Thursday, January 22, 2015


(c) 2014 Bronx Bridge Entertainment

  1. 151
  2. MAde For The Money
  3. Welcome To Boston
  4. Outta Control
  5. You're The Only One
  6. Diamond Boulevard
  7. City Girl
  8. Take It
  9. Goin' Down The Drain
  10. Somewhere Yesterday
  11. Nowhere To Go
Shaun Soho--Vocals
Alex Donaldson--Lead Guitar
Todd Friedman--Rhythm Guitar
Jim Possible--Drums

I don't know much, if anything, about the Boston music scene, but if Crash Midnight is any indication of the sounds coming out of that city these days, I have to wonder how long it will be before more people are exploring the area for new bands to check out.  Combining elements of punk, GnR sleaze, and 70's era hard rock with some modern updates, Crash Midnight manages to make retro sound rather cool...while not really sounding like they are trying to be anything but themselves.  

The band comes roaring out of the gate with "151", a scorching rocker that oozes attitude, as lead yowler Soho snarls to the listener to "Get back, Jack, I'm a tippin' back, Gonna ride this road til it all goes black..." in this ode to the higher-octane beverages the band likely uses for mouthwash in the morning!  "Made For The Money" keeps the foot on the hard classic rock riff machine's accelerator, with timeless guitar riffing, solid-if-simple drumming, and Soho's brazen vocals. 

"Welcome To Boston" is probably my favorite track here and it reminds me a bit of Guns N Roses and "Welcome To The Jungle", to be honest.  The track just drips with sleaze and sass, from the Slash-esque guitar riffs being slung about by Donaldson and Friedman, to the Axl-like screech  and sneer of Soho.  While not likely to explode the music scene for the band the way "Jungle" did for GnR, "Welcome To Boston" is a kick ass rock tune that gives me hope for bands that are willing to just go out there and tear things up, being themselves and rocking out.  Simply put, I love this song...a lot!

"Outta Control" drifts back more toward the 70's end of the band's spectrum, where they sound equally at home, but then the Guns comparisons are likely to come back once "You're The Only One" kicks in.  Again, don't think of this as GnR worship, because that isn't the intention or desire of the band, but there is no doubt these guys were likely cranking Axl, Slash, and Adler while smoking in their parent's basements and garages.  

"City Girl" shifts the band into punkish hyper drive as far as speed goes, playing fast and loose with a simplistic rocker, and "Goin' Down The Drain", with it's opening riff that reminds me of "Life In The Fast Lane", is likely the anthem for the band, as it sounds as much like a goal for the band as a warning for these guys.  "Take It" is repetitive and raw, but dang if it isn't catchy as all get-out, and "Long As It's Free" rips and tears its way into your brain with its hook and a slamming guitar work.

Don't think for a second that these guys don't have a softer side, by the way, as they do manage to slow things down for a moment with the barroom blues ballad, "Somewhere Yesterday".  A soulful guitar solo, some well-placed harmonica, and whiskey-soaked vocals perfectly glide across the sawdust-and-tobacco-spit-covered floor of your favorite dive.  

Sparsely produced, as it should be, Lost In The City is one of the real sleeper hits of 2014 for this reviewer, and if they come anywhere close to me you can bet I will be in the front row, dodging beer bottles, spit, and stage divers alike.  Honestly, I don't know what there is not to like about this record, as even the packaging is nicely done with complete lyrics and credits, as well as a few shots of the band included.  Nicely done for a small, independent label release.

 At times the band reminds me of the early output of The Last Vegas, raw and snotty, retro yet modern hard rock that punched you in the nose when you put it on, but they may be even more attitude-driven than TLV.  If this first album is any indication of where this band is headed, I want to make sure to be there for what happens next, because unless this ride ends up in a smoldering, twisted mess on the side of the road, these guys are possibly on the fast track to the hard rock underground where they may find themselves worshiped as the next coming of the gods of classic sleaze rock!  

Rating:  Immensely crankable!  Push this sucker clear up to 9 and prepare for the ride!  Things are gonna get good!


(c) 2014 Kivel Records

  1. Defiance
  2. Yours Forever
  3. Back To You
  4. What About Love
  5. Fall
  6. Sometimes
  7. Warning Signs
  8. Fire
  9. Last Of My Heart
  10. Speed
Jamie Rowe--Lead & Backing Vocals
Vic Rivera--Guitars/Bass/Drums/Backing Vocals
Eddie Campbell--Guitars/Backing Vocals

Since their resurrection a couple of years ago, Adriangale has been on a tear, releasing two new studio albums in the space of about 18 months.  Sucker Punch! was a great comeback record for the guys and many people, myself included, were rather surprised at how quickly this latest effort followed.  Would it be a case of too much too soon?  


Jamie Rowe and Vic Rivera, the main men behind the "band", return with what may be their best performance yet with Defiance, a new set of ten near perfect melodic rock tracks.  Searing guitars, edgy yet melodic vocals, positive lyrics, and meatier production than the band has ever used give this latest album the musical punch necessary to really drive the record.  Jamie Rowe sounds as strong and fresh as ever vocally, reminding me of his younger days when his previous band, Guardian, was at the top of their game with Fire & Love and Miracle Mile.  There really is no mistaking the tenor rasp that characterizes the majority of Rowe's vocals, and there is plenty of that to go around here.  Take, for instance, the album opener and title track, "Defiance".  Crunchier and moodier than many of their previous efforts, this song is one that too much vocal polish or shine would have ruined, but Rowe steps to the plate and smacks a home run, charging through the verses before the amazingly melodic backing vocals chime in on the hooky chorus of this hard rocking number.  "Yours Forever" and "Back To You" are equally hard rocking numbers that, once again, remind me a lot of the edgier Guardian material, and "Sometimes" may be the heaviest hitter on the record with a nice ripping guitar solo from the oft-overlooked third member of the band, Eddie Campbell.  To be honest, I wish Campbell would be given more time to shine on this record (or ANY record), as the guy can flat out shred and really brings a classic 80's style to the fretboard that mixes in so well on the harder material here.  Good, good stuff, to be sure. 

The guys don't let their melodic side suffer for the added punch given to the guitars here, as "What About Love" hearkens back to previous efforts from Crunch and Sucker Punch!  Crisp layered backing vocals and some excellent, clean, technical guitar riffing from Rivera are a melodic rocker's dream here, and Rowe's vocals somehow manage to capture a smoother quality without changing their overall sound.  "Warning Signs" is another melodic rocking gem that pulls from their catalog of experience, and the quasi-80's ballad, "Last Of My Heart" is the Zippo-inducing track of the lot with it's electric piano, a scorching guitar solo, and big time harmonies.  

The album closer is an interesting choice as, for those not aware, "Speed" is actually a cover of a lesser-known Billy Idol song from the soundtrack for the guessed it....Speed.  If you don't recognize it, that's okay as the song didn't even chart in the United States back in 1994 when it originally was release.  Fast forward 20 years and with a little update in production and some minor tweaks, Idol and his ever-present axe-master, Steve Stevens are morphed into Jamie Rowe and Vic Rivera.  While no one will mistake them as clones, the new version packs a wallop and is a great way to wrap things up on this newest Adriangale effort.

The production, as I have touched on, is not as slick and smooth as on previous Adriangale (or a lot of Kivel) releases, and it serves the band well.  Whereas a band like Tango Down really benefited from the polish of the production on their last effort, Adriangale is just as well-served with some of the rough edges left intact here.  The additional grit Rivera gives the record more character to my ears, and the extra heft swings the album right into my wheelhouse as far as styles I enjoy listening to.  It is worth noting that once again, Ty Sims of Bombay Black worked behind the scenes, adding his immense talent to the mastering process of this top quality production.

As is typical of every Kivel Records release I have received, Defiance is very well packaged, complete with a full booklet, all lyrics and writing credits, thank you's, and several photos.  I wish other labels would take note here because for those who believe the ONLY thing that matters is the music...well, let me say this...there's a reason I don't download much music, and the complete package is the main reason why!  It's nice to hold additional artwork and lyrics in your hands as you listen along to a new album by just about anyone.

While many people knock Adriangale as being a project more than a band, I have to ask, "who cares?!"  Great music is great music, and Adriangale knows something about making exactly that.  Unlike a lot of bands, studio band or not, Adriangale seemingly manages to continually up the ante for themselves and so many others in the melodic rock genre.  They know what their fans want and they deliver time after time.  As good as Sucker Punch! was, Defiance is just a smidgen better with beefier guitars and grittier production.

