Thursday, April 25, 2013

QUEENSRYCHE "Frequency Unknown"

(c) 2013 Deadline Records

  1. Cold (Kelly Gray--guitar solo)
  2. Dare
  3. Give It To You (Robert Sarzo--guitar solo)
  4. Slave (Chris Cannella--guitar solo)
  5. In The Hands Of God (Ty Tabor--guitar solo)
  6. Running Backwards (KK Downing--guitar solo)
  7. Life Without You (Brad Gillis--guitar solo)
  8. Everything (Ty Tabor--guitar solo)
  9. Fallen (Dave Meniketti--guitar solo)
  10. The Weight Of The World (Chris Poland--guitar solo)
  11. I Don't Believe In Love (Re-Recording)
  12. Empire (Re-Recording)
  13. Jet City Woman (Re-Recording)
  14. Silent Lucidity (Re-Recording)
Geoff Tate--Vocals
Craig Locicero--Rhythm Guitar
Martin Irigoyen--Drums, Bass, Guitars on Tracks11-14
Randy Gane--Keyboards
Jason Slater--Bass, Theramin on Track 2
Rudy Sarzo--Bass
Simon Wright--Drums
Evan Bautista--Drums
Paul Bostaph--Drums 

So, the first shot in the dueling Queensryche's has been fired by the, well, fired former frontman's version as Geoff Tate has released his band's debut album, Frequency Unknown.  An interesting title, but I have to wonder if he was just searching for words that started with "F" and "U" so he could send a not-so-subtle message to the other Queensryche.  (Rumor has it Feathered Undergarments and Festering Uvula were also they weren't....)  The placement of the classic Queensryche logo on the middle finger of the fist is another nice little visual element for fans and former band members to discuss among themselves.

Regardless of the eye-catching letter placement, the only thing that really matters to 'Ryche fans is which version of the band can deliver the goods.  Who is going to properly wear the mantle of Queensryche?  Well, that depends largely upon which era of the band you are hoping to hear.  If you are looking for a rehashing of The Warning or Rage For Order then I suggest you keep on walking when you see this album in the store racks (or scroll down if you are shopping on-line), because this is NOT 1980's Queensryche.  However, if you find yourself more in line with the strongest material found on later 'Ryche albums such as Promised Land, Hear In The Now Frontier, or even later efforts like American Soldier and Dedicated To Chaos, then, my friends, you have likely found a keeper, for this is the direction Tatesryche (which I shall now call this version of the band because...well, I think it's fun) is headed in.  As for me, I find myself in the somewhat precarious position of being a fan of BOTH eras of the band (which is not an overly common location to find oneself in), so I was neither letdown or overjoyed with the direction of Tatesryche; I simply took it for what it is.

Geoff Tate has claimed that after Chris DeGarmo left the band it was Tate who steered the musical ship of Queensryche.  I have to admit that I was somewhat skeptical of this claim as his solo albums both left me wanting, to be honest, and I was afraid that this album would be more of the same.  I am happy to report that it is not.  Frequency Unknown is not completely unlike the best parts of many of the post-Empire efforts of Queensryche.  In fact, I was generally pleasantly surprised with the direction of Tatesryche, especially since Geoff and Company took it upon themselves to incorporate a lot more guitar soloing on this record, something which was sorely missing on the worst parts of ...Chaos, for example.  But this incorporation of guitars comes at a cost:  there is no real band it would seem, and the large number of hired guns, really leaves me wondering if F.U. is as much of a band effort as Tate would have us believe.  (For what it's worth, I believe the "band" is now the Sarzo brothers, Gray, and Wright, with Randy Gane on keys, which is an impressive line-up).   With such guitar luminaries as Brad Gillis (Night Ranger), KK Downing (Judas Priest), Dave Meniketti (Y&T), Ty Tabor (King's X), Craig Locicero (Forbidden), Chris Poland (Megadeth), Robert Sarzo (Hurricane) and even former Queensryche member Kelly Gray, there is no doubt there is talent behind the axes here, and it shows for the most part.  Other musicians brought on board include Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy) on bass on a few tracks, and drummers Paul Bostaph (Slayer, Exodus, Testament), and Simon Wright (AC/DC, Dio).  So, with all the talent on this record, what are the results like?

