Tuesday, December 23, 2014

JUPITER VI "Moveable Walls"

(c) 2014 Roxx Productions

  1. Sleepless End Pt. I-IV
  2. Wasting Away
  3. Running
  4. Face In The Sky
  5. A Message From Home Pt. 1
Jimmy P. Brown II--Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Drums, Keyboards
Jeff Ceyba--Electric Lead, Slide, Baritone, and Clean Guitars

If you are looking for a new Deliverance record:  STOP RIGHT HERE.  While Jimmy P. Brown II is the mastermind behind both projects, any and all similarities stop at that point.  There is no confusing the Christian thrash legends with this side project, as the styles and sounds have nothing in common other than Brown's vocals and some heavy-yet-melodic guitar parts (a la the last few Deliverance records).  Rather, what Jupiter VI and Moveable Walls offer is heavy progressive rock not dissimilar from Pink Floyd's heavier moments. 

The Floydian comparisons are going to happen, there is simply no getting away from it.  This is especially true on the epic opener, "Sleepless End Pt. I-IV", although prog fans are going to point to Neal Morse as an obvious influence here as well, particularly in the way the song is constructed.  Clocking in at a massive 19+ minutes, "Sleepless End..." takes the listener through four different "movements".  The first one is largely made up of an instrumental piece, introduced by sounds of a thunderstorm all but drowning out Brown's early vocals, some rather bluesy guitar, and some ethereal keyboard work for the first 5 minutes or so.  Part II is my favorite of this lengthy musical piece, as the real heft of the track kicks in, as Jimmy's rhythm guitar, and even more blues-drenched leads, take over the track.  This is a true musical feast for those who have come with open minds and ears, as Jimmy's (and Jeff's) guitar sensibilities are allowed to stretch themselves here in a complicated interplay that is shockingly blistered by...dare I say...heavy melodic shred guitar near the end of the movement.  This is truly amazing guitar work here that I find myself almost hypnotically drawn to despite the rather plodding pace the bass and drums keep.  Part III is more about Jimmy's vocals than anything else, and, much like Part II, the melodic feel and the pulsing drive of the track entrances the listener.  The final movement, Part IV, is something of a replay of the first movement, with the music being drowned under crashing waves interspersed with guitar and keyboard (organ?) work.  The thing is, the song is so seamlessly put together, it's difficult to tell where one part begins and one part ends, so the breakdown here is the way I hear it, as my digital review copy does not have any movement breaks such as may be found on a CD version.  (To be fair, I don't know if the CD breaks them down, either...)

"Wasting Away" reminds me a bit of some of the more progressive moments of Deliverance's catalog, particularly the Camelot In Smithereens-era material, although it is still darker and more melancholy than even that album's darkest material.  Once again, once you make it through the subdued acoustic intro, you are treated to simply amazing guitar work sears its way into the listener's head and dares you to divert your attention elsewhere.  Jimmy's emotive vocals are haunting here and meld themselves perfectly to the rest of the music, with the chorus...if you can really call it that...utterly breathtaking.

"Running" is up next and while shorter than all but one other track here, it packs a musical wallop!   The organ at the beginning feels like it is taking us to church before an acoustic guitar glides across the top of the track, leading the drums, and shortly an electric guitar into the mix.  Again, Jimmy's powerful vocals, both at the forefront and in the background, are layered perfectly and add a depth of emotion to the track that can only be described as beautiful.  Ceyba's slide guitar solo is beautifully played before tugging Jimmy's vocals back to the front of the song.  Truly amazing work here that I am not even remotely adequately describing.

"Face In The Sky" is my least favorite track, and the shortest, largely because it is so much more uptempo than the rest of the album and it breaks the musical trance that I find myself in through the first 32 minutes of this album.  It is not at all a bad track, but it lacks some of the musicality and progressive qualities of the rest of the effort, coming across like a pop-prog piece that I can imagine might not be all that out of line with something Bowie might do today.  Oddly, Jimmy would probably take that as a compliment (and it is not meant to be a complaint, by the way), as Jimmy's love for Bowie has been well documented in the past.

Things return to a more melancholy, emotive state for the album's twelve minute closer, "Message From Home, Pt. 1".  Once again, bluesy (yet at times, angry) guitars, airy keyboard interludes, droning bass, and keyboard sound effects rule the musical soundscape, giving a foundation to Jimmy's vocals and some killer solo work scattered throughout.  It is here, as well as in "Wasting Away" and parts of "Sleepless End", that fans of the post-Learn era Deliverance will find things to love.  

A story of loneliness, greed, desperation, darkness, and, eventually, redemption, Moveable Walls may be a lot to swallow in one setting for many people, but if you have the time, do yourself a favor and absorb it.  Moveable Walls is musical brilliance, in my opinion, and, in all honesty, completely floored and shocked me.  I was in no way prepared to enjoy this record to this level.  This is coming from a truly NON-Floyd fan and a person who generally does not fall into the prog camp.  In fairness, a couple of the slower moments, particularly at the beginning of the record, almost teased me to jump forward, but I am glad I did not, for chances are I would have missed something truly great, as this record is filled with such moments.  

