority of the songs here.  I do wish we had a bit more solo work from Burke whose guitar has a definite melodic quality to it that I really enjoyed, and I would love to hear more bite and edge from Winter's lead vocals, especially when the emo whine seems to come on to strongly, but overall I'm pretty happy with my introduction to the band.  I may even seek out the band's previous efforts, some of which I have been told has more hardcore and punk influences, and I will definitely keep an eye and ear out for future releases.  That being said, if the band becomes more even political and starts to swerve further into social justice warrior territory, I highly doubt they will find a fan in me, as there is plenty of that to be found in both mainstream and social media, so I don't need it in my musical choices.  

Rating:  Rock this at 6.5.  Musically, I'd give it a 7.5, but the EP's brevity, the band's politics, and the emo stylings of much of Winter's vocals do some damage to my introduction to what is obviously a musically talented band.

RAVINER "Drown" (Single)

 

(c) 2020 Independent

Kamber Kigin--Vocals, Keys
Jon Wisecarver--Guitars
Colt Capperune--Bass, Programming, Additional Guitars, Production
Rob Shollenberger--Drums

With the pandemic putting the brakes on a lot of music-related activities this summer, a number of new and lesser-known acts have started to bubble up on different platforms as radio stations and internet platforms have been bolstering their playlists to accommodate listener's thirst for more music.  Because of this, I have come across several new bands, as well.  One such band for me is Raviner.

Raviner is a new band to my ears, but this Tennessee group has actually been putting out music since 2016, with their last long-form release being the Beast EP in 2017.  Following a brief hiatus, the band reformed to begin work on a new EP which will include the lead single, "Drown".  Featuring powerful female vocals, nice edgy, crunchy guitars, rock-steady drums, and just enough modern programming effects, "Drown" is an excellent introduction to this new band.  And while the smooth rocker should find a lot of success on modern rock formats, Christian or secular, there is also a uniqueness to Raviner's sound that should help them to stand out from the crowd.  That uniqueness comes largely from the soaring vocals of Kigin.  As I have lamented numerous times, there is a distinct lack of true female singers in the Christian rock genre (although there is an ever-growing number of highly talented female screamers and snarlers!), but that short list gains a new member with Kigin, who I feel compares very favorably with Dawn Michele from Fireflight and with Deena Jakoub of Veridia.  In fact, those two bands are also good comparisons for people seeking a sound comparison, especially the later, more synth-oriented material from Fireflight.  

On "Drown", a powerful song about dealing with individual struggle and turbulent times without allowing oneself to go under and succumb to the darkness of the time, Kigin maintains a powerful grip on her range, staying comfortably in the middle of her range but with plenty of inflection and nuance.  The guitars from Wisecarver carry a nice level of aggression to counter Kigin's melodic vocal offering, and Shollenberger's drums have a big, full sound, not coming off as flat like so many drums do today.  Shollenberger's patterns and fills are strong, especially on the breakdown section coming out of the second chorus, where the drums and bass combine to generate a lot of power and thump which runs counter to the atmospheric programming that runs throughout the track.  Also of note is the production, which I find to be really strong, especially when the independent nature of this record is taken into consideration.  Capperune gives plenty of room for each instrument to breathe here, and offers up some solid bass work, as well.  

Check out the track below...




If you are into this type of dark, electronic-edged modern rock with an uplifting message of hope, I strongly suggest you seek this band out, as there is a lot of talent and potential here!  I am anxious to check out the new EP, which was apparently stalled by the Covid situation.  "Drown" can be found on your favorite platform here:  http://smarturl.it/rvnr.drown/ and you can also snag their previous EP, Beast, at this location: http://smarturl.it/rvnr.beast

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

DAV "War Zone"

(c) 2020 Independent Release

  1. Crazy
  2. New Name
  3. War Zone
  4. The Abyss
  5. What I Can't See
  6. Your Name
  7. All It Takes
  8. Happiness
  9. Reach Out
  10. Fly Away
  11. Scratching The Surface
  12. Addiction
Dave Hanson--Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass
Jacob Towns--Unclean Vocals
J.W. Reed--Guitars
Zack Gallipeau--Guitars, Bass on 12
Jacob Gallipeau--Drums

Additional Musicians
Lori Peters--Drums on 1, 2, 3, 5, 7
Jenna Kopitske--Drums on 4 and 8
Bryan Arzaga--Guitar solos on 1, 3, and 7
Jon The Revelator--Additional vocals on 7
Ian Sebastian--Bass on 4
Marisa Slempkes--Backing vocals on 4
Eric Milton--Backing screams on 3 and 7
Sydney Gallipeau--Harmony vocals on 5

Following the end of his previous band, In The Verse, Dave Hanson embarked on a new project, known simply as DAV (both a shortened version of his name and also an acronym for Delivered, Adored, Victorious), which released a handful of singles in 2018 and 2019.  Two of those singles, "All It Takes" and "Scratching The Surface" hit the top spot on various Christian rock charts, and Hanson decided to expand the project to become a full group.  

Of course, one of the things that will likely draw some attention from casual fans is the fact that Lori Peters, formerly of Skillet, plays on almost half of the record.  Other outside friends joined in the project, as well, with Jon "The Revelaytor" performing the guest rap vocals on "All It Takes", and Ian Sebastian of Ignescent contributing bass on "The Abyss".  And while those things are all great, the key thing to take away here is that DAV is a true band project now, not just a side project from Hanson with some friends filling in as needed.

War Zone, as a record, is a bit of an experimentation of styles, with the record basically being broken into modern rock tracks and modern metal tracks...with a few fun quirks thrown into the mix.  "Crazy" kicks things off in that modern rock mode as Hanson proclaims, "I don't care what fear says, The Reaper does not scare me!/ I am saved by the Cross, You can call me crazy!"  The guitar solo coming out of the second verse is a real treat, as there is some serious string shredding going on courtesy of Bryan Arzaga.  Lori Peters was on board for drums on this track, and her style is one that fits the track well.  Punchy, without being heavy-handed, the percussion is a driving force here and definitely helps to set the tone for this full album release.  Definitely a solid way to kick off the record, and "Crazy" is a track that should feel comfortable to fans of Hanson's previous project, In The Verse, or anyone familiar with the tracks dropped last year.

