Friday, January 24, 2020

IGNESCENT "Into The Night/Demons 777" Split-Single

(c) 2019 Independent Release

  1. Into The Night
  2. Demons 777
Jennifer Benson--Lead Vocals
Deven Elion--Lead Guitars
Joey Sepulveda--Rhythm Guitars
Ian Sebastian--Bass
Chris Calix--Drums

Ignescent means "emitting sparks of fire when struck".  Think flint and steel.  If you are still in question, check out the picture above.  Notice the sparks?  There you go!  Now, Ignescent the band is trying to spark a fire of their own in the Christian rock scene with the release of this two track single, "Into The Night/Demons 777".  Combining aggressive guitars and big rhythms with pop songwriting sensibilities and catchy hooks, this Chicago band has refined their sound and style, pulling in influential elements of bands such as Evancescence, Flyleaf, and Paramore, with bits and pieces of Fireflight, particularly in the vocals of Benson, while creating a sound that is all their own.  

The first single, "Into The Night" starts off with some programmed elements introing an aggressive percussion section from Calix, and a rumbling bass line courtesy of Sebastian, when a furious rhythm guitar line grinds its way into the track, setting the stage for the smooth, soaring vocals of Benson kick in.  Elion's leads run up and down the verse sections while Sepulveda's rhythm guitars saw their way through the track.  The keys/programming here are uncredited, but they serve as a big part of this rapid-fire, uptempo track.  As I stated before, there is a definite pop sensibility to the way the vocals are produced and layered in the chorus section, but the rock is unrelenting throughout this song about the redeeming power of Christ's love, even when we are at our worst and fighting our own darkness.  And while the whole track works extremely well, it is truly driven by the vocal approach of Benson...and punctuated by the crushing kit work from Calix, who really brings the thunder in this track.  The song has done huge things for the band, and if you somehow missed it, you would do yourself a huge favor to seek it out.  Check out the video below.

The other track here is the title track to the upcoming 2020 CD, Demons 777.  Equally hard-hitting, with edgy, aggressive rhythm guitar lines, the song is a bit darker in its sound.  Even the vocal approach from Benson is a bit more angst-driven, with less high-end soaring and more use of her lower-range.  Don't take this to mean that she plays it safe or that she never unleashes, because the is not the case.  However, there is a usage of effects on her vocals, particularly leading into the second verse section, that ups the modern rock feel here.  Less pop-oriented than "Into The Night", the buzzsaw rhythm guitars are a bit more prominent here, and the overall feel of the song is more aggressive, even if it isn't quite as fast, tempo-wise.  Currently climbing the Christian rock charts, "Demons 777" is a compelling piece of modern hard rock that I hope is representative of the overall sound of the record.

Produced by Cameron Pierce Mizell, who has worked with bands such as Memphis May Fire and Sleeping With Sirens, these tracks from Ignescent show not only a band that is on the verge of breaking through on a national level, but also a band that knows who they are and what they are trying to do musically.  Focused, energetic, and accessible while remaining faith-driven in their purpose, Ignescent is poised for great things if the rest of Demons 777 sounds anything like the two tracks here!  You can follow the band on Facebook and Twitter at @ignescentmusic as well as their website,

Rating:  I don't normally rate singles, but the music here is definitely worth seeking out!

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Friday, January 10, 2020

ANVIL "Legal At Last"

(c) 2020 AFM Records

  1. Legal At Last
  2. Nabbed In Nebraska
  3. Chemtrails
  4. Gasoline
  