Good, for the most part...again, depending upon your choice of eras...but not what you might expect.  With previous members of Slayer, Forbidden, Judas Priest, and Megadeth on board, one might expect this to be a far heavier album than it is.  There is some heft to the record, though, but it is more of a modern-feeling heaviness than a metal heaviness; this is a porgressive hard rock album with both metallic and modern influences, NOT a heavy metal record.  That being said, it is worth noting that the rhythm guitar playing of Locicero throughout this record is top notch and really gives some power and crunch to the rockers on F.U.  Tracks like the lead single, "Cold", or the gritty "Slave" have some punch to them, and Tate's vocals are right at home in the emotive tenor range that he has employed for most of the previous five or six records.  The most metal moment is a very good one, as KK Downing leads Tatesryche through the charged up "Running Backwards", and once again, Tate's vocals are strong and controlled.  I'm guessing that this track will be the one that makes old school Ryche fans sit up and take notice, and will possibly pull a few dissenters off the fence.  "Fallen", on the other hand, really shows the modern slant of the record, sounding musically like it could slide in right next to a Disturbed or Sevendust song with ease, which is a bit odd with the likes of Y&T's Meniketti slinging the axe on this number. 

"Running Backwards" aside, the stand-out tracks here all have solid melodic moments, with "In The Hands Of God" being the truly shining moment of the album, sounding a lot like it could have come from my favorite 'Ryche album, Promised Land, and the powerful, sweeping "The Weight Of The World" bordering on the epic status of some of the best moments of the fractured band's catalog. "Life Without You" is another really solid song that reminds me of just how good Queensryche has sounded in the past and could sound again, and with no true ballads on the disc, "Everything" and "Give It To You" both work toward the slower side and both are done effectively with Tate's voice working effortlessly throughout the tracks.

There are no real stinkers in the new tracks, although I have to admit the use of a theramin in the song "Dare" kind of throws me for a loop as it gives the song an odd feeling.  No, it isn't the new material that gives me any issues.  The biggest problem on this album?  The re-recordings, no question.  They are not good.  At all.  And it's not just Tate's vocals that are the problem.  For one, these songs are not recorded with a band or any of the guest musicians mentioned above.  Martin Irigoyen performs all the guitars, bass, and drums on each of these songs and this exposes weakensses in not having a full band of musicians skilled in a specific instrument being utilized.  This is especially evident on "Jet City Woman" and "Empire" where whole layers of the songs seem to be missing.  As to the complaints about Tate's vocals on these songs, there is some merit in those complaints.  Tate's voice doesn't sound "shot", as so many people seem to like to say, but he does sound tired and lacking in passion.  Sure, he misses some notes, and several of the high spots are dropped in register, but if you really listen to these four songs I think there is more to it.  I think that these songs were done with as little mixing or overdubbing as possible.  It wouldn't surprise me if these were one or two take recordings, in fact.  You get the distinct impression these were very quick, very raw additions to the album where Tate likely said "good enough" and then moved on.  The production on these tracks is very empty, with lots of musical holes in each of them which is unfortunate as these are among the most requested songs of QR's catalog.

And while we are on production issues, much has been made of the production problems with this record, and, again, there is some merit to those complaints.  The record does sound muddy in a few spots, especially when played at a moderate volume.  I have noticed that when I turn the music up louder OR if I listen to the record through a good set of headphones the issues don't seem to be as prevalent for whatever reason.  I wish Tate had taken another few weeks to really nail the production on this record, as I think that would have shifted a few detractors more into his camp.

Overall, this record is nowhere near as bad as a lot of people have made it out to be, and I find myself enjoying it for the most part.  When I ripped it to my iPod, however, I have to admit that I dropped the re-recordings as I have a hard time listening to Tatesryche cover Queensryche, which is what we are basically forced to do on those songs.  Other than those glitches, if people listen with a truly open mind I think they will find that this record is not as bad as the Tate haters want it to be, and that it is actually a solid listen with several very good moments. 

Album of the year?  No way.  Stinker of the century?  Not even close.

The bar has been set for the other Queensryche now.  Do they hurdle it or limbo it?  Time will tell, I guess, but Tatesryche certainly doesn't make things easy for the rest of his former bandmates.