"New Name" is something of an outlier on the record, as it incorporates some significant electronic elements into the track.  It never really crosses over into industrial territory, and it definitely isn't dub step or techno, but there are elements that will surprise a lot of people, especially when the laser blasts start firing following the first run through the chorus.  The guitars keep this firmly in modern rock territory, and the drumming from Lori Peters is rock solid, as would be expected from the Skillet alum.  I can't help but like the song, even as I find myself asking, "Just where did that sound come from?"  The message here is excellent, also, as Hanson sings about redemption in Christ, regardless of what our weaknesses are or what our sins have brought us to.

The title track straddles the line between being a really heavy, full-fledged metal track and the more modern radio rock sound Hanson found success with in both In The Verse and the DAV EP.  Hanson, himself, adds some deathy backing vocals, along with Milton, and there are some great rhythm guitar riffs, but the majority of the track stays relatively radio friendly...at least as far as hard rock radio goes.  "War Zone" is definitely one of my favorite tracks on the record because it gives fans of multiple styles something to sink their teeth into.  After kicking off with the sound of a beer bottle opening, some rugged rhythm guitars cut their way into the mix, and once again Peters' drum work graces the track with some serious thunder, but without dominating the overall feel of the track.

I previously said "New Name" was "something of an outlier", and that is because as odd as that track may strike some listeners, "Your Name" is going to slap most people in the earhole with a strangeness that DAV fans will likely not see coming.  We are talking full-on electronic sounds and some almost bouncy keyboard elements...I mean, we're talking nearly circus like instrumentation...embellished with blackened screams in the background and a sweet, sweet guitar solo that is an absolute string-bender, packed with emotion and talent.  I don't even know where to go with a full description of this track because it is just so...unquantifiable.  It's just...wow...  You simply need to hear it to understand my lack of comparison or description.  And that's not a bad thing...it's just what it is.

"What I Can't See" is a full-fledged praise and worship track set to big arena drums and edgy guitars and modern production elements.  Deeply passionate about his love for Christ, Hanson pours himself into his vocals on this bright-sounding track that I could even hear being sung in a youth group or a younger congregation church.  I have to say that it is not out of the realm of possibility that DAV could eventually put out a full praise record, and a song like "What I Can't See" would fit extremely well.  It's a bit of a surprise to hear, but it is a welcome one.

And then there are the truly heavy moments, which are scattered all across War Zone.  "The Abyss" is the first really metal moment on the record, and it doesn't disappoint.  Opening with some demonic-sounding screeches, "The Abyss" combines Hanson's instantly recognizable clean style with some truly deep growls from Jacob Towns, and is, to me, a natural progression from a more hard rock/modern rock track like "Scratching The Surface", which hints at being heavier than it probably is.  Mix in a blistering solo, with a really cool guitar outro to close the track, and you have one beast of a song that will likely garner some metal airplay at some point on TheBlast.FM or a similar station, even if it may be a bit too heavy for the likes of ChristianRock.Net.  This is some ferocious music, but hang on, as this isn't even the heaviest moment on the record.

"Reach Out" is another full-on head banger which incorporates about as much metallic variety as one can pack into a track.  We have Hanson's clean vocals, and then both guttural death vocals and screeching black metal vocals used as supporting voices, all within one song, and that doesn't even get into the different effects used on Hanson's voice in various spots.  Heavy guitar riffing and some thundering drums are accompanied by programmed orchestral elements, giving the music a really full sound with a serious dose of melody in spots.  I know it sounds like it could be a musical train wreck, but it actually works extremely well, and I truly home that "Reach Out" ends up being a single off this record, as it is a really good track.  I love the message, also, as Hanson exclaims, "Brokenness is not weakness...Reach Out, Reach Out!"  Later he professes, "I know that I am alive, Found God, No longer broken!"  Really a potent message for those who may feel they are lost and worthless, broken and beaten down.

Album closer, "Addiction", really unleashes the blackened vocals at an even higher level than "Reach Out" did, and Towns is also able to scrape the bottom of the vocal barrel with some more harsh growling.  There are some impressive drum fills from Gallipeau, with a lot of double bass work, and the breakdown section chugs along with some serious intensity, even if it is relatively short.  Guitars swirl all over the place in a mosh-pit inducing frenzy of sound that wraps War Zone up in a punishing fashion.  Hang on at the end, as there is a false ending before a massive guitar run that pushes things into borderline thrash territory that you absolutely need to hear!  A great way to close things out!

All of this goodness and I haven't even mentioned the two big singles from last year that were also added to the record.  I know a lot of people aren't necessarily fans of cross-genre vocals, but I really like what Jon "The Revelaytor" brings to the huge rock radio hit, "All It Takes", with his rapid-fire rap vocals adding a different focal point as the guitars churn beneath his rhymes, while there are supporting  screams from Milton that add a different depth level.  Meanwhile, the more hard rock track, "Scratching The Surface" also genre-bends just a bit by dropping straight death vocals into the mix as part of the pre-chorus and bridge sections of this chug-chug-chug rocker that was all over Christian rock radio for the better part of the last year.  To me, it says a lot about Hanson's writing ability, as well as his comfort with who he is as a musician and his understanding of his audience.  The fans of DAV pretty much gobble up whatever he puts out there, and with good reason, as DAV truly delivers with War Zone.  

One of the greatest strengths of the record, outside of the variety of styles, is the production.  War Zone sounds like a big-time project, with excellent production, which is quite a statement when you are talking about a 100%, non-label-backed, independent release.  The different vocal styles are evenly matched, which is often not the case as the "unclean" vocals frequently dominate the mix on other projects...sometimes even label projects!  The guitars have a nice, gritty feel to them, and the drums, regardless of who is playing them, have a very full sound.  There is zero muddiness here, and I was very happy to hear the quality of the production here.

Snag your copy on iTunes or your favorite music outlet!

Rating:  Definitely crank-worthy in all its various forms and fashions!  Crank this one to 8.5 and rest assured that there is likely something everyone will like about War Zone!  Almost guaranteed to be fighting for top indy release of the year on this site, as well as others!