The production is stellar and the mix, thankfully, keeps the keyboards in a place where they are used as supporting instruments, and not boosted to the forefront (which I guarantee would have lost me).   Hold no doubts that this is a guitar-driven effort, because it surely is.  It is just not a thrash...or even metal...album as much as it is a melodic progressive rock record with elements of blues, jazz, hard rock, and even some modern touches.  Since that is far too long to fit into a genre title, just settle for calling Jupiter VI's Moveable Walls GREAT!

Rating:  Crankable to the progressive extreme.  9.5 out of 10 here!

7EVENTH TIME DOWN "Just Say Jesus"

(c) 2013 BEC Recordings

  1. Wait For You
  2. The One I'm Running To
  3. Just Say Jesus
  4. Good Life
  5. Hurricanes
  6. Nothing To Give
  7. Shadow
  8. Religious And Famous
  9. Free (Featuring KJ-52)
  10. Renegade
Mikey Howard--Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Eric VanZant--Lead Guitars
Cliff Williams--Bass
Austin Miller--Drums

A little over two years ago, I reviewed the debut album, Alive In You, from this band and, while I wasn't overly blown away, if you go back and check I told readers to keep an eye out for their follow-up, as I felt they likely had something to offer and would "take a step forward".  Those words, while not exactly prophetic, certainly seem to ring true as these Kentucky rockers return with their second collection of modern Christian rockers, a couple of ballads, and an overall improved album.

I'm not sure how I missed the release of this record, as I am generally pretty well tuned-in to the Christian hard rock and metal scene.  Apparently, I'm not as tuned-in as I had thought, however, as this album has been out for more than a year now and this is the first I have heard of it.  

Once again, the band makes no bones about who they are in their sound, their approach, or their faith, as this is an album of faith-based modern rock tunes similar in sound and structure to other Christian rockers such as Thousand Foot Krutch, Seventh Day Slumber, or possibly recent efforts from Disciple, as well as their secular counterparts Nickelback, Shinedown, Emphatic, although the most obvious parallel can probably be drawn between 7eventh Time Down and Daughtry on a couple of songs on this record.

Speaking of that comparison, the album's lead single and title track, "Just Say Jesus", has a solid, mid-tempo Daughtry sound with an acoustic intro and melodic approach that will likely appeal to a rather wide listening audience.  "The One I'm Running To" also falls into this vein, featuring a poppy, cross-over modern rock sound that could find its way into either modern rock or Top 40 playlists on stations that are open-minded about their song choice.  While both are good songs, they represent only about half of the approach of this record, as the other half features a darker, more guitar-driven sound that falls more in line with the approach of TFK, as an example.  Album opener, "Wait For You" is a prime example as this track is very reminiscent of a band like Emphatic, with raspy vocals, hard-charging guitars, and a simple, yet forceful rhythm section that keeps the track driving along, with some programming elements mixed in to keep the modern edge.  "Good Life" sounds like it could have been written for a TFK album as it features that chugga-chugga tempo and style that TFK has utilized so effectively on their last two highly popular albums.  "Religious And Famous" does much the same thing in a catchy track that sounds rather autobiographic for the band and their mission, stating that it is Jesus' name that they want to see in lights as they stay in the background.  "Shadow" is yet another rocker, short and to the point, and definitely a track that will have fists thrust into the air during live performances.  The same can be said for the last two tracks on this album as well, with "Free", a dark-sounding, guitar-driven rocker that features a rap breakdown from well-known Christian rapper, KJ-52, and "Renegade", a hard-charging Nickelback-inspired number that will leave many listeners catching their breath briefly before hitting the play button to start the rock party all over again.  

There are a couple of weaker moments here, but neither is horrifically bad by any stretch.  "Hurricanes" has some nice lyrics, but it is a bit too poppy and laid back for me, while "Nothing To Give" pushes the band toward a more modern praise and worship sound.  The biggest issue here is that these songs are situated back-to-back on the record, causing a seven-and-a-half minute lag in the momentum that had been building throughout the album.  Perhaps moving "Nothing..." down a couple of songs would have served the record better.

The production is again crisp and tight and the album has several solid musical performances with improved song-writing and an impassioned performance.  Howard is a more-than-competent vocalist with a delivery style that would fit in well on Octane.  VanZant is a strong performer, and while I wish his guitar was given longer stretches in which to shine, he flashes some nice, short solos and interludes into several of these songs.  Williams and Miller lock themselves in tight, especially on the harder rocking tracks, and deliver a solid punch at the bottom end.  I would love to see these guys catch on with a big-name tour, Christian or otherwise, to give them a chance to get their name and their message even more exposure, as I think they have a lot of potential to go places in the modern rock industry.  

As I predicted, Just Say Jesus is a solid step forward and an enjoyable modern rock record.  

Rating:  Crank this to 7.0 and we will see if things continue to climb for these up-and-comers.