Rating:  I like it, but the re-recordings kill the rating, dropping this to a rocking 6.5, although "...Hands Of God" and "Running Backwards", among others, give me a lot of hope for Tatesryche round 2.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

LYNCH MOB "Unplugged Live From Sugarhill Studios"

(c) 2013 Rat Pak Records

  1. River Of Love
  2. Where Do You Sleep At Night
  3. All I Want
  4. Wicked Sensation
  5. Interview
Oni Logan--Vocals
George Lynch--Guitars
Robbie Crane--Bass
Brian Tichy--Guitars
Tyson Sheth--Percussion

It seems like George Lynch and Rat Pak are cranking out a new George Lynch or Lynch Mob EP release about every 9 months now, so I wasn't overly surprised to see the new Unplugged: Live From Sugarhill Studios EP released this past week.  I was a bit surprised to hear George do an unplugged, acoustic album, as this type of setting really doesn't lend itself to the skill set possessed by one of the true guitar gods of the 80's....or so one would think....

George Lynch shows himself to be in fine form, even without electricity, as he is able to pull of some pretty cool acoustic leads on this little teaser of an album.  This is especially true on "All I Want" and the seminal Lynch Mob classic, "Wicked Sensation".  Both of these songs...and really all four songs...find Lynch (with some help from Brian Tichy) bending the strings with a different sort of soul that can sometimes be lost when the amps are plugged in and cranked to 10.  Sure, Mr. Scary is a bit more tame on an album like this, but if anything it shows that his skill is genuine and not just smoke, mirrors, foot pedals, and whammy bars.  Crane also acquits himself nicely on acoustic bass here, and the percussion added by Sheth is simple and keeps itself where it belongs, in the background, allowing the star of the show step to the forefront. thought I meant George Lynch?  No, no, no...the star of the show here is, without a doubt, Oni Logan.  Logan's voice is IDEAL for this type of performance and he gives possibly the best performance I have ever heard him present on these four songs.  Sure, the music is great and Lynch is the namesake and the reason people likely will pick this up, but make no mistake, Logan's voice is the driving force behind these songs as the passion in his voice is undeniable.  He lets the smokiness of his voice really creep in on "Where Do You Sleep At Night", and the bottom range of his vocals, as well as the blusiness, is given front and center treatment on "Wicked Sensation".  On top of it all, he sounds like he is having a lot of fun with these songs, as does the whole band really, which is nice to hear.  Logan has received a bad rap with a lot of people over the years, for any number of reasons (none of which I can confirm, as I've never met the guy), but his vocal skill should not be questioned, especially in this type of setting.  

This little EP closes with a band interview which, honestly, I could completely do without as it adds nothing to the effort. No real need for further comment, so I will just leave it at that.

While the material is obviously different, as is the band, I find this EP to be far superior to the work turned in by Lynch's old band, Dokken, on that band's One Live Night release.  "Where Do You Sleep At Night" was a bit of an odd selection, but it works nicely to add depth to the more well-known songs that are also featured, but with only four songs, this EP is painfully short and may have been better served with another "hit".  

It's almost criminal the way George keeps teasing his fans with these EP's, but rumors of full-length albums never seem to come to fruition, so maybe this is the route George is determined to take for the remainder of his recording career outside of T&N.  I certainly hope not, but if so, I hope that the quality continues to be this high, whether solo, as a group, acoustic, or plugged in.  This is top-shelf stuff, folks.  Don't you dare miss out.

Rating:  An acoustic cranking is in order here...jump it up to an 8.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

MIKE TRAMP "Cobblestone Street"

(C) 2013 Deadline Records
  1. Cobblestone Street
  2. Caught In The Storm
  3. new Day
  4. Ain't The Life I Asked For
  5. Revolution
  6. We'll Be Alright
  7. Angel Or Devil
  8. Find It In Your Heart
  9. What Are You Gonna Do
  10. Once 
  11. When The Children Cry (2013 Acoustic Version)

Mike Tramp--Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Soren Anderson--Guitar, Piano, Keyboards, Bass, Drums, Harmonica