Friday, May 29, 2020

NO LOVE LOST "Bliss"

    
                                        
                                                                (c) 2020 Kivel Records

  1. Keeping Up With The Jones
  2. Believe In Love
  3. Love Song
  4. Heart Strings
  5. Under Construction
  6. World Is Wide
  7. No Secret
  8. Little Things
  9. Heaven Sent
  10. Good Times (w/Paul Shortino)
  11. Face The Fire
Scott Board--Lead & Backing Vocals
Jason Staton--Lead & Rhythm Guitars, Backing Vocals
Marc Brown--Lead & Rhythm Guitars, Backing Vocals
Matt Crow--Bass, Backing Vocals
Jason Collins--Drums

Additional Musicians
Erik Johnson--All Drums and Bass, Backing Vocals
Tavis Mobley--Piano on "Good Times"

Seven years is a pretty good stretch between albums, but believe it or not, that is how long it has been since No Love Lost released their debut album.  And, as should probably be expected with such a significant time gap, there have been some changes to the band.  In fact, outside of vocalist Scott Board and guitarist Jason Staton, No Love Lost has undergone a complete facelift, adding a second guitar player, and replacing the entire rhythm section.  (It should be noted that on the album, according to the liner notes, the "rhythm section" is just one guy...Erik Johnson of Bombay Black).  The result?  A much tighter sound, with bigger hooks, catchier rhythms, and overall better songs than those on the debut.

The album opens with the thunder of drums and a big, arena rock guitar intro, and "Keeping Up With The Jones" is off and running.  The track...and much of the album, honestly...hearkens back more toward the hard rocking arena sound of a band like, say, Foreigner, or perhaps more like Night Ranger; never quite venturing into that "hair metal" sound, but always comfortably close with plenty of guitar and big, full drums.  To me, that was a bit of what didn't work 100% for me on the debut record; the band didn't sound like they knew who they were yet.  But on Bliss, that problem is definitely solved!  A big part of that is due to the powerhouse that is Scott Board on lead vocals.  His pipes slot him in that mid-tenor range for the vast majority of the songs on this record, although he does showcase his ability to climb the ladder a bit when necessary.  Smooth and soulful, Board's vocals pack quite a punch on the big rockers, while incorporating an emotive side on the slower material.  On "...Jones", and follow-up rocker, the uber-catchy "Believe In Love", which just may be my favorite track on the record, Board is dominant, sounding extremely confident in his delivery and the material, which is top notch stuff this time around.  "Believe In Love" has the perfect style for summer, with an edgy rhythm guitar to kick things off as the drums start to build and the bass rumbles forward.  To me, this is the kind of track that just screams fun and begs to be repeated, with a catchy chorus that will likely spend a lot of time rattling around your brain once the track ends.  Staton rips through a great solo here, as well, and just a couple of songs into the record, it is clear that Bliss is a notch or two better than its predecessor. 

Up next is "Love Song", but lest you concern yourself that this is a big power ballad, a la Teslas track of the same name, this is a definite rocker from start to finish.  Staton lays into a killer solo before the final run through the chorus section, when newcomer, Marc Brown, gets to share the six string stage with a big outro solo of his own.  Excellent backing vocals, including some big "whoa whoas" from the gang, provide additional support for Board's leads, and the band sounds like they are having an absolute blast with this catchy rocker that was co-written by the three men mentioned here.

"Heart Strings" again teases at slower material with it's title, but the rocking guitars, the pulsing bass...and the COWBELL...shake those thoughts aside rapidly, as No Love Lost powers through another melodic rocker.  Once again, the construction of the song is just so much better than a lot of the music being released today, and it is evident the band put some serious time and effort into building solid melodies and big hooks into each and every track here.  Once again, Staton showcases some seriously understated talent on guitar, and the backing vocals are perfectly executed.  A bit more on the Night Ranger-ish side here, especially with the guitar solo and the bigger, fuller sound, "Heart Strings" is another track that has already found its way onto one of my road CDs and frequently gets the repeat treatment from me.  It's right there with "Believe In Love" and "Good Times" (more on that in a minute), as far as my favorites go.

"Under Construction" employs an interesting percussion line (did someone say bongos?) and great combination of acoustic and electric guitar work from Brown, who is credited with all the guitars on the track, including a great solo that brings the band back to an acoustic pre-chorus and then a final run through the chorus.  Nicely executed and not your typical approach to slower material, "Under Construction" shows the versatility of the re-tooled No Love Lost and is definitely impressive.

Edgy guitars snarl their way back onto the scene as "World Is Wide" jumpstarts the music back to a higher voltage style.  Again sounding more akin to Night Ranger here than anyone else I can think to compare them to, this is the type of song that No Love Lost absolutely dominates.  This is really good stuff, and Brown again shows off some serious finger fire as he tears up and down the frets on the solo and the outro here.  Not to be outdone, Staton handles all the axe work on the next track, the equally catchy rocker, "No Secret", which slots more into that Foreigner comparison I made at the outset, particularly in the approach of the guitar lines that support the verses, as well as the way Board's vocals take on a more direct, more urgent (no pun intended) sound and style.  This is the kind of rock that I really found myself drawn to as a teen, and the pull is still there on "No Secret".  The bass line is solid throughout the track, and the bursts of guitar fire in the middle of the track are exquisite!  We even get a short burst of double kick in the drums as the song scorches toward a close.  Really, really good stuff here!  Maybe this is my favorite song....  Hmmm....

"Little Things" continues with the catchy melodic rock, with Staton handling the big solo here.  There is a definite Dokken feel to this track in its melodic approach and the guitar hooks that Staton throws into the mix.  Board is particularly strong here, dropping his range to some of the lowest points on the album and pulling it off expertly, with a generous dose of support from the truly impressive backing vocals of Staton, Brown, and bass player, Matt Crow, as well as Erik Johnson of Bombay Black.

"Heaven Sent" has some really catchy harmonic guitar work to intro the track, with both Staton and Brown getting shots at center stage on their own, as Staton handles the main solo and Brown scorches the outro.  I actually love it when the guys share their duties like this as you get the feeling that there is a chemistry, and perhaps even some friendly competition, between the guys that really brings these tracks to life!  On "Heaven Sent", Staton sets the bar high as he RIPS through his solo run, but Brown seems to be his equal on his run out of the song.  And not to be forgotten is the soaring vocal work of Board who really lets his notes carry at the end of the song, expressing a power and control that not a lot of guys seem capable of matching in today's rock scene.  He truly is an impressive vocalist that you owe it to yourself to hear.