Rating:  Crank this one all the way to 9.5!  An excellent piece of musical art through and through!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

9ELECTRIC "Control"

(c) 2014 Street Smart Recordings

  1. Time Bomb
  2. Bullet Tooth (featuring Heidi Shepherd)
  3. Feel This
  4. Goodbye
  5. Under Attack
  6. Control
Mikey Lopez--Guitars
Micah Electric--Drums/Programming

9Electric is an act that I only recently became aware of after seeing them perform as an opening act on Emphatic's latest tour through the midwest.  This effort is actually the bands's second EP and continues the band's Static-X inspired brand of industrial/techno metal.  Normally this is not my style of music at all, but I will admit that a couple of tracks here are extremely catchy and have wormed their way into one of my workout mixes.

One such track is the album's opener, Time Bomb, which just explodes out of your speakers with a bottom-heavy groove and a driving rhythm that immediately sets your head in motion and is likely to get your air-drums some serious action.  As you would expect with this type of music (do they still call it techno or industrial?  I'm seriously not into this stuff, in general...), there are some looped effects going on here, but the actual instrumentation is solid as well, particularly in Lopez's handling of the rhythm guitar and Electric's particularly adept drumming.  Lead vocalist, Thunderwood, employs a fairly clean style of vocals with just a bit of a rough edge mixed into his tenor, shouted delivery style.  

The follow-up track is particularly interesting to me as it features some amazing female co-lead vocals from Heidi Shepherd who fronts the Butcher Babies.  The interplay between Thunderwood (should I call him Mr. Wood?) and Shepherd is excellent on "Bullet Tooth", and I found myself wishing she appeared on more than just this one track as I think it would have given additional depth to a couple of the later efforts here.  Again, the music is a pulsing, throbbing electronic mish-mash of effects and some killer guitar work, with strong bottom-end work from both Lopez and bass player, CaseyDC.

Fans of the band are likely to be a bit disappointed as "Feel This" is a previously released track, but to me it was a new track (obviously), and is, again, one of the better moments here.  A solid, dare I say danceable riff and rhythm drive the track with Thunderwood using a bit gruffer vocals in the verses than on the rest of the tracks here, while returning to his higher-ranged tenor on the simplistic-yet-catchy chorus.

Honestly, though, after these first three tracks, I start to lose a bit of interest because the rest of the EP starts to sound the same to these ears.  Again, I will be the first to admit this may be a by-product of my lack of exposure to this genre of hard music, but after a while all the rhythms seem to meld into each other.  "Under Attack" is pretty cool, though, and reminds me of Powerman 5000, which leads me to my next point.

For lack of a better comparison I think of 9Electric being to Static-X what I consider Powerman 5000 to be to White Zombie.  They are similar in style, sound, and approach, but the latter entries (X and Zombie) are the innovators, while the former (9E and Powerman) are the imitators.  In fact, I have been told that one of the final appearances of Wayne Static was on 9Electric's previous EP, and the band's website ( features a prominent "RIP Wayne Static" across the top of the page, so there is no real question as to where they draw their influence and, apparently, their friendship.

I have no doubt that people who are fans of the previously mentioned bands, or this style in general, will find my description lacking in some way, and that's fine.  I will tell you that these guys put on a GREAT, high energy live show that kept people on their feet throughout, and the guys were all very friendly to interact with, talking to anyone who approached them after their show.  Perhaps that would be the best way to connect with the band before deciding whether or not you want to pick up this new EP, because I can honestly say that without seeing them live first, there is not much of a chance I would have snagged this disc.

Rating:  Short and a bit repetitive, I still encourage you to rock this at a 6.5.

Back To Reviews Index

Sunday, January 4, 2015

DESYRE "Warning Of The Night"

(c) 2009 G.L.A.M. Nation Records

  1. Warning Of The Night
  2. Dreams
  3. Can't Let Go
  4. Yule Night Brightness
  5. Calling
  6. Mr. Hyde In Delite
  7. Ransom
  8. No One Knows
  9. Undoings Of My Life
  10. The Battle
  11. Burning In The 3rd Degree

Mazi Bee--Vocals, Lead Guitar
Coco Tommy--Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
Mike Seeker--Bass, Backing Vocals
Jayce Prime--Drums, Percussion

It's not often that I "want to like" a band. By that, I mean that rarely do I get a CD from someone I have talked with, that I enjoyed getting to know, and just hoped and prayed that the CD was good because I really like the person. I was in that situation with Desyre's debut effort, Warning Of The Night, because I had met and chatted with Mazi Bee on-line, and found him to be a very likeable guy, very dedicated to his music and band, not to mention very dedicated to the task of spreading the Gospel through his music. When he told me the band was recording their debut CD, I pre-ordered it, anxious to get it in my hands and give it a few spins. I couldn't wait to like this CD.

Sadly, my desire to like it does not match up with what I actually feel about it.

It is not that the music is bad, because it is not. In fact, the musicianship on the CD is very good for the most part. The guitars, especially, have a great glam/hair metal feel to them, and this band knows exactly the sound they are after, even labelling their sound "Hair Metal Madness" (also the title of their first demo) on the inlay of the digi-pack. The rhythm section is pretty tight, also, although the sound of the drums is a bit "echoey" (is that a word?) and hollow at times, which I attribute to what was likely a very small redording budget. Even the song structure is generally sound and very much a throwback to the 1980's. Lyrically, for those who find these things important, the band is also very up-front about their faith and only occasionally struggle with translation from their native Finnish to English. All of these things are average to above average, or even very good, as in the guitar department.

The vocals are a completely different story.

Part of the problem, again, is the limited recording budget. The vocals alternate between being too out front and almost buried in the mix. For example, on ""Yule Night Brightness", a Christmas metal song, Mazi's vocals are so low on the verses that I honestly can't make out what he is saying without the lyrics sheet. The chorus is fine, but the verses are just a mish-mash of mumbling in Finnish-accented English and very hard to make out. Mazi also falls out of key on several occasions, which I am not 100% sure in unintentional. When he is on, he has a pretty good, if somewhat limited range-wise, voice for this type of material, and pulls some of these songs off very well. Some, however, are rendered almost unlistenable by the clash between Mazi's lead vocals and the also frequently off-key backing vocals. To his credit, Mazi has been very respectful of the criticism he has received about the vocals, and he vows that they will be better on the next album (which is being recorded as I review this effort).

Some of the songs are very strong in their structure, performance, and sound. I think the up-tempo rocker "The Battle" is probably the best song on the disc and Mazi's vocals actually sound incredibly on-key and on-target here. Perhaps the mid-to-lower register most of this song is performed in is where he is more at home. "Burning In The 3rd Degree" is actually a cover song and is another good track with some solid lead guitar work and touches of 80's New Wave-ish keyboards, which is logical since the song is a lesser-known track from the Terminator soundtrack originally performed by Tahnee Cain & the Trianglz (tell me that isn't a New Wave name!). There is a hidden track at the end of "3rd Degree" which is actually a Finnish-language version of "The Undoings Of My Life", which is, in both forms, a fairly decent mid-tempo number that gives Mazi and Coco some time to flash their guitar talent and again finds Mazi singing in a more comfortable middle range and not straining to hit higher notes he struggles with.

The packaging is pretty good for an indy product, with full lyrics, photos, credits, and thank you's. Again, I hate digi-packs, but since there is nothing I can do about it, I will stop my commentary there.  One little added bonus for those of us who pre-ordered the album was this sticker which came with the disc.

Overall, I think the potential is there and the love for this sound and style of music is definitely present. Also, most importantly, the heart for the band as a ministry is strong, which cannot be understated. There are just some kinks to be worked out. Had this been a self-professed demo, I think it would have been more kindly accepted by most people, as we all know demos quite often sound nothing like the finished product. For this to be a first studio effort can be looked at as either a really bad offering with nowhere for the band to go, or as a starting point for the band to build. I choose to go with the latter.

Rating: Turn this down to 4.5 but keep an eye and ear out, because I truly feel the next effort will be far superior.

BRIAN "HEAD" WELCH "Save Me From Myself"

(c) 2008 Driven Music Group

  1. L.O.V.E.
  2. Flush
  3. Loyalty
  4. Re-Bel
  5. Home
  6. Save Me From Myself
  7. Die Religion Die
  8. Adonai
  9. Money
  10. Shake
  11. Washed By Blood
Brian "Head" Welch--Lead Vocals, Lead Guitars, Rhythm Guitar, Synthesizers
Archie J. Muise, Jr.--Rhythm Guitar
Trevor Dunn--Bass
Tony Levin--Bass
Josh Freese--Bass

First things first, folks...if you don't like KoRn's style of music, you are not going to like Brian "Head" Welch's album, period.  You can just stop reading now, and please don't waste my time telling me how much this music stinks, becuase I DID warn you.  However, if you are still reading, I encourage you to do so with an open mind, looking(and listening) for the underlying message here, as it is an important reason for why I also didn't dismiss this album out of hand upon first hearing it.