It has been a little while since I picked up anything from Mike Tramp, and there are various reasons for that. I was a fan of White Lion back in the day, especially the first album, Fighting To Survive, and the mega-hit, Pride.  Big Game was a decent enough album, albeit a bit different in its approach, and Mane Attraction was a very solid, if overlooked album, but then the band broke up and I lost interest.  Tramp's Freak Of Nature project really did nothing for me, and I got tired of reading about the constant bickering between Tramp and guitar slinger extraordinaire, Vito Bratta.  The re-formed band's Return Of The Pride (minus Bratta) was pretty good, but it seemed the magic was gone and I just kind of lost track of Tramp and company.  Someone sent me one of Mike's solo albums and, while not terrible, it had more in common with Bryan Adams' styled music that White Lion, or even Freak Of Nature, so I just stopped seeking his music out.

When this new album showed up in my mailbox, I took a look at the cover and thought, " what?" If Tramp was trying to look like...well...a tramp, he certainly succeeded, but I had no understanding as to why.  Then, when I put the CD in, I was like, "what the hell?!  An acoustic record?!"  I was pretty much ready to write the thing off.

But then I pulled out the lyrics and read along...and I got it.  This album isn't about who Mike Tramp was, or even still is, when he's with White Lion.  This is about who Mike Tramp is as a musician the REST of the time.  White Lion is a band; this is Mike Tramp telling his stories his way, without all the pomp and bombast of his "day job" band.  Imagine Mike Tramp singing some of the more emotionally charged acoustic works of  Springsteen or maybe a Neil Young.  I think you will get an idea of what this album is about and where it will take you as a listener.  

It's tough to think of certain tracks as being stand-outs on an album such as this, but if backed into a corner, I would say that my favorites would be "Angel Or Devil", "Ain't The Life I Asked For", or "We'll Be Alright" which I found especially poignant as it deals with fatherhood.  The title track is pretty cool as well, and so is "Caught In The Storm".  

While it may be difficult to pick a favorite, it's pretty easy for me to tell you what I don't like here.  For one, the piano is kind of annoying in spots; it just doesn't seem to fit and is mixed too out front in some songs.  For another, I wish Tramp would have left "When The Children Cry" alone.  There is nothing here that adds to, or improves upon, the original, and it actually seems to take some of the soul of the original to hear what was already a very stripped down song get stripped even further.  The song just sounds naked, for lack of a better term.  In all honesty, I skip the track, preferring to remember the song for what it was when White Lion was at their peak.

Tramp's voice is stark and emotion-filled, but still strong.  It's funny that I say that because one of the things I complained about as a younger man was the fact that he could sound TOO emotional at times...I think I used the term "whiney" a LOT back then...on the more emotional ballad material.  It's interesting how time changes our perspectives on a lot of things, which is exactly what Tramp is trying to get across on Cobblestone Street.

As to packaging, the lyrics are all included, which frequent readers will know I am a fan of.  There are a couple of alternately posed pictures in the booklet, but nothing spectacular, and there is no bio or explanation of the album of any sort, just the basic recording credits and a couple of thank you's.  Much like the album, it's just the basics here, but they are sufficient.

Rating:  Not something I would crank, because the music doesn't lend itself to that, and I would have to be in the right mood to play this often.  Musically, I would give it a "rock it" rating of 6, although that rating doesn't reflect the quality of music as much as it reflects the lack of punch to the music.  As far as the content, a crankable 7.5 is not out of line, and fans of this type of music are going to find a lot to love about Cobblestone Street, no doubt.

Friday, April 12, 2013

WAR & PEACE "The Flesh And Blood Sessions"

(C) 2013 Deadline Music

  1. Kill For The Love Of God
  2. Snake Eyes
  3. If I Put My Love In You
  4. I Don't Want To Be Lonely
  5. Nailed To The Cross
  6. Idle Worship
  7. Bringing It On
  8. Raising Cain
  9. What I Hide Behind
  10. Heaven Knows
Jeff Pilson--Vocals, Guitar, Bass (6-9) Keyboards
Randy Hansen--Lead Guitar
Michael Diamond--Bass
Vinny Appice--Drums

Additional Musicians:
Robin McAuley--Vocals on Track 9
Darren Housholder--Lead Guitar on Track 10

That sneaky Jeff Pilson!  He didn't even mention this album coming out when I interviewed him for this site a few weeks ago!  Guess the man can add "secret keeper" to his list of accomplishments, because it seems like he has done just about everything else!