Speaking of impressive vocalists, Mr. Paul Shortino shows up to join Board on the remake of the classic "Good Times", which finds the band in rollickingly fun form!  The piano from Travis Mobley is inserted brilliantly into the song and has a definite part to play in this southern rock staple that multiple bands have covered over the years.  Definitely a fun track to drop into the mix here, and one that I hope finds its way into potential live sets, although I realize it could be difficult if one of the guys doesn't have some keyboard skills.

Things close out in fine, hard rocking form with "Face The Fire", which may be the hardest hitting track on the record.  I can't say enough about the powerful addition that solid backing vocals provide to a song, and they show up in spades here, especially on the chorus as they support Board on the soaring "face the fire!" section.  Just expertly performed.  The drums are given a heavy dose of life on this track, with a big, thundering arena rock feel, and the fret-melting solo from Brown is just icing on the cake here.  And did I mention that Board is just a dominant singer across the board here?  I did?  Oh...well, it needs to be said again.  And if I already picked a favorite track on the album, it might be because I hadn't gotten to this one yet, because it has to be in consideration for that title as well.  What a killer way to end a damn fine record!       

Incredibly catchy and pure ear candy from start to finish, Bliss is a monster of a record that I see spending a lot of time in my CD player this summer.  From start to finish, there isn't a filler track to be found or a weak performance to be heard.  Kudos go to the production team of Sims and Johnson, as well, as they pulled the best from these guys seemingly on every track recorded.  The mix is bright and clear, but not so slick that it feels synthetic; there is still grit and edge to the guitars, and the bass gets a full-throat rumble in the mix, as well.  Yet another excellent addition to the Kivel Records discography and an album that will likely find its way onto many people's Best of 2020 list come year's end!  Grab your copy now!

Rating:  A cranker, for sure!  Turn Bliss up to 8.5!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

STALLION "Slaves Of Time"

(c) 2020 High Roller Records

  1. Waking The Demons
  2. No Mercy
  3. Time To Reload
  4. All In
  5. Brain Dead
  6. Die With Me
  7. Merchants Of Fear
  8. Dynamiter
  9. Kill The Beast
  10. Meltdown
Pauly--Vocals
Äxxl--Guitars
Clode--Guitars
Stämpfe--Bass
Aaron--Drums

Ah, those Germans.  Not so great in World Wars, but excellent in metal, especially when it fast, heavy, and loud!  Speed merchants, Stallion, throw their hat firmly into the ring of current metal contenders with Slaves Of Time, their third release for High Roller Records.  Full throttle riffs, machine-gun fire drums, rumbling bass, and high, screeching vocals are the weapons employed by this band which seeks to take the musical clock and dial it back to the 80s speed metal scene when bands such as Exciter, Agent Steel, Heathen, Anvil, and early Helloween were tearing up the frets on their guitars and making your ears bleed with their high pitched vocalists.

"Waking The Demons" kicks things off with a thunderous, somewhat plodding drum cadence and some searing guitar licks, before the rhythm guitars kick in and the speed picks up, courtesy of Axxl and Clode.  Pauly's distinct vocals snarl their way into the mix, and whether you love his approach or hate it is going to depend a lot on your feelings towards the 80s heavy metal/speed metal scene.  For those of you who love it, Pauly...and, indeed, Stallion...are going to be right up your alley, as his vocals have a high pitched, snarling approach that was fairly commonplace in the 80s, especially with German bands.  The rhythm guitars are fast and furious, and the drum work from Aaron keeps the frantic pace up nicely.  This is definitely a great start to the album.

From here, things actually manage to get faster, as "No Mercy" is unleashed, and even Stampfe's bass comes rumbling out at a speed that would have made a young Metallica sit up and take note!  Gang-shouted backing vocals support Pauly's piercing wails, and the tempo changes incorporated here make for some interesting listening, showcasing the band is about more than just speed for speed's sake.  The same can be said of "Kill The Beast", which also features some blistering rhythm guitars and sprinter-style double kick bass work from Aaron, but again incorporates a level of musicality one might not expect to hear from a band like Stallion.  The guitar solo nearly melts the strings off the guitar, sure, but there is a musical complexity to the solo that is more than just running up and down the frets as fast as humanly possible.  Both tracks are well worth the listen.

"All In" slows the pace just slightly, adding a bit more traditional heavy metal to the sound and coming dangerously close to being octane-infused sleaze metal, a la Nitro.  Using that Nitro comparison, the solo work on this track is absolutely masterful, and Pauly's vocals match the intensity of the music note for note, in much the same way Nitro's frontman, Jim Gillette used to.  To me, however, Pauly doesn't have the cartoonish quality that Gillette used to interject at points, and Pauly is actually very strong in the mid-section of his range.  Man, I don't know...I've heard/read a lot of people bagging on Pauly's vocals, but again, I have to question where in the metal timeline they jumped in, because if it was early-to-mid-80s, they should be loving this stuff!

"Die With Me" is the epic song of the album, clocking in at over 7 minutes (everything else is under five minutes in length), and is the real "miss" track of the record for me.  This is the one and only track where I have to say that Pauly's vocals really don't fit what the music is doing here.  For all intents and purposes, this is the band's attempt at a metal ballad (don't think hair metal power ballad), but Pauly is just TOO Pauly on this one for me.  Musically, it isn't bad at all, and perhaps if the vocals were mixed a bit further back, things would've worked out better.  Actually, by the time we hit the 3:30 mark, the mix has balanced out, the lower-registered backing vocals are working, and the song manages to right itself to a large degree, but by then it's going to be too late for most people, I think.  The guitar solo is top notch, and the rhythm section does a really nice job, but I think the majority of listeners will have checked out by the time the song solves some of its initial missteps.

If "Die With Me" is the longest song, then we owe some love to the shortest, correct?  "Dynamiter" is just a tad over 2:30, and is pure 80s metal worship from start to finish.  Intense drum work, rumbling bass, and more rhythm guitar notes than you hear in some albums today blaze through the track, and while it isn't the fastest track here, it is one of the most fun, just for the sheer intensity of the track.