At many points throughout this album, it is, as one should expect, very much in line with the music KoRn was releasing in the mid-1990's and early 2000's.  Welch was a founding member of the influential band, and his guitar playing and songwriting was featured on the band's albums from 1993 to 2005.  However, after feeling his life falling apart, becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol, experiencing suicidal feelings, and following a frightening episode in which he felt he was dying, Welch left the band, cleaned himself up, wrote a couple of books, and released this album.  There is no doubt where the music is headed (no pun intended) from the very beginning of this album, as the nu-metal stylings of KoRn are all over this.  That being said, this is NOT a KoRn clone album, by any means, with the most significant difference actually being much of the guitar playing here. 

"L.O.V.E." opens the disc with some slightly dischordant notes that might instantly have KoRn fans nodding their heads in appreciation, only to bring in an almost industrial sounding guitar that will likely throw those same fans for a bit of a loop.  Additionally, especially on the bridge, Welch can be heard singing, something which is NOT a KoRn staple!  It is not until the Johnathan Davis-esque vocal barking on the chorus that the listener might be shaken back to the reality that this is an ablum by the founding guitar player of the nu-metal giants.

"Flush" was the lead single for the album and I have to admit its still a bit silly to hear the sound of Welch "vomiting" into a toilet to start the track, and the flushing toilet sound effect at the end is borderline comical.  The song is an autobiographical one about Welch's days of meth addiction, and the accompanying video is so graphic that it was actually pulled by some video programs and led some Christian bookstores to stop selling the album, at least temporarily.  "Re-Bel" is a song that Welch wrote about children who flee abusive parents and find their way to salvation through Christ.  I do not believe this was an autobiographical song, but rather is about children Welch has known in his life.  As someone who has worked with troubled kids for many years, this song struck a chord with me on a personal level and is one of my favorites here. 

"Adonai" is another song which has a definite KoRn feeling to it, especially in the middle section where Welch uses a previously employed musical tactic of taking a nursery rhyme ("Ring Around The Rosie"), altering the lyrics to fit the song, and then building from there.  "Money", a track bout people who worship money or use it as a tool for evil, features some extremely harsh, screaming vocals and haunting guitar tones that KoRn fans will recognize as classic "Head" style. 

Other songs are not as easily recognizable as being in the KoRn style, especially not the current sound that band has adopted since Welch left.  "Shake", one of my personal favorites, is rather progressive in the way it is put together, utilizing a guitar style and tone that I can only describe as "jangly" for much of the song before incorporating a more aggressive, harsher tone in the breakdown of the song.  "Home" has very little in the way of a KoRn feel to it, also, and is one of the best tracks here, in my opinion.  This song again employs a more industrial sound to the guitars and doesn't feature any real breakdown which is pretty much a requirement for KoRn, or most nu-metal, songs.

The high point of the album, at least for me, is the nearly 10 minute long album closing epic, "Washed By Blood".  Here Welch uses synthesized string arrangements in a fashion that a lot of Skillet fans will recognize and he also employs a much cleaner vocal style for much of the track, actually singing through the verses of this song then breaking down into more of a whisper about half-way through the track where the music also fades off into a sound reminiscent of a music box.   The song rebuilds itself in aggression from there until we are at full-bore screaming and furious rhythm guitar and drums for about a minute, before the synthesized "voice of God" slows things back down, ushering in the "washed by blood" chorus again and taking things to the song's end.  Once again, this is a huge song with a powerful message of redemption and salvation that I think is Welch's way of wrapping up all of the wounds and frustrations and angers that he has exposed throughout this record.  

It should be noted that none of the members of the band would follow Welch to his current project, Love And Death.  While all solid in their performances, this album is about 90% Welch, as he contributes every instrument except bass on this effort.  There is no drummer listed, so one can only assume that the drums are programmed, which would seem to indicate Welch took care of that duty as well.

I had been exposed to a lot of the band's music while working on a college radio station, and I admit to liking the first two albums because they were heavy and different. That being said, I would never have labeled myself as a KoRn fan, by any stretch. I am a fan of Head's, however, which surprised me the first time I heard myself say it or saw myself writing it in a review.  I am not going to sit here and tell you this is my favorite album of all time or that I play it non-stop, because neither is true.  I think of this album as a lot like Sixx A.M.'s Heroin Diaries Soundtrack album, as I think Save Me From Myself really goes hand-in-hand with the book Welch authored about his salvation.  Musically, Save Me From Myself is on-par with the majority of what I have heard from this genre, even expanding upon the nu-metal foundation in places. Lyrically, while simplistic at times, the messages that are delivered here are powerful, autobiographical, and sometimes painful to listen to/read in the lyrics sheet.  It is true that lyrics are obviously not Welch's strong point, but he more than gets his point across and the starkness of the words to these songs adds a sort of power to many of the messages.  This album is a testimony of one man's fall from the top of the music industry to the absolute, near-death bottom, and then pulling himself back up with the help of God and the love of Christ, and no matter how some criticize the writing, that message comes through lound and clear on this album in a brutally honest way that may turn some people off, while drawing others in at the same time.

Rating:  Personally, I would advise people to rock this album to 6.5...but I imagine KoRn fans may be torn on where to place the knob, depending upon their era preference for the band.  

KEN TAMPLIN "Wake The Nations"

(c) 2003 Song Haus Music

  1. The Story Of Love
  2. We've Jihad Enough
  3. Falling Houses
  4. The Man With A Plan
  5. Hare Kristians
  6. Wake The Nations
  7. God In Heaven
  8. Peace On Earth
  9. Mystery
  10. Cell Phone Freaks
  11. Livin' Large
  12. 7 Eleven People
  13. Saints And Heroes
  14. Waiting For Your Love
  15. Every Day Is Precious
  16. Come Together
  17. Sing
  18. Freedom
Ken Tamplin--Lead Vocals, Lead & Rhythm Guitars, Backing Vocals
Daniel Pearson--Bass
Ed Roth--Keyboards
Howie Simon--Lead & Rhythm Guitars, Backing Vocals
Scott Van Zen--Lead & Rhythm Guitars

Special Guests
Jeff Scott Soto--Lead Vocals on "Story Of Love"
Philip Bardowell--Lead Vocals on "Story Of Love"
Marty Friedman--Guitar Solo on "7 Eleven People"
Reb Beach--Guitar Solo on "7 Eleven People"
Richie Kotzen--Guitar Solo on "Cell Phone Freaks"
Jeff Watson--Guitar Solo on "The Man With The Plan"
Kee Marcello--Guitar Solo on "Freedom"

Wow...when Ken Tamplin goes an extended period of time between solo efforts, he apparently does a LOT of writing...and then records it all!  These are 18 full songs, none of which clocks in at under 3:12, so that's a lot of music to digest all in one CD.  And, as you might expect, there is a fair amount of lesser material, but when the music here is on, IT IS ON!

There are no weak songs for the first seven tracks, as things start off with a bang on the very first song, the powerful "The Story Of Love" which features powerhouse vocal contributions from Jeff Scott Soto and Philip Bardowell.  This song is easily the best on the disc, in my opinion, and combines not only these great singers but a killer message about how Jesus shows/showed His love for man despite our brutal treatment of Him.  Powerful stuff that I am surprised didn't get more support from Christian rock radio.  Incidentally, the video for this song is included on the bonus DVD that is included in the 2-disc version of this album.

From here, the album continues on with the smoking "We've Jihad Enough" which, as the title implies, is about the violence and disaster of the "holy wars" being waged by terrorists across the world in the name of religion.  "Falling Houses" features a very catchy chorus and a nice guitar hook that carries the song.  "Man With A Plan" is another great song whcih features an excellent guitar solo from Jeff Waters.  Although I will be the first to admit I don't like the electronic drum sound on this track, it is not a horrible distraction and I can live with it.  "Hare Kristians" is a bit more poppy in its song structure and heavy keyboard use, but it is still an above average track.  The title track, "Wake The Nations" is one of my favorites here,  as it is a more straight-ahead rocker with dueling solos courtesy of Mr. Tamplin and Scott Van Zen which are among the guitar highlights on the disc.  In fact, Van Zen and Tamplin both outshine their bigger name peers for the vast majority of this album, which is really saying something and speaks to the considerable axe skill of both.

"God In Heaven" is a blues-influenced track that slows things down a bit from the previous six songs, but really showcases Tamplin's considerable vocal skills and, again, features some excellent guitar work from Van Zen.  Fans of Rez's blusier style should find a lot to love in this song!

"Peace On Earth" is the first song that has me at least reaching for the skip button, even though I don't always hit it.  It's a solid song but doesn't fit the style of most of the album and is a bit too commercial and adult comtemporary sounding for me.  Fear not, however, as things pick back up immediately, as "Mystery" might be the heaviest song on the album, starting off with a crunchy guitar riff and thundering drums before another catchy chorus and nice solo escort you the rest of the way through the track.