Whether you know him as a member of Dokken, Dio, MSG, Lynch/Pilson, Foreigner, Adler, T&N, or any of the other half-dozen lesser known projects he has worked with, it is most likely you DO know Jeff Pilson if you are at all into melodic hard rock from the 80's to the present.  This album features the material Pilson wrote with Michael Diamond (Legs Diamond) for what would have been the Flesh And Blood album, had that band ever released an album under that name.  As Pilson explains in the liner notes, the first five tracks here were the original Flesh And Blood demo from 1989, and things looked promising for the band.  However, Hansen would leave in 1990 and the band lost the rights to the name Flesh And Blood.  So, rather than sit and stew, Pilson and Company switched monickers to War & Peace, recorded with various versions of the line-up of musicians listed above, and released The Flesh And Blood Sessions.  

Nothing here is going to be world changing, but it is all very good, professionally performed melodic hard rock that fluctuates between radio-friendly fare and edgy, almost angry material.  Take for example the decidedly radio ready "I Don't Want To Be Lonely" which I think would have been a big time radio and video hit had it had more label support.  This track reminds a lot of what Kane Roberts was putting out on his second solo album.  "Idle Worship" is another smooth, melodic number that is very much in line with a lot of Dokken material from the time, and Pilson sounds a lot like Kip Winger in his vocal approach here.  The same can be said of "Bringing It On" which, again, sounds like an angry Winger song from the Pull era of that band.  Very smooth, very polished in its approach, this is a sharp departure from several other cuts, such as the more caustic "Kill For the Love Of God", "Nailed To The Cross", or "Raising Cain", for example.  Now, one could almost speculate there was some sort of spiritual connection here, what with all the religious references such as God, the cross, Cain, worship, and Heaven.  Instead of any kind of Christian themes, however, these songs are rather angry in nature, showing a more biting lyrical approach than anything Dokken had (or has) ever attempted with Pilson in the band.  The music on these songs is also  very edgy at times, giving this project a nice contrast to the more radio friendly numbers mentioned above.

Of particular note to fans of Pilson or War & Peace would be the album's closer, "Heaven Knows".  This track was added to this re-release of the album and is not available on the 1999 version of this project.  Another chunky rocker, this song features Housholder's lead guitar work and showcases where the band was headed with the War & Peace material that would follow.  Pilson's vocals have a particularly metal edge to them on this track which features a big, screaming chorus, solid drumming, and some really nice lead work from Mr. Housholder who was fresh out of the Berklee School of Music at the time.  An excellent tune that makes this the superior version of this package to own.  The production here is much more raw than anything else on this project, which leads me to believe this was also a demo that Pilson cleaned up just a touch before tacking it onto the end of the project.

All in all, a very enjoyable listen that I am glad was given the dust off and re-release.  I would like to have seen more in terms of pictures, lyrics, etc., as none of this is included, but I am guessing there wasn't a huge budget for this project, and the music is what matters in the end.

Rating:  Crank this to very deserving 7.5.  A very well done project that was worth the re-issue!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

TED POLEY "Greatestits"