"Merchants Of Fear" ventures into thrash territory, and is possibly my favorite track on the record.  Pauly spends some time in a far lower register than the falsetto territory he works most of the album in, and the music has a bit harsher edge than some of the other stuff here, which is why I say it drifts across that imaginary "speed/thrash" line to a degree.  Also of special note for me is the album's closer, "Meltdown", which has pretty much the perfect combination of everything that Stallion does, all in one track.  A strong drum presence sets the stage for some rapid fire rhythm picking, a high voltage solo, and probably the strongest, most in-control vocal performance from Pauly.  This song is exactly the kind of stuff I was listening to from 1986-88, for the most part, as I was out doing construction work and wearing out cassettes on my Walkman.       

The production is a bit retro sounding (of course it is), but it doesn't sound cheap, hollow, or tinny, nor does it sound like it was recorded in your basement on a boombox.  The guitars, especially, have a strong, clean voice, which is required when you are dealing with the kind of savage speed that Stallion regularly unleashes.  As I mentioned earlier, the vocals get a bit heavy in the mix on occasion, but that is the exception rather than the rule, and outside of "Die With Me", this is never an issue that I find off-putting.

Look, in the end, if you are looking for something highly serious, look somewhere else, as that is not what Stallion is about.  This is a band about three things:  speed, metal, and fun.  And they definitely have those things on Slaves Of Time.

Rating:  Impossible to deny this band's love for, and mastery of, the 80s speed metal scene, and impossible not to crank!  Crank this to 7!

WILD SOULS "Queen Of My Heart"

(c) 2020 Lions Pride Music

  1. Nothing But Loving You
  2. Night Groove
  3. Love Ain't No Lie
  4. Ready To Rock
  5. Queen Of My Heart
  6. Sexcellent
  7. I Remember You
  8. Set Me Free
  9. Snakebite
  10. Hold Me Tight
  11. Beyond The Stars
  12. Street Eagles
George Nikolaou--Vocals
Kostas Tsiligiris--Guitars
Thanos Kalantzopoulos--Guitars
Leyteris Nasos--Bass
Michael Saroglou--Drums

Additional Musicians
Dimitris Kyriakidis--Guitars on "I Remember You"
Tasos Kalafatis--Keyboards on "Set Me Free" and "Hold Me Tight"

It has been three years since Wild Souls surprised me with their excellent sophomore album, Game Of Love, which found its way into the Glitter2Gutter Top10 of 2016, pretty much out of nowhere.  I had heard bits and pieces of the band's debut album, and while there was some obvious talent, I was in no way prepared for how good Game Of Love was (and still is)!  So, with their latest effort for Lions Pride Music, the Greeks really have their work cut out for them.

Retaining 3/4 of their previous line-up, changing drummers, and adding a second full-time guitarist, Wild Souls retains their melodic, hard rocking sound, with possibly even a bit more guitar flash and a somewhat fuller sound. Lead vocalist, George Nikolaou (man...I can't get enough of typing all these Greek names!!!) has a vocal approach and sound that at times sounds like Dave Meniketti of Y&T, while much of the time he takes on a bit of a David Coverdale sound, especially when he drops lower in his strong tenor range and adds a bit of smoke to the voice, such as on "Set Me Free".  Very smooth and very powerful, Nikolaou is every bit as impressive here as he was on Game Of Love, and his delivery has actually improved, I believe.  The man can definitely sing!

Likewise, the guitar tandem of Kostas Tsiligiris and Thanos Kalantzopoulos are an impressive pair, with strong rhythm playing and some soulful, expressive solos.  While I don't have a breakdown on who plays the solos in each song, suffice it to say there is plenty of melodic string-bending going on in numerous places here, and the harmonic pairing, such as on the mid-tempo rocker, "Queen Of My Heart", is top notch.  Nasos' bass gets plenty of breathing room in several songs here, and newcomer, Saroglou is a really solid, straight-forward drummer, showing flashes of speed here and there, but otherwise not overly flashy or distracting from the rest of the band.  

The album kicks off on a high note right away, with "Nothing But Loving You".  The guitars come roaring to life and vocalist George Nikolaou howls at the moon in a way that is very reminiscent of David Coverdale and Whitesnake's opening of "Bad Boys" from the 1987 self-titled record.  I can't help but feel this is done as an homage to that band, because there is going to be a lot of comparison between Wild Souls and Whitesnake, especially vocally, on this record.  That being said, Nikolaou is impressive in his own right here, as is the entire band on this catchy opener.  The twin guitars are a great touch here, and Saroglou's drums are impressive from the start, with a couple of high-speed bursts, and plenty of bottom end in the mix.  This is precisely the type of song that Wild Souls did so well on Game Of Love, and I am happy to hear that the band has retained much of what I really liked about that album.

"Night Groove" is up next, and anyone familiar with the band will notice right away the extra dimension that is added with the second guitar.  The sound is a bit fuller, and the tone on the rhythm guitars is a bit different...but in a good way.  The solo work here is still of a very high caliber, and the bass work from Nasos is very evident here.  A catchy, sing-along chorus adds to the fun here, and we are immediately two-for-two to kick off the new record.

"Love Ain't No Lie" starts off with some very 80s-sounding keyboards (think Bon Jovi's "Runaway"), but a thick rhythm section soon pushes those keys into the background a bit, and the guitars sweep in, escorting Nikolaou's deeper-range tenor into the mix.  This is a really good melodic rocker, and I am especially impressed by the execution of the guitar solo here, with both guitars actually getting into the action as they join forces to create a six-string tandem as the solo ends and the last vocal section kicks off.  Not really a full-force rocker, but a great song, nonetheless.  

"Ready To Rock" is the star of the show for the first half of the record, in my opinion, and features a definite Y&T feel to the music, and this is where Nikolaou's vocals take on that definite Meniketti sound, which I really dig as a fan of that band.  Even the big, gang-shouted vocals on the vocal bridge coming out of the solo fit the Y&T style perfectly.  If the production wasn't so crisp and the mix featured a bit less bottom end, this song could easily find its way onto Contagious or Ten in Y&T's catalog, which says a lot.  While I like pretty much everything this band has done on the last two records, I can't deny that I would LOVE to hear an album of exactly this style of hard rock, maybe even with a Y&T cover or two thrown in.  Wild Souls has this sound down pat!  Fun stuff here!