From this point the rest of the disc is pretty hit or miss for me.  "7 Eleven People" is a weird commentary on everyday people in everyday situations, but I don't grasp where Ken is trying to take the listener. However, the Friedman/Beach solo tradeoff is excellent and salvages an odd song.  "Cell Phone Freaks" has a KILLER solo by Richie Kotzen, but the song itself is kind of lame lyrically, at least for me, and is saved only by the solo.  Other songs are not so lucky, however.  "Saints And Heroes" is just kind of there as a song, not really doing a lot musically until the solo from Mattias Eklundh.  Still others, such as "Sing", "Waiting For Your Love", and "Every Day Is Precious" really come across as songs that were used as filler material, which I don't think was necessary on an 18 track disc.

The album closes on a solid note, with worthy rocker "Freedom" bringing up the rear.  This song, as much or more than any other here, really reminds me of the Shout days of Tamplin, and is one of the top half dozen songs here.  It's a nice way to close a generally solid album that I think really could have been trimmed by 4 or 5 songs, giving the listener an excellent hard rocking disc full of some very powerful Christian-themed messages, insightful social commentary, and political observation.  As it stands, this is definitely a massive undertaking with a couple of clunkers that keeps this from being the powerhouse album I think it could have been.

The bonus DVD contains the videos for "The Story Of Love" and "Falling Houses" as well as song "backstage" material.  The videos are not overly spectacular in their appearance, but they are nice little add-ons.  I honestly have not watched the "backstage" material, as things like this hold little interest for me.

Rating:  The best material outweighs the weakest stuff JUST enough to allow you to crank this album at 7, but minus a few lesser tracks, this may have been an 8 or 8.5!  Seek this out...

Back To Reviews Index

CROSSFORCE "Rocking 'Til The Final Day"

(c)2011 Roxx Productions

  1. Tomorrow Will Come  (1986 Demo)
  2. Our Father (1986 Demo)
  3. Smoke Filled Room (1986 Demo)
  4. Out Of The Darkness (1986 Demo)
  5. Ready N Waiting (1986 Demo)
  6. Rockin' Til The Final Day (1986 Demo)
  7. Stompin' In The Streets (1987 Frontline Demo)
  8. The Call (1987 Frontline Demo)
  9. Heaven's Door (1987 Frontline Demo)
  10. It's Your Life (1987 Frontline Demo)
  11. Wait And See (1987 Frontline Demo)
  12. The One Who Loves You (1987 Frontline Demo)
  13. Weeping World (1987 Frontline Demo)
  14. Rockin' Til The Final Day (lost practice session 5-18-1987)
Tony Krider--Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Phil Castillo--Lead Guitars
Jeff Scott--Bass
Mark Wrapley--Keyboards
Mark Cassettari--Drums

Crossforce is one of those bands that a lot of people say they have heard OF, but few people have actually heard.  While I had heard Tracks 1 through 6 before, albeit in MUCH rougher condition, even at the peak of my demo-tape trading days, I had never heard the Tracks 7 through 13, as these were taken from a very limited edition demo that was done exclusively for Frontline Records in an attempt to secure a record deal.  When put together, these thirteen tracks complete an awesome collection of classic metal with some scorching guitar work, powerful vocals, and surprisingly good production considering the demo status of the combined works here, which is largely the result of some excellent remastering work.

Hailing from San Francisco, California, Crossforce played a brand of metal that, while containing some keyboard elements, was still very much in the classic metal vein and had not morphed into the exploding hair metal sound that was going on not too far away in Hollywood and Los Angeles.  This is not AOR, this is not glam, this is not hard rock...Crossforce is pure metal with NWOBHM influences.

Tracks 1 through 6 have been cleaned up very nicely and sound very crisp and clear despite the passage of 25 years and the demo nature of the recording.  The guitars are exceptionally sharp and flashy here, really showcasing the talent of Castillo.  Nowhere is this more evident than on songs like "Our Father", which has an Ultimate Sin type of Ozzy Osbourne vibe to it, or on "Out Of The Darkness", which fits nicely alongside Barren Cross's older material in terms of style and sound (although there is a keyboard presence on Crossforce's music).  "Ready N Waiting" is probably my favorite of the early tracks here, as it is just crushingly heavy with a killer riff and a memorable chorus that snags in the brain.  Of course, Castillo really shines here, also, ripping off a monster solo at about the 2:30 mark in the song and carrying it out for a good 25 to 30 seconds before fading back into the background.  The title track has a definite NWOBHM feel about the intro, not unlike some of Def Leppard's older, heavier material, but it quickly rips into another metallic rocker with just enough of a keyboard accent to fill in the little gaps.  Good stuff!

Tracks 7 through 13 are a real treat for the listener, as these are taken from a live rehearsal demo that was made for Frontline Records.  You get to actually hear the introduction for each of these songs, which is pretty cool.  Not only are these songs very rare, but they performed very well considering their live nature!  The mixing is excellent and the musicianship is top notch, but there is a bit of roughness left over, giving these songs the live feel that they should have.  Personally, I think "The Call" (not the Deliverance song of the same name), and "It's Your Life" are the strongest of the songs on this particular demo, but all are solid.  "Wait And See" has a bit of a Zeppelin feel to the main guitar riff, but it is not a rip off by any means.  "Weeping World" is the only true ballad to make it onto this set, and it definitely is more keyboard-driven than the rest of the material, yet it is still not drifting into AOR territory.

Lyrically, these guys are unashamed of their Christian stance and pull no punches.  There is no fear of using Christ's name, talking about Heaven and hell, or using Biblical messages.  There is not any Scriptural quotation going on here that I could pull out on my first few spins through the material, but I also do not have a lyrics sheet in front of me.  Excellent faith-based material delivered in a killer metal fashion which shows exactly why this little unsigned band was tapped to open the first Christian Metal Mardi Gras show back in 1987!

Those who are fortunate enough to get in on the limited edition pre-order deal from Roxx Productions will be treated to a second bonus disc, a nice full-color poster, and a guitar pick!  I will have more information about that bonus disc as soon as mine arrives!  If you have not yet ordered your copy, I urge you to do so immediately by going to Roxx Productions.  Don't miss out on this incredible piece of Christian metal history!

Rating: As a collection, I give this set a very solid 7.5 Cranking!

Back To Reviews Index

FATH NATION "Faith Nation"

(c) 1997 Nightworks Records

  1. When God Came Down
  2. We Shall Stand
  3. Then Love Came In
  4. Book Of Life
  5. The Raven And The Dove
  6. Eternally
  7. Grace Me
  8. All That I Am
  9. Give Me More
Huey Peterson--Guitars
Chris Gilbertson--Vocals
Rick Helm--Keyboards
Matt McClay--Bass
Dan Roussin--Drums

Okay, be honest.  Who knew that Faith Nation had a CD out BEFORE their Oridnary People release from 1999?  Not this guy.  In fact, I stumbled across this one totally by accident and picked it up on a whim, wondering if it was, in fact, the same band.  The answer to that question is yes....and no.

I say no because other than lead guitarist and main songwriter Huey Peterson, and bass player Matt McClay, there are NO members on both albums.  However, I also say yes because there is no mistaking the style and sound between the two albums.  It's not like the two remaining members totally morphed their sound and became a different band between albums.

One thing that always makes me nervous is when I look at the band line-up, see five members, but only ONE guitar player.  That, to me, screams keyboards are gonna be very prominent on this album.  Not surprisingly, that is definitely the case here.  On this self-titled album, things start off very promisingly with the rocking "When God Came Down" that, while incorporating a good dose of keys, still manages to keep the guitars out front for the most part and utilizes a solid, if short, guitar solo.  This song is a very nice hard AOR track with some great vocals and an excellent message about God coming to Earth in the form of Christ.    Very promising start.

Sadly, at least for me, things don't stay the course.  "We Shall Stand" gets very keyboard-laden and almost wanders out of rock territory and into pure CCM territory.  One cool thing about this song, however, is the way Peterson's solo weaves the classic Christmas carol "The Little Drummer Boy" into what turns out to be a nearly full minute long outro that also incorporates some of the words from "Amazing Grace".  All in all, its a pretty cool song, just not overly hard rocking by any stretch.

"Then Love Came In" is the only true ballad on the album, but other songs such as "Eternally" and "All That I Am" are both decidedly much slower in tempo than the album requires, as it is rarely out of mid-tempo territory.  A couple more real good hard rocking tunes would have served this disc well, but sadly after the opening track, the only real rockers are "Book Of Life" and "Grace Me", both of which remind me of Volz-era Petra for some reason.  "The Raven And The Dove", oddly, sounds more akin to early Schlitt-era Petra, at least in the arrangement of the song.

Peterson rips off several tasty solos, with the efforts on "The Raven And The Dove", "All That I Am", and "Give Me More" being particularly strong.  McClay and Roussin do a fine job of holding things together, and Gilbertson is a more than capable vocalist.  In fact, I would go so far as to say I prefer Gilbertson's voice to that of James Salter who would leave The Brave and take over the microphone for Faith Nation on the next release.  And, to be fair, Helm has a lot of talent on the keys...they are just far too heavily implemented for my tastes.  As a fan of hair metal and melodic hard rock, I can appreciate keyboards as enhancement instruments, with the occasional big role in a well executed power ballad, but this album is so keyboard heavy it drips of sugary gooiness that I just can't swallow in large doses.