(c) 2009 Ted Poley
  1. Yeah You Want It
  2. What If She Knew
  3. Waiting Line
  4. Maybe
  5. Deep Inside (Bonemachine)
  6. Going Blind
  7. I Love You (Poley/Pichler)
  8. You're The One (Poley/Pichler)
  9. Let Me Out (Poley/Pichler)
  10. Missing You (Bonemachine)
  11. Anisha (Bonemachine)
  12. Shellshocked (Bonemachine)
  13. Mrs. Frankenstein (Bonemachine)
  14. The Song (Bonemachine)
  15. Life And Times (Bonemachine)
  16. Sample Life (Bonemachine)
  17. Phone Sex (Bonemachine)
  1. Luv On Me
  2. Lovemetal (Melodica)
  3. One And Only (Pleasuredome)
  4. Praying For A Miracle (Pleasuredome)
  5. Only Human (Poley/Rivera)
  6. Crossing The Ocean (Poley/Rivera)
  7. Perfect Imprefection (Poley/Northrup)
  8. If I Were James Taylor (Poley/Northrup)
  9. Takoyaki Rock
  10. Wastin' Your Luv (Jack Frost)
  11. Listen To Ya (Prophet)
  12. Smile
  13. You Won't See Me Cryin'
  14. Tokyo Nites
  15. A Letter To Santa
  16. Ted Poley (Parody of KISS' "Unholy" featuring Chris Caffery & CC Banana)
Culled from a vast array of non-Danger Danger albums, Greatestits comprises an excellent cross-section sampling of what Ted Poley has been extremely busy doing over the past several years.  Featuring tracks from his solo albums Smile and Collateral Damage, as well as his work with Bonemachine, Melodica, Pleasuredome, JK Northrup, Poley/Pichler, Jack Frost, and Poley/Rivera, there is something here for just about anyone who is either a fan of Poley's voice or the melodic rock style that Poley adopted upon leaving Danger Danger (he has since returned to front that band).  While that would likely be enough for most Danger Danger or Poley fans, Ted goes above and beyond to make this collection worth shelling out the requisite dollars and cents by including demos, unreleased tracks, outtakes, a Christmas tune, and a parody song.    
As one would probably guess, there are a variety of styles and tempos covered in the 33 songs that make up over two hours of music here, although nothing overly shocking; there is no country, rap, or techno included in this package, so you can put those concerns aside!  Most of the music falls in Poley's wheelhouse, especially the Poley/Rivera material that is likely the most familiar to fans from the past 5-10 years, although some stuff rocks harder than other material.    
Fans who have never heard the Bonemachine material might be taken aback a bit by the production quality of tracks 15-17, but from what I understand, these songs were actually demos and never given a proper mixing.  It never renders the material unlistenable, but there is a definite drop-off in sound quality between this and, for example, the Poley/Rivera material.  Still, the songs are very well-written and performed although they are far more blues-oriented than thing Ted every attempted with Danger Danger.  Ted's voice is still strong and recognizable and he sounds very much at home with this more laid back/less overblown style.  "Life And Times" is a bit of an odd tune, especially toward the middle of the song, reminding me of an adult contemporary track like Michael McDonald or some other 80's pop artist may have worked on, but then the guitars kick back in and pump the rock back into the track.  "Simple Life" has a pretty fat bottom-end groove to it and is one I would really have liked to hear full production on as it sounds very incomplete in this form.  "Phone Sex", again, is very raw in its production and has a very bluesy guitar sound running throughout (along with a somewhat annoying telephone ring).  Interesting stuff, to be sure, but definitely lacking due to the production.   

The Poley/Pichler material may be a bit of a sugar-shock to some listeners, as there is nowhere near the level of rock that Danger Danger incorporated in their tunes on these songs.  Pop styled songs with insanely slick production, these songs may not be everyone's cup of tea, but they do showcase a smoother side to Poley's voice.

The real treats here are the demos, the Christmas song, and the previously unreleased Japan-only track, which is one of the best tracks on the collection.  Also worthy of special mention is the Melodica track, "Lovemetal" which should have been a big radio hit, in my opinion.  I also really enjoy the track Poley worked out with Jack Frost, and I felt that the blistering "Wastin' Your Luv" was one of the stronger points on Frost's disc when it came out.   If you ever wondered what a Poley "metal" song would sound like, you get a good indicator here!  The Pleasuredome track is another solid rocker, and while I'm generally not a huge fan of parodies, but "Ted Poley" is pretty funny in limited spins.

Nothing here is a "hit"...or a "tit" for that matter...but it doesn't matter, as this is a generally solid collection.  Sure there are some sound quality issues, but all in all, it's a solid, if LONG, listen.  The packaging is VERY generic, with no songwriting or musician credits to be found, no lyrics, no pictures (other than album covers), etc.  My copy was purchased a couple years ago when Ted was offering to include an autograph and a guitar pick to people who picked up the limited edition version.  I'm not sure how many different versions there are, so I do not know if there is a single disc version of this effort out there, but if there is, I have never seen it.

Rating:  With a collection this big, there are bound to be hits and misses, and not everyone will like everything, so I'd rock this at 6.5.  If you pull out a single disc worth of your favorites, you could conceivably crank it to 7.5 or so.