"Queen Of My Heart" slips into Whitesnake mode in a big way, as this song has everything that made that 1987 self-titled album so great.  A smokey intro that hints at this being a ballad is dismissed in favor of big, punchy guitars and a heavy rhythm section but still never really escalate past mid-tempo hard rock, in much the way "Cryin' In The Rain" worked for the 'Snake.  Not one, but two solos are featured in this track, the first being a fairly short interlude between verses, with the second one being a protracted venture with both guitarists getting a chance to shine, along with some harmonic interplay between the two.  Definitely one of the top 3 or 4 songs on this album, I usually hit repeat at least once when this song hits.

The first half of the album ends on a bit of a down not, although it is not a case of the musical or vocal performances being weak in any way, because that is simply not the case.  This band is tight and well-versed in their instruments, no doubt.  But the lyrics get a bit cheesy and overly cliche on the hard-rocking "Sexcellent", bringing the song down a notch from the majority of this album.  I mean, it doesn't take a genius to read past that title and know that the song is a lyrical deathtrap, which is too bad, because the song is very well written and a great hard rocker.  To be fair, this isn't uncommon with foreign bands for whom English is likely a second language, as I feel they sometimes try to get lyrically cute, but miss the nuances and subtleties that an American or British band might not.  (Note, I said "might not", because we all know there are a LOT of cheesy American lyrics out there, especially in this genre!)  I don't skip it, but I have to admit to chuckling when I put too much focus on the words being sung, rather than on the really strong guitar work and some of the most inventive drum work that Saroglou puts forth on this record.

"I Remember You" (not the Skid Row song) kicks off part two of the record, and the minor slip of "Sexcellent" is quickly forgotten.  I'm not a massive fan of the keyboard lead-in, but it is definitely the type of intro we heard a good deal of in the melodic rock 80s.  The guitars have a smooth build to them, and by the time Nikolaou hits the first verse, the keyboards are pretty much relegated to a supporting role.  The chorus here is especially strong, and Nikolaou smoothly works his way up and down the wheelhouse of his range throughout the track, although he never really hits a high-end peak.  A solid mid-tempo rocker with some flash and flair from the guitars on the solo.

"Set Me Free" starts off (and ends) with the hiss and pop of old vinyl, and Nikolaou's vocals have an analog sound to them until the entire band hits.  Once again in the Whitesnake vein, Wild Souls even incorporates some Hammond organ for effect, and I can't help but feel that this song would be easy to sandwich between "Fool For Your Lovin'" and "Love Ain't No Stranger".  The drum patterns have a familiar feel, and the guitar work here is definitely of a caliber that would have grabbed your attention in the 80s every bit as much as now.  It's fun to hear the Hammond get some solo time, as well, and Mr. Kalafatis has a real feel for that particular instrument.  (I think we've all heard when a Hammond is handled incorrectly in a song, and this is definitely NOT like that!)   

"Snakebite" has a nasty bump-and-grind rhythm to it with some gritty guitar work that would have absolutely held its own in the late 80s.  Definitely one of my top 3 songs on an overall excellent record, "Snakebite" has everything that you could want in a dirty rocker.  Once again, Nikolaou drops low into Whitesnake territory, delivering in a slightly raspy, bluesy style that really fits the groove and attitude of the track. (Wait...Whitesnake...Snakebite...you don't think...nahhh...)  Some punchy drums intro a rapid-fire guitar solo, and the whole song is just a lot of fun to listen to and is very nicely constructed.  Excellent stuff here!

"Hold Me Tight" intros with some nicely harmonized acapella vocals that are quickly betrayed by the guitars which snarl in a bit harder than one might initially expect.  But don't take that as a bad thing, because this is, once again, a very solid song with a strong hook and a very well-written chorus.  Nikolaou continues with his vocal dominance on this record, focusing mostly on the bottom end of his range, but climbing the scales a bit in the verse sections as the chorus approaches.  Likewise, on the second chorus he shows his ability to reach into the upper tenor range and to hold onto a note with little effort.  The guitar work on this track is some of the best on the record, with the finger-twisting solo perfectly complemented by the sharp rhythm guitars that run concurrent with the solo.  The keyboards used here are a perfect fill instrument and are used to support, rather than distract from rest of the song.  Really a good piece of music here. 

"Beyond The Stars" features more of those edgy rhythm guitars that I find myself really drawn to on this record, with plenty of attitude and energy.  Nikolaou runs the full length of his range here, working his way from the bottom to the top, again projecting solid power when a particular passage calls for a bit more.  The guitar solo is fast and furious, but perhaps a bit too short considering this is one of the most "metal" of the tracks here.  Nasos' bass is given a lot of work here, as are Saroglou's legs, as he breaks into a double-bass sprint to run through the last chorus in a head-long charge to the end of the track.

The album closes on a very high note with "Street Eagles", with Nikolaou channeling his lower-range inner-Coverdale on the verse sections, while stretching his range higher on the pre-chorus and chorus parts.  This is another really impressive track, with Nasos' rumbling bass powering the song toward the big, melodic, whammy bar-enriched solo, and once again, the rhythm guitars here are such a big part of this hard rocker.  This was the kind of music I was most drawn to in the 80s/early 90s, hook-filled, but also powerful, with richer, lower-ranged vocals that projected strength and emotion equally.  Think Keel, Baton Rouge, Y&T, of course Whitesnake, and even a band like Pretty Maids, as far as style and approach.  No, no, I'm not saying Wild Souls sounds exactly like any of those bands...and those bands don't really sound like each other, either.  But all possessed strong axe work, typically rocked harder than your average hair band, usually had more bottom end to the sound, and had lower-ranged vocalists with power on songs that leaned more toward the metal side and less toward the pop side of the hard rock genre.        

For my money, this is another great example of the high quality melodic rock that is coming out of Europe, and particularly southern Europe, that too many people are simply not aware of.  The production is very good, with a nice dose of bottom end and nice separation, especially with the guitars.  If you are looking for something new to add to your melodic hard rock collection, Wild Souls is an excellent band with a lot of musical talent and strong songwriting, and they deserve to be on your musical radar.