One thing that I noticed on this album as opposed to the follow-up disc, Ordinary People is that this disc is a lot less lyrically vague as far as a true Christian stance.  That is repeatedly the number one knock I read on reviews of Ordinary People...that it is just so wishy-washy and spiritual, almost New Agey at times, rather than Christian in its lyrics.  That is not the case here.

If you can find it, and you are a fan of the more well known Ordinary People, then by all means, pick up Faith Nation if you find it for under $10 or so.  If you have to shell out more than that, which I am guessing you will, I personally wouldn't spend it; this album is just too slick, too keyboard heavy, and too CCM meets AOR for my tastes.

Rating:  Turn this one down to 4.5, with Peterson's guitar solos being the only reason it scores that high.


(c) 2009 Frontiers Records

  1. Revolution Of Mind
  2. Slay Your Demons
  3. Nowhere Without Your Love
  4. One Day Down By The Lake (See You Real Soon)
  5. Water Into Wine (Fassa Rokka)
  6. Questions (It's About Time)
  7. You Can't Take Anything
  8. Lying
  9. Western World
  10. That's What You Do
  11. Dust In The Wind (Bonus Track)

John Elefante--Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Dan Needham--Drums, Percussion
Anthony Sallee--Bass
Tim Smith--Bass on "Slay Your Demons"
J.R. McNeely--Guitar on "Questions"
Dave Amato--Lead Guitar
Kerry Livgren--Lead Guitar
Dino Elefante--Acoustic and Electric Guitars

As one would likely expect, especially after looking at the list of players, there is a definite Kansas influence on this album in places, but it is not as overwhelming as one might believe. For fans of that legendary progressive rock band, John Elefante is a familiar name as he was the vocalist and keyboard player on albums such as, Vinyl Confessions and Drastic Measures. Additionally, Kerry Livgren's is a name that is exceptionally well known, not just to Kansas fans, but to fans of prog rock in general. Even more, Mastedon chose to include an updated version of "Dust In The Wind" as a bonus track for this album. But Elefante also does his best to mix in a heavy dose of melodic rock, AOR, and even some classic rock sounds on this latest effort from Mastedon. With all the early hype this album was receiving, and with me really enjoying the first two Mastedon discs, it isn't surprising that I was really anticipating this new album which comes more than a decade after the last Mastedon effort. So, does 3 stack up to the greatness of the legendary Kansas or to the equally great, though lesser-known outside of Christian circles, previous two Mastedon records?

In a

Sadly, I am pretty disappointed in the album overall. There are some strong pieces here, but the songs really just don't do much for me. Neither as progressive as anything Kansas did, nor as gritty or edgy as anything done on the previous Mastedon albums, 3 is an overall bland venture to my ears. Sure, John's voice is still very strong and there is no doubt that Livgren is a highly talented guitarist, and that shows through in places here, also. But something is missing, and I think I have a couple of ideas as to what that missing link (or links) may be.

First, the previous Mastedon albums were quasi-all-star albums. Elefante recruited dfferent players and vocalists for various tracks on both It's A Jungle Out There and Lofcaudio, but on this album Elefante handles all the vocals and while Livgren and Dave Amato (REO Speedwagon) add some star-power to the lead guitars, this is basically a set band of John on vocals, brother Dino on guitars, Dan Needham on drums, and Anthony Sallee (formerly of Whiteheart) on bass. As such, I think part of the problem for me is that there is not a great variety in the sounds here. Yes, I know that most bands utilize the same musicians on every song, but that was what was unique about Mastedon, at least for me; I didn't view Mastedon so much as a band as a project, and that is now gone.

Secondly, this album is just too smooth and slick for its own good, which should be expected, at least to a degree, as this is what the Elefante Brothers are noted for in their production styles. But with that smooth, slick production, some of the emotion seems to be lost in these songs that a bit rougher production might have brought out.

Finally, this albums suffers from a problem that a lot of melodic rock/AOR albums seem to be suffering from recently: mid-tempo syndrome. Everything here is so mid-tempo (or slower in some cases) that everything just kind of runs together. There are not a lot of highs or lows...just a bunch of middles. A couple of tracks here seem to be begging to really rock out but they are never allowed to. "Water Into Wine" and "Lying" are perfect examples of this, and are the "hardest" tracks on the disc, although I think "hard" is overstating it. "That's What You Do" has some rock to it, also, but not a lot.   Otherwise, everything here is of about the same tempo unless it drifts solidly into ballad territory. Sure, a lot of it is melodic with some high quality musical performances, with "Revolution Of Mind" and "Slay Your Demons" being a couple of tracks that come to mind, but incredible musicianship just doesn't equate to incredible songs, at least for me.

What is ironic is that the two songs I enjoy the most are the two I likely should NOT enjoy the most. The remake of "Dust In The Wind" and the big progressive rocker "One Day Down By The Lake" are the two songs that I can honestly say I enjoy here. Why is that ironic? Simply put, I am not, nor have I ever been, a Kansas fan with the exception of a couple of songs, yet these two tracks have the biggest Kansas feel to them and are the two most unique sounding songs on the album. To me, it really says something when a remake is considered a unique song. That being said, Livgren is in fine form on "One Day..." and at more than ten minutes long, it does give the listener an expanded taste of what I think this album could have been but sadly is not.

In the end, while not terrible by any stretch, 3 is also not memorable by any stretch.  It's mid-tempo, middle-of-the-road music that does virtually nothing to lodge itself in my brain, which is unfortunate.  I was honestly expecting so much more from Mastedon and the Elefante brothers.

Rating: It is really hard for me to say this, but I would recommend turning this down to 4.

SLEEPING GIANT "Kingdom Days In An Evil Age"

(c) 2011 Ain't No Grave Records

  1. Throne Room Militance
  2. Dead Men Walking
  3. Eyes Wide Open
  4. The Cross Is Suicide
  5. ICXC
  6. Tithme
  7. Tongues Of Fire
  8. Jehova Shalom
  9. The Unnamable Name
  10. Morning Star
  11. Enthroned
(Deluxe Version Tracks)
  12.  Defiance
  13.  Father To The Fatherless
  14.  Holy Is The Lamb  Sleeping Giant has done what I did not think they could do in topping 2009's Son's Of Thunder album, bringing forth even more brutal metalcore with an equally hardcore message.  While Sons Of Thunder was a very good, very solid metalcore album, Kingdom Days In An Evil Age is heads-and-shoulders better.  Superior production, an even more metalic edge to the punishing hardcore style, and stronger vocals are all added to the always in-your-face, boldly Christian lyrics that fans of the band have come to expect.  Sleeping Giant has been fully awakened on this album, folks, and they are here to melt your face off while saving your soul at the same time!

Musically, this album is what I would request of any metalcore band as far as style and sound.  Breakdowns?  Check.  Heavy, crunchy guitar?  Check.  Solos (even if they aren't necessarily what the song is built around)?  Check again.  Sleeping Giant remembers to include the "metal" part of metalcore in their sound, which I really love.  In fact, there are times where they almost cross over into that odd little area people call melodic death metal or the "Gothenberg sound".  The vocals, while definitely delivered in a hardcore barking style, still have a depth of emotion that is not always present in this type of music and the lyrics are very easily understood.

Standout tracks?  While I like everything here, I would have to point to "Throne Room Militance", "Dead Man Walking", "The Unnamable Name" and "The Cross Is Suicide" as my favorites from the standard disc, while "Holy Is The Lamb" is probably my favorite of the bonus tracks on the deluxe version (think praise and worship lyrics and backing vocals with hardcore lead vox...very cool).  That being said, there are no bad songs on the disc, standard or deluxe, and most are of the 2:30 to 4:00 time range, ulike the generally much shorter songs of the first album and the longer-than-normal-for-metalcore tracks of Sons Of Thunder.

If you have the opportunity, and you have not yet picked this album up, I would strongly suggest you snag the deluxe version.  Not only do you get three more songs, you also get full lyrical explanation, a prayer for each song, and the background of where each song came from.  This makes for a really cool package and is something I wish more bands who truly consider what they do a ministry would do for their fans.  This is an awesome addition to an already great album.