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Friday, April 5, 2013

STRYPER "Second Coming"

(c) 2013 Frontiers

  1. Loud 'N Clear
  2. Loving You
  3. Soldiers Under Command
  4. Makes Me Wanna Sing
  5. First Love
  6. The Rock That Makes Me Roll
  7. Reach Out
  8. Surrender
  9. To Hell With The Devil
  10. Calling On You 
  11. Free
  12. The Way
  13. Sing-Along Song
  14. More Than A Man
  15. Bleeding From The Inside (New)
  16. Blackened (New)
Michael Sweet--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Oz Fox--Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
Timothy Gaines--Bass, Backing Vocals
Robert Sweet--Drums, Visual Timekeeping

There has been quite a trend lately of bands re-recording their classic material.  The reasons vary, but most generally it has something to do with the band being able to use and license the material they originally wrote but signed away the rights to in some contract 20 or 25 years ago.  The venture is risky, to say the least.  Fans have fallen in love with the originals (if they didn't, they probably aren't going to buy the re-records...), the singers have lost their range, the band decided to rearrange everything...many things could go wrong when a band decides to do something like this.  

Stryper is the latest band to tackle this chore and they do a more than commendable job in doing so.  Has Michael lost some of his range?  Possibly, but you really couldn't judge that by the lack of screams on this album, as Sweet lets things rip on multiple occasions.  Yes, there are a lot of vocals that are performed in a lower register on these re-records, but these are most obvious in the backing vocals.  This is especially true on a song like "Sing-Along Song", which, to be honest, took several plays before I got used to hearing it.  I will tell you that I prefer the original, but I like what the band has done on this track as well.  In fact, for the most part I like what the band has done on all of the tracks here, as they all come across as grittier, maybe even "more raw" if you want to use that term, sounding like they have been recorded in a more live fashion and not over-produced.

One of the main improvements here is the mix of the instruments.  Go back and listen to the original albums and it can be nearly impossible to find Timothy Gaines' bass on some songs.  That is not the case now.  Robert's drums sound livelier as well with more thump to them.  Oz and Michael have always been an understated guitar tandem, in my opinion, and that continues to be the truth here as the two play off of each other like the decades long team that they are.

Again, as I mentioned above, if I had one complaint about this effort it would be the obvious register change in the backing vocals.  I know that seems like a minor point, and that should be a good thing.  There are times, however, where they almost change the feel of the song.  The previously mentioned "Sing-Along Song" would be a perfect example.  The song isn't quite as bouncy or as "fun", if that makes sense, and that was what that song embodied to me: FUN!  I loved singing along to that track at concerts.  And, as I mentioned, after several listens, I am prepared for the register change, and I don't mind it.  At first, was OBVIOUS something was different!  This is the case in a couple of other places as well, but I think most people will be like me and be able to work their way through the changes.

The two new songs here are a real treat, especially album closer, "Blackened".  This is a perfect example of the band finding that happy medium between moving forward without forgetting where they came from.  A pure rocker from start to finish, "Blackened" picks right up where "God" left off on The Covering a couple years ago.  "Bleeding..." is a solid enough song as well, albeit a bit more mid-to-slower tempo, which is fine.  As for me, I'll take an album of "Blackened" style songs any day!

The song selection is pretty much what you would expect, with songs being culled from the first three albums.  The glaring omission would be "Honestly", but that song has been played to death anyway, so I don't miss it at all.  There are rumblings that there will be a second Second Coming coming soon, possibly as early as the end of this year.  The next version will feature songs from In God We Trust, Against The Law, and the more recent releases.  I am anxious to hear what the band does to the A.T.L. songs, and I will be waiting to see if they decide to include the re-worked version of "In God We Trust" that they released a few years back.

The packaging is a digipack (I know, I know...), but the lyrics are all included along with several color photos and extensive thank yous and a brief band bio.  Frontiers generally does a good job in this department and they didn't disappoint here....other than the digi....

Rating:  Crank this re-recorded effort to a generous 7.5 and wait with bated breath for the next version to come soon.  An album of all new material is also said to be in the works, so be on the lookout for that as well...

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