Rating: Queen Of My Heart is definitely a crankable record, and every bit as good as their previous effort.  Crank this to 9 and seek out Wild Souls now!

Friday, May 1, 2020

JACK RUSSELL'S GREAT WHITE "Once Bitten Acoustic Bytes"

(c) 2020 Deadline Records

  1. Lady Redlight
  2. Gonna Getcha
  3. Rock Me
  4. All Over Now
  5. Mistreater
  6. Never Change Heart
  7. Fast Road
  8. Livin' On The Edge
  9. Save Your Love
  10. Babe (I'm Gonna Leave You)
Jack Russell--Lead Vocals
Robby Lochner--Guitars, Vocals
Tony Montana Cardenas--Guitars, Vocals
Dan McNay--Bass
Dicki Flisnar-Drums

Where does the time go?  I mean, seriously, how has it been 33 years since Once Bitten was released (or 32 years since it went Platinum for selling over a million copies)?  We danced to "Save Your Love" at my senior prom, for crying out loud!  And while I realize that I am dating myself with that last statement, it also serves to enhance my original question, which we all ask as we get older.  Where does the time go?

Now, I am fully aware of the fact that more people are familiar with Once Bitten's follow-up, ...Twice Shy, due almost solely to that record's cover of "Once Bitten, Twice Shy", but I will be the first to tell you that Once Bitten is the superior record, overall.  The breakthrough track, "Rock Me", is still one of the biggest and most requested songs the band has ever recorded, and the enormity of "Save Your Love" is indisputable, as it is one of the biggest power ballads of that time.  But, man, that record had so many great...GREAT...songs.  "Lady Redlight", "All Over Now", "On The Edge", and even deep cuts that only the most devoted fans likely know, such as "Fast Road" and "Never Change Heart" were solid tracks.  Outside of Hooked, Once Bitten is my favorite Great White record, followed closely by Shot In The Dark (my intro to the band), and the self-titled debut, with numerous other really good records following in the wake.  So, when Robby Lochner told me a couple years ago that Jack's version of the band (don't get me started down THAT road) was going to do an acoustic rendering of Once Bitten, I was definitely more than intrigued...and a little bit concerned.  I mean, let's be honest; the acoustic thing has been played out a bit, and quite frequently with tired, lifeless results.  So I had my reservations.  And when the release of the record was delayed by nearly a year (it was originally supposed to come out in July, 2019), I had some very real concerns.

Turns out, I was sweating it out about nothing.

Once Bitten Acoustic Bytes is the first release from Jack Russell's Great White since 2017's He Saw It Coming, and it is not only an acoustic record, it is a track-for-track remaking of the classic Once Bitten album, played in the exact same sequence.  To me, this is a huge point being made by the band, because so often, these acoustic albums become simply "best of" records, even when implying something different (ahem...Foreigner).  With Once Bitten Acoustic Bytes, you get the entire album, start to finish, in the same order that you first experienced it (unless you had the British version and ended up with the bizarre mish-mash of Once Bitten and Shot In The Dark tracks, or the international version which had "Rock Me" on side two, and both "Fast Road" and "Mistreater" on side one.  But...I doubt you had those...)

The new record, of course, kicks off with "Lady Redlight", and immediately the listener should know they are in for a treat.  As soon as Lochner starts fast-picking his way through that intro...but now on an acoustic guitar....it is obvious this is not going to be an album where the band just coasts along and hits the high points of the hits.  The bass is thick here and sets a nice bottom end groove, and the cool shuffle that the original had shows up in full effect here.  Jack soon comes gliding in, and the man is in top form from note one.  I have seen Great White in various line-up formations, both electric and acoustic, so many times I can't even count.  And to be honest, there have been a few shows where Jack wasn't in the best vocal form, for whatever reason.  That is absolutely not the case here!  Jack sounds fresh and inspired here, and the man soars to the highest peaks of this track with seemingly little effort, and I would be lying if I didn't admit to being impressed.  The backing vocals are light and simple, as they should be, only serving to add bits of enhancement to the lead vocals of one of the most underrated singers in the genre.            

"Gonna Getcha" has a good deal of punch to the bottom end, with more fast and furious finger work from Lochner all over the place on this track.  Jack's vocals nail the urgency and swagger of the track, and little inflections and improvisations here and there really add a live flair to the track, which actually happens in several places throughout the record.  The solo section is really cool, because the support instruments back way off to just a simple drum and bass line supporting Lochner's run that feels off-the-cuff fresh in the way he works it.  The rhythm guitar line is tight and the bass is full in this reworking of a track that I wish would get dusted off more in the live setting. 

One thing I really like here is the reworking of the classic tracks so that you aren't just getting the same old, same old minus the electricity.  This is especially evident on a track like "Rock Me", which is given a cool, bluesy feel with a big, rumbling bass line and some fun guitar rhythms, particularly in the chorus sections. The guitar solo that runs out the song is really something to hear, with some impressive intensity and fast, clean picking.  Jack sings the whole thing about half a step lower in octave than the original, and this is done solely for effect, as he proves throughout the record that he is more than capable of climbing the ladder to hit the high notes when he needs to.  The backing vocals are a bit subdued...intentionally so...and they are harmonized perfectly.  It should also be mentioned that Flisnar's drums are rock solid throughout the track (and record), which can be tricky when the drummer is kind of limited in what he can add to an acoustic track without overpowering the song.  Really cool stuff, here.

"All Over Now" is still sharp and sassy in the acoustic version, but it breathes a bit more, as you might expect.  Jack adds a snarling edge to his vocals in the verse sections, and the backing vocals on the verses are done very well.  The chorus is pretty much spot-on, as well, and I am really glad they kept the chorus the same as it is on record here, rather than the slightly altered approach taken when the song is done live sometimes.  There's no cowbell here, but there is some wood block thrown into the percussive mix here, which gives a bit more of an organic feel to the track.  Lochner tears through a rapid fire pick-fest of a solo here, with Jack encouraging him, "C'mon Robby, need little bit more!" about half way through, which only encourages the guy to do his best shred impersonation on acoustic strings.  Color me impressed!