Rating:  Crank this crushing masterpiece to 9!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

JAG "Fire In The Temple"

(c) 1992 Benson Music

  1. Stand By Love
  2. Invisible Man
  3. Streams In The Desert
  4. Long Lost Friend
  5. I Keep Coming Back
  6. Fire In The Temple
  7. Mine, Mine, Mine
  8. Land Of The Living
  9. 1000 Words
  10. A Circle Unbroken
John "Jag" Garies--Vocals
Chuck Connor--Drums
J. Paul Brittain--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Michael Lusk--Bass, Backing Vocals


Chris McHugh--Drums
Mark Chesshir--Guitars
Gordon Kennedy--Guitars
Tommy Sims--Bass
Jackie Street--Bass
Blair Masters--Keyboards, Programming
Dale Oliver--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Larry Stewart--Backing Vocals
Greg Guidry--Backing Vocals
Jim Cooper--Backing Vocals
Billy Smiley--Backing Vocals

No one will ever mistake JAG for a metal band, but they were certainly a good hard rock/AOR band in the late 1980's and early 1990's.  A friend of mine sent me Fire In The Temple, which was the band's last album (that I am aware of), telling me that I would "love it!" and compared it to some of the melodic hard rock bands he knew I liked, such as Foreigner, Journey, Boston, etc.  Ummmm....not so much, at least for the majority of the album.  While there are some decent AOR tracks, the album never really reaches "hard rock" territory, at least for very long, and it kind of blends into the background after a few listens.  The often-used comparison to Whiteheart became even more solid on this album as no fewer than four former or current members of that band performed on this album.  In fact, there are so many guest musicians on this album, I am not really sure who plays on what, or what the actual members of JAG even did!

The album starts off promisingly enough with one of the harder rocking numbers in "Stand By Love" which features Garies' smooth but powerful vocal delivery and a nice, if understated, guitar solo.  However, by track two, "Invisible Man", the harder-edged guitars are gone and the band incorporates keyboard programming that, while somewhat reminiscent of some of the moodier stuff bands like Foreigner were doing around this time, continues with a more electronic feel than most of the hard rock bands of the time, Christian or secular.  It is an interesting song, but not one of my favorites by any means.  "Streams In The Desert" is pure CCM to my ears and, again, is not a bad song, but this album is starting to become pretty slow and ballad-oriented by this point.  That trend continues with the next track which is one of the more interesting song choices here, at least for me.

"Long Lost Friend" is a song performed by contemporary country artists Restless Heart on their 1989 album Fast Moving Train.  The song was co-written by Restless Heart lead vocalist Larry Stewart, who also supplies guest vocals on the track.  There is a fairly substantial difference in the tracks, although both keep the song in ballad territory.  The use of some keyboard programming on the JAG version adds a bit more of a pop feel to the track, but I doubt fans of Restless Heart would be offended by this version, and vice versa, which I am not 100% sure is a good thing for most people.  Truth be told, however, I actually prefer Restless Heart's version (hey!  I spent a decade in 80s/early 90s country radio...sue me!).

JAG finally returns to at least mid-tempo rock territory with the next track, "I Keep Coming Back" which features a simplistic, yet catchy chorus and a very pop-rock style that could have easily charted alongside Foreigner or Boston at the time.  The title track, "Fire In The Temple", is an up-tempo number that starts off with an nice acoustic guitar intro before picking up with a bit more rock flair than some of the other tracks here.  Once again, a strong chorus is one of the key elements here, and this is one of the best tracks on the disc.  "Mine, Mine, Mine" rocks harder than anything else on the disc and bears at least a passing resemblance to Kenny Loggins' Top Gun hit "Danger Zone", at least in the guitar riff before the verses kick in.  If the entire album had been made up of songs like this one and the album opener, I would be able to say that I was pretty interested.  Sadly, that is not the case.

"Land Of The Living" ironically barely keeps my pulse going, and "1000 Words" is so pop I have to skip it when I hear it.  Album closer, "A Circle Unbroken" is not wholly different than Elton John's "Circle Of Life" in tempo and delivery, and I can honestly say I am thankful the album has come to a close.

I have the first two JAG albums and, while neither one blows my speakers, both are significantly harder, at least in spots, and generally more consistent than this disc.  Perhaps it is best that JAG laid the band to rest with this effort, as it really is nothing to get to overly excited about.  Fans of the more laid back style that Whiteheart used at times would likely love this record, and maybe even fans of bands like Mr. Mister.   A couple of songs would worm their way onto a "best of JAG" compilation if I were to make one, but the vast majority of this album is just too slow, too pop, and frankly, too boring for me to get into.  The album title had me hoping for more, and even the cover looked a bit more hard rock than the music delivered.  Needless to say, my previously mentioned friend who suggested I would "love" this album was flat wrong.

Rating:  Turn this down to 4 and look for their first album if you really want to hear JAG at their best.


(c) 2011 Ferret Music

  1. Dead Throne
  2. Untidaled
  3. Mammoth
  4. Vengeance
  5. R.I.T.
  6. My Questions
  7. Kansas
  8. Born To Lose
  9. Forever Decay
  10. Chicago
  11. Constance
  12. Pretenders
  13. Holdfast
Mike Hranica--Vocals
Chris Rubey--Lead Guitar
Jeremy DePoyster--Rhythm Guitar, Clean Vocals
Daniel Williams--Bass
James Baney--Drums
Andy Tick--Keyboards

Brutal metalcore are the first two words that come to mind when listening to the latest effort from The Devil Wears Prada.  Not a concept album like the little Zombie EP that they released a little over a year ago, this latest effort, Dead Throne, finds the band crushing their way through the most punishing, and most creative, music they have released to date.  While always being labeled something of a cookie-cutter metalcore band, Dead Throne showcases a band that has expanded upon their sound, more capably intermixing Hranica's gutteral death growls and piercing, almost blackened screams, with DePoyster's clean vocals, all layered over dischordant metallic riffs.  The album still features breakdowns all over the place, as is common in the metalcore scene, but on this disc there are also guitar solos intermixed with those breakdowns to give the songs more depth.  From what I have read, this is largely due to the fact that Rubey essentially took all of the songwriting duties upon himself for this album, resulting in the more brutal, more metal stylings found on Dead Throne.  If that is what it took for this band to finally transcend the Hot Topic Metalcore Band of the Month status that a lot of people had tagged them with...well, I wish Rubey would have stepped up sooner!  

With many of the album's songs focusing on themes of anti-idolatry, the lyrical content is definitely something that many fans will be able to relate to, both on a personal and spiritual level.  While still hard to comprehend much of the time, all the lyrics to the songs are included, which is always a bonus.

Personal favorites would be "R.I.T", the thundering "Born To Lose", and the title track.  I also found myself digging the instrumental track "Kansas", although I found the keyboard intro to be a bit long.  Album closer, "Hold Fast", is another very solid track to these ears, with the keyboards adding some interesting atmospheric depth to the otherwise pummeling music and throat-rending vocals.

Perhaps it is because I came into this album with such low expectations that I find myself somewhat taken aback.  Maybe it is simply because the band has matured so much and is that much better than they were in 2005 or 2006.  Regardless, Dead Throne is leaps and bounds better than anything this band has released to date and if they continue to improve by even a fraction of this jump on every album, The Devil Wears Prada may very well find themselves closer to the pinnacle of the Christian metalcore scene...and make themselves a force to be reckoned with in the secular scene as well.

Rating:  Crank this to a crushing 7.5

THEOCRACY "Mirror Of Souls"

(c) 2008 Ulterium Records

  1. A Tower Of Ashes
  2. On Eagles' Wings
  3. Laying The Demon to Rest
  4. Bethlehem
  5. Absolution Day
  6. The Writing In The Sand
  7. Martyr
  8. Mirror Of Souls
Matt Smith--Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards
Jonathan Hinds--Guitars
Shawn Benson--Drums

Additional Musicians:
Sean Conklin--Additional lead guitar on "A Tower of Ashes" and "On Eagles' Wings"
Daniel Collins--Talkbox guitar on "On Eagles' Wings"
Donna Smith--Piano on "Mirror Of Souls"

Every once in a while, an album comes around that seems to define a genre.  In my estimation, Theocracy's second album, Mirror Of Souls, is the definition of epic power metal in the Christian metal genre and more than holds its own against its secular counterparts.  As good as the band's self-titled debut album was, Mirror Of Souls surpasses it in every way.  This is a monster of an album that has to be heard in its entirety to truly appreciate its greatness, as snippets of songs simply don't do these majestic mini-epics justice.

One of the major points of change between this album and the debut is that Theocracy is now an actual band and not just Matt Smith doing everything on his own.  The recruiting of Jonathan Hinds and Shawn Benson truly affects the sound on this disc, as Smith was allowed to focus on his strengths which are vocals and his own guitar parts.  Granted, he also played bass and keyboards on this disc, but it really does feel like a "band" project now, which is a very good thing to these ears.

Three words that come immediately to mind when listening to this album are "catchy", "epic", and "melodic".  I say "catchy" because every single song here has a hook of some sort, whether it be a vocal melody or a guitar line or even a lyric that instantly snags the listener's attention and won't let go.  A perfect example is "Laying The Demon To Rest", which happens to have all three of the hooks I mentioned.  I do not feel I am overstating when I say that this may be one of the best Chrsitian metal songs...ever.  The layers of vocals and the melody they are attatched to instantly become embedded in my brain and it takes days to shake it loose!  But even more, at least for me, is the lyrical message of this song about how we all struggle with sin and our own personal demons and our need to call out to God for assistance in these struggles.  At over nine and a half minutes, this song is only the SECOND longest on the album and also calls to mind another one of those words I mentioned above:  "epic".

For fans of those truly epic, seemingly endless power metal journeys, "Mirror Of Souls", the song, is exactly what you are searching for.  Stretching out to more than 22 minutes and somewhat separated into two halves ("movements" might be the more musical term), this is an incredible piece of music that, despite its massive length, does not bore me or tempt me to push the fast forward or skip buttons.  A nice blend of progressive and more traditional power metal, this track has plenty of room to try out various approaches from fast and furious, especially near the front end of the song, to a more melodic approach, including an acoustic section, in the second portion of the song.  It is truly an amazing piece of music to absorb as a whole.

Mixed in that last description was that third word..."melodic".  That is something that is evident throughout the album, but is perhaps most evident in the slower areas of the disc.  As I mentioned, "Laying The Demon To Rest" certainly has melodic passages to it, but that song would never be considered slow or balladesque by any stretch of the imagination.  The following track, "Bethlehem", however, might be the closest thing to a ballad that Theocracy has done up to this point in their career.  "The Writing In The Sand" is another semi-ballad song which, like "Bethlehem", really showcases the melodic side of the band, using smooth transitions and guitar interplay between Smith and Hinds to weave the song rather than the blistering, breakneck pace of songs like "Absolution Day" or the crunching heaviness of "Martyr".

 When taken in individual pieces, there are many great individual moments on this disc.  Of the songs I have not previously mentioned,  "A Tower Of Ashes" is a nearly 5 minute long instrumental that really sets the tone for the album, and "On Eagles' Wings" borders on praise and worship-style music in its lyrical approach, especially in the chorus, but make no mistake about the metalic quality of this track.  However, it is the way that this entire album ebbs and flows throughout that creates the true greatness of this piece of music.  Transitioning from lightning speed to acoustic interludes to melodic passages to thundering forcefulness, this album delivers something for everyone who is a fan of epic power metal.  I have seen this album referred to as "orchestral metal" a time or two, and I think I understand what was being said, although I don't think people should be led to believe there is a major incorporation of strings or anything like that, because there is not.  So, rather than attempt to put a genre or style rating on this album I will simply say that I truly believe this is one of the most important pieces of music in Christian metal history...period.  Virtually flawless, it has also been re-released in Digibook format with a bonus track and a 20 page booklet.

Keep up with Theocracy at .

Rating:  Crank this to 10 and surround yourself with epic musical greatness!

SAINT "Hell Blade"

(c) 2010 Retroactive Records

  1. (The Ascent)
  2. The Blade
  3. To The Cross
  4. Crying In The Night
  5. Hell Train
  6. Endless Night
  7. You & Me
  8. New World Order
  9. Sinner Peace
  10. Hell Blade
Josh Kramer--Lead Vocals
Jerry Johnson--Guitars
Richard Lynch--Bass, Backing Vocals
Bill Brost--Drums, Backing Vocals

Now THIS is what classic Christian metal is all about!  I know that sounds like the way to end a review and not start one, but it is exactly what I think whenever I put this album in.  Josh's piercing vocals, Jerry's screaming lead guitars, Richard's rumbling bass lines and complementary backing vocals, and Bill's thundering drums really make this, at least for me, one of the best truly metal albums of the last decade.  Don't look for anything "core" on this album, there are no death metal growls or black metal shrieks...and certainly no emo whining...just 100% pure, authentic heavy metal the way that Saint has been doing it since they started playing together, regardless of the line-up that surrounded Richard and Josh.

On Hell Blade, I truly feel that the band has topped the 1980's masterpiecs Time's End and Too Late For Living, which is a huge feat.  And, while In The BattleThe Mark, and Crime Scene Earth (particularly the 2.0 version) were all solid albums, each was missing that little something that would push each into that "classic" category.  Hell Blade has that something, to be sure, although I can't put my finger 100% on what that something is.  To be sure, this album has the best production of the "comeback" albums that started with In The Battle, but I'm not sure that is the complete reason for this disc's greatness.  The full-time return of Josh to the microphone is huge for me (not knocking Richard's capable efforts on Crime Scene Earth), and he brings a vocal intensity, maybe even an urgency, that I think has been missing for a few albums from his still always powerful singing.  Richard's bass playing and songwriting and Jerry's lead playing are at all-time bests here, also, but again, I don't know that any of these things singularly pushes this album to the top of the Saint heap.  Perhaps it is a combination of all these things that makes this such a great album...but none of these things would matter without the songs. 

Hell Blade has numerous songs on it that would find their way onto any personal "Best Of Saint" album that I would ever make.  The title track, with Josh's barked choruses and his always-will-be-compared-to-Halford screams, is an instant classic, as is the pounding "SinnerPeace".  For me, the two biggest tracks here are "New World Order", with its very topical subject matter, and "Hell Train", complete with a sinister laugh following Josh's call for "all aboard!" leading right into a rhythmic chugging bass-and-rhythm guitar line, and a POUNDING drum section, that one would expect from a "train" song.  "To The Cross" is another powerful number, especially lyrically, and "The Blade" is another punishing track that finds the band in top form.  To be completely honest, the only track I could do without is the opening instrumental, "(The Ascent)", but this feeds so seamlessly into "The Blade" that I don't even really think of it as a separate track.

As is typical of so many Saint songs and albums, the lyrics frequently touch on prophecy and End-Times material, with "New World Order" being a prime example here.  Various newsreel snippets from different world leaders is incorporated to excellent effect on this track, and I just love how it all works together.  "Hell Blade", likewise, is a another prophetic track lyrically, with Satan, the Antichrist, being the "hell blade" that is referred to in the track.  Always key to me is the fact that all of the lyrics are included here, which just makes this package all the more impressive for me.

If I had one complaint about this album, I guess it would have to be that it is only about 40 minutes long...not even that if you don't count the instrumental intro.  I would love to have had another song or two here, but not if any additional material was of lesser quality that would deter from the album's overall greatness.  OH!  It's also a digipack, which I hate, so I guess there are two things I can complain about.  Rats....

If you pick up only one of the Saint comeback albums, my recommendation would be Hell Blade, although all of the albums from In The Battle on are very good.  I am anxiously awaiting the next Saint album, hoping it is even close to the level that this one is.

Rating:  Crank this instant classic to a solid 9.5...nah, make it 10!

STEP COUSIN "The Evolution Religion"

(C) 2009 Corduroy Boy Productions

  1. In My Darkest Hour
  2. Behind The Veil
  3. The Evolution Religion
  4. Tears On My Pillow
  5. Obituary
  6. A Friend Like You
  7. Cold
  8. Scarred
  9. Life And Dreams
  10. I Don't Need It
  11. This Is The Time
Jeff Grady--Lead, Rhythm, and Acoustic Guitars, Keyboards
Kelly Matthews--Drums, Bass, Vocals, Keyboards

Additional Musicians:
Adam Rhodes--Piano on "In My Darkest Hour"
Jamie Holmes--Flute on "A Friend Like You"
Matt Thompkins--Vocals on "I Don't Need It Now"
Jasmine Mellert--Spoken Word on "Tears On My Pillow"
Kent Hovind--Spoken Word on "The Evolution Religion"

Step Cousin, the...well....I guess step-cousin of Lordchain returned with this, their third album, in 2009.  It had been over seven years since Step Cousin had recorded anything new, and I had to wonder if anything major had changed between 2002's Innocence Before Oblivion and this new effort.  Happily, the answer is no, not much has changed.  Once again, Kelly Matthews and Jeff Grady, both also members of Lordchain, have brought forth a darker, crunchier, thrashier side of their musical selves, combining elements of thrash, death, and progressive metal to come up with a very unique album that fans of bands such as Tourniquet, Mortification, and Grave Forsaken, among others.

Kelly handles the majority of the vocals (the exception being the guest vocalists listed above), and he varies his delivery from a nearly full-on death metal growl to more of a Luke Easter-era Tourniquet approach.  Nowhere are these styles more evident than on a song like "Behind The Veil" which utilizes both vocal approaces in the same song.  This track reeks of Mortification as far as Kelly's drumming approach (and the deathy vocals, as well), but it also mixes in some progressive thrash that would do Tourniquet proud.