"Mistreater" is given a heavy dose of the blues, especially with a brand new intro and some fast and furious picking in the chorus sections, along with a cool little run from the drums coming out of the choruses.  This is a perfect example of taking a song fans will be familiar with and giving it a musical makeover, respecting the original but having some fun and flexing some creative muscle in changing things up a bit.  The guitar solo here is awesome, once again featuring some really fast picking from Lochner, and there's a nice piano accompaniment from Cardenas (Montana) coming out of the solo section that leads into the final run through the chorus.  The guitar work throughout this song is simply amazing to hear, and Jack is very obviously having a blast with this Great White classic.

For me, one of the coolest parts about this total reworking of Once Bitten is that the album cuts get new life here.  Very few people could sing the lyrics to "Never Change Heart" or "Fast Road", but the band delivers on each of these as if they were the biggest songs the band has ever released.  "Never Change Heart", for example, is given a deep, dark groove for the rest of the song to work around, and Jack's clean, impassioned vocals stand out starkly against the backdrop.  There is one point where Jack's voice cracks ever so slightly in the first chorus, but rather than edit it out, the band just carries on and the "real" feel of the track is left intact.  I love this!  There's no need to carve out a single cracked word; this is what gives this album such a live feel.  To be honest, I expected applause to cascade over the outros of these songs, as the record really has a live setting feel throughout.  Fingers are flying on the solo here, once again, and forgive me if this offends, but I truly don't know if Mark Kendall could pull off the acoustic solos that Lochner drops here.  The man is a truly underappreciated talent, and this stripped down format only serves to prove that point more fully.

As far as the previously mentioned "Fast Road" goes, it's really more of the same as far as quality goes.  If you aren't familiar with the original, this is a pretty uptempo track in its original form, but I daresay it may be a bit faster here.  The music has a really cool chugging train feel to it, reminding me a lot of the bluegrass breakdowns you hear in some of the faster music of that genre, but we don't venture into that type of instrumentation.  The backing vocals here are spot-on, and Jack absolutely dominates the higher end of his range, holding out notes for long stretches with seemingly little effort.  The chugga-chugga-chug of the bass line is a really powerful driving force in this song, and the guitar solo is catchy and inventive.

"Living On The Edge" has long been one of my favorite tracks by Great White, and it is given new life...and new appreciation from me...in this acoustic setting.  Longtime, hardcore fans will likely notice the title change (I did), as the original doesn't have the word "Living" in it.  I asked Robby about this, and he said it was just a minor oversight and nothing that was done intentionally.  No biggie, as it is the music that matters, and it is done exceptionally well.  The bass line is thick, the drums are simple and straight forward, but still powerful, and the guitars are absolutely magnificent.  I really don't know what other word to use.  There is a rhythm guitar line running in the background that will likely remind the listener of the rhythm line used in Stevie Nicks' "Edge Of Seventeen", which is pretty cool, and I would imagine hard to maintain for a long stretch.  The handclaps that are added into the percussion mix here are a nice touch, adding a new quality to this classic track.  While it was never released as a single, I always felt it should have been, as it showcases what Great White did so well at that time, and the song is just catchy as heck. Once again, Jack completely owns the song, moving up and down his range with no problems and sounding fresh and powerful.  Maybe my favorite track here, although "Never Change Heart" is close.

As far as favorites go, a lot of people are likely to skip straight to the massive "Save Your Love", just to see how this track is handled.  In a word, it is handled "perfectly"  Jack doesn't miss a single note, delivering all the power and passion to this track that you have likely heard when the band performs this song live.  The bass is once again a very prominent part of this track, but outside of Jack's dominance, it has to be the amazing guitar solo from Lochner that is the focal point here.  He absolutely nails the solo here, delivering it as passionately as Jack does the vocals.  I probably still prefer the original, just because it is such an iconic track for the band, but man...this version does the song major service.  Absolutely exceptional work here.          

The album concludes with a bonus track in "Babe (I'm Gonna Leave You)", which has appeared on a couple of Great White albums and compilations through the years.  But, true to the record, even that classic Led Zeppelin cover has been completely re-recorded in acoustic fashion...and Jack has never sounded better.  In fact, his take on Robert Plant at this point is as good as I have ever heard, including on the Great White record, Great Zeppelin: A Tribute To Led Zeppelin.  The song is well-suited to be performed acoustically, I believe, and the band does not disappoint.  The acoustic guitars here are played to near perfection, and the percussion fits exceptionally well, not overpowering the quieter voices of the acoustic instruments, but delivering enough power to really push the song.  The big build moments are handled expertly, especially in the big section following the second chorus.  I asked Robby why this track was included, since it wasn't even a B-side or anything for this record.  He told me the record label had requested multiple bonus tracks, but the band gave them one.  And they gave them one helluva great one.  This may honestly be my favorite version of this track, and I simply can't say enough about how great Jack...and the entire band...sound on this cover.  It's a perfect close to an excellent record.

Produced and mixed by Lochner, the sound on this record is incredibly crisp and clean, with no annoying string squeaks from the guitars, and no instrument left silent in the mix.  The artwork is relatively simple, and has absolutely nothing to do with the original cover, but I think that's fine.  Besides, it looks better with the band's names scrawled all over it, don't you think?  There are no band photos or lyircs included in the tri-fold booklet, just a large thank-you section from each of the band members.

I have stated several times in many places that to me, this is the definitive version of the band, with Jack's voice being what drew so many people to Great White in the first place.  Robby Lochner is every bit the guitar player Mark Kendall was, and as I stated before, I think he pulls off work here that Mark couldn't even dream of playing today.  The rhythm section of McNay and Flisnar is rock solid, and Tony Montana's return solidified the line-up on rhythm guitars and keys, giving Jack Russell's Great White the truest sounding version of this splintered group, with Mark Kendall's version changing vocalists multiple times and, to be honest, coming off as rather tired-sounding and uninspired on their last effort, the relatively un-Great White Full Circle.  To compare the musicality of Jack Russell's Great White versus (Mark Kendall's) Great White is really not even a fair fight, as Jack's version is going to win every time.  Once Bitten Acoustic Bytes absolutely proves this point in spades.


Snag your own copy HERE and give this awesome album a listen with a new ear!  Now, while you do that, I need to transfer mine to a new jewel case (thank you post office!).

Rating:  Acoustically crankable!  I find practically zero flaws in this acoustic gem!  Crank this to 9.5!