The title track, "The Evolution Religion" is even more of a Tourniquet-styled progressive thrasher and is easily my favorite track on this very good album.  This song argues that the government allows evolution to be taught in schools despite the fact that it is very much being pushed as an alternative sort of religion by many people.  The music is essentially progressive thrash for the most part, but there is also a KILLER acoustic interlude with some excellent drum-and-cymbal work by Matthews.  What absolutely makes this song for me is the HILARIOUS vocal drop-ins by Kent Hovind who does a dead-on impersonation of those documentary scientists from the 70's and 80's that narrated so many shool filmstrips that a lot of us were forced to endure as kids. The first narrative explains the song in about 15 seconds, and goes as follows:

"See both creation and evolution are inherently religious.  The difference is the evolution religion is tax-supported (meaning the government funds the teaching of it).  That's the difference."

This is an excellent point that is put over through the use of a bit of humor, which I find myself chuckling and nodding my head at every time I hear this song.  This track alone is worth the purchase of this me.

The band also utilizes some interesting musical instrument choices, such as the inclusion of a flute solo (no, don't think Jethro Tull here!) on "A Friend Like You".  This is an emotional track lyrically that features a killer groove, some more excellent drumming by Matthews, and some very nice solo work from Gray, along with the flute solo which, much to my surprise, really works well in this setting.

Stand-out cuts for me would be the title track, "In My Darkest Hour", "Cold", another thrasher with a humorous Time-And-Temp vocal intro, "Tears On My Pillow", and slightly more melodic "Scarred".  "Obituary" is solid, as well.  I'm not as fond of "Life And Dreams" or "This Is The Time", but neither is a bad song.  I kind of get the feeling that tinkering with the track listing might have helped these songs a bit, but I'm not a sound engineer, so who am I to say, right?

Step Cousin is a really cool project that I wish would get a bit more notice from the metal community, Christian or secular, as I think this two-man band shows a lot of talent in not only their instrumental approach but in the songwriting as well.  It is clear the band has taken their influences, mixed in a touch of their own Lordchain background, and poured our some great groove-oriented progressive thrash.  The production is very good, especially when it is remembered that this is an independent release, and the packaging, while simple, does include full lyrics to each song as well as cover art done by Troy Dunmire who has also done work for Mortification in the past.  Very cool stuff....  Now, I just hope they don't wait another seven years before the next Step Cousin record.

Rating:  Crank this to a very solid 7.5.

Back To Reviews Index

Thursday, January 1, 2015

SAINT "Broad Is The Gate"

(c) 2014 Armor Records

  1. Broad Is The Gate
  2. Hero
  3. We All Stand
  4. Demon Pill
  5. We Will Fight
  6. Who You Are
  7. Reach The Sky
  8. Never Same
  9. Metal Cross
Richard Lynch--Bass
Brian Phyll Miller--Vocals
Jerry Johnson--Guitars
Matthew P. Smith--Guitars
Jared Knowland--Drums

If there has been one Christian band that has been the real torch-bearer for traditional heavy metal, it is unquestionably Saint.  Long compared to the legendary Judas Priest for their stylistic approach (as well as the powerful sonic wailing of long-time frontman, Josh Kramer), Saint seemingly never wavers from their approach to bringing their message of salvation...and warnings of the metal masses.

But for the first time in seemingly forever, things are slightly different for these Oregon metalheads, and while not horrible, there is no arguing that the difference is noticeable.  That difference, if you check the listing above, is the absence of the previously mentioned Kramer on lead vocals, and a new man behind the mic in Brian Phyll Miller.  

It should be noted that Kramer had been absent before, with Lynch handling the vocal duties in a largely successful manner, primarily (and most recently) on the original pressing of Crime Scene Earth.  On that version, Lynch tackled 6 of the 9 songs, with Kramer handling three.  Later, the band re-recorded the album with Kramer on all of the lead screams, resulting in Crime Scene Earth 2.0.  Additionally, this is not Miller's first go-round with the band, as he shared lead vocals with Kramer on the band's last album, Desperate Night, fronting one of the albums songs to Kramer's eight (Lynch fronted two, himself).   However, with Miller being added as THE full-time vocalist now this is the version of Saint that will be going forward for the foreseeable future.
Musically, the band's sound remains much the same, employing that Priest-esque NWOBHM sound that they have long since mastered and made their own.  The guitar tandem of Johnson and newcomer Smith is excellent and the few fans who continue to grumble about the absence of long-time Saint guitar slinger, Dee Harrington, likely haven't given the latest couple of records a true listen, as Johnson has shown himself to be a more than capable shredder.  Smith allows the band to utilize that true twin-guitar sound that adds so much power and life to this style of music.  I think it would be a definite treat to hear this tandem in a live setting as I have a feeling the pair would play off of each other in a remarkable way, as they sound extremely tight here.

Likewise, the strong rhythm section of band founder Lynch and drummer Knowland keeps the band ever-pounding forward, driving each of these metallic numbers with a throbbing pulse of energy.  This can be heard from the moment the cymbals start crashing and the bass starts throbbing on the opening track, "Broad Is The Gate".

That leads us to the vocals.  Naturally, there are going to be comparisons and contrasts between Miller and Kramer.  Miller sings in a slightly higher register than Kramer on his clean, singing parts, with a bit more grit to his voice.  Kramer has the superior scream and seems to vocally command the songs a bit more, which could also be a by-product of so many years of perfecting his craft.  Both are vocally powerful and project well, with Miller really showcasing his abilities on my favorite track of the album, "We Will Fight".  In the spirit of fairness, I prefer Kramer's vocals, but, also in the spirit of fairness, his are the vocals of my youth, as I have been with this band since the 1980's, and Kramer has pretty much always been there.  Miller is a capable replacement and, as I stated about the guitar tandem, I would relish the opportunity to hear Miller live to witness firsthand how he handles the classics in the Saint catalog.  I'm guessing his performance would be excellent.  But as far as the album goes, is it obvious there is a different singer?  No question, especially to long time fans.  Is it odd to hear?  Sure, at first.  But does it ruin the record?  The easy answer is no.

The songs themselves are traditional Saint NWOBHM.  The previously mentioned "We Will Fight", "Broad Is The Gate", "We All Stand", and "Hero" are all songs that are likely to find themselves in the band's setlists, nestled in alongside catalog classics and more recent headbangers.  These four are definitely the cream of the crop on this record, along with the criminally short "Reach The Sky".   This is a monster of a song with guitar work here that is truly OFF THE CHARTS, incredibly fast and very sharply performed.  I really wish this track had been given more time to expand the solo, possibly even adding in a second extended solo break where the song currently ends, before coming back into the chorus, and then soloing out.  I LOVE what was done here, I just wish it had been longer.  

A couple of other tracks leaving me wanting.  "Demon Pill" is incredibly short and comes off as almost unfinished at just 2:35, and the closing instrumental piece, "Metal Cross" feels like a last minute add-on to fill time.  To be fair, I judge all instrumentals that a band does by the best they have ever released, and I think Saint will be hard-pressed to ever touch the amazing greatness of "Returning" from the classic Too Late For Living album, so "Metal Cross" is probably doomed from the least for me.  Personally, I would have loved for 50 seconds of this 1:45 track to have been given to "Reach The Sky" and "Demon Pill" respectively, allowing each to reach their full potential.
The one song I haven't mentioned yet is "Never Same".  This song is a head scratcher for me.  This is the first time I can recall the band experimenting with more orchestral moments (I could be forgetting something from the band's massive back catalog).  Knowland is credited with the "orchestrations" on this track, so I am understanding this to mean he added in the keyboard accents and the symphonic elements to this track which has something of a Euro-power metal feel to it in places.  It also reminds me of something the Scorpions might try to do, especially in the way Miller handles the vocals here.  I like the song quite a bit, actually, but it doesn't really fit with the rest of the album.

To my ears, the mix sounds a bit raw in places...almost garage-ish...especially the cymbals and the snare.  The guitars are crisp and out front, as they should be, and the vocals are recorded equally as well.  I'm not sure if there was a problem with the way the kit was mic'd or if this was an intentional approach to give the effort more of a raw, live sound, but personally, I would have liked to have heard them cleaned up a bit.  None of the songs are ruined, and I have gotten used to the sound with the numerous listens I have given to the album, so perhaps this is more of a personal nit-pick than a real issue with the recording.

The packaging is above average, especially for an independent release.  Yes, it is a cardboard tri-fold slipcase, but all of the lyrics are included, as is a picture of the band, some brief recording and writing credits, and basic website information.

All in all, a satisfying effort from one of the few remaining bands, Christian or secular, who remain true to their musical roots and continue to press on in the classic heavy metal style.  Miller is a capable vocalist and the addition of Smith once again gives the band a fuller, classic metal sound.  While not a threat to the classic tandem of Time's End and Too Late For Living, or the pinnacle of the band's catalog, Hell Blade, this new album is professionally recorded, solidly performed, and features real teeth behind its metallic bite.  

Saint marches on, and in fine fashion, with Broad Is The Gate.

Rating:  Crank this to a 7.5, with three short songs likely holding this back from being an 8 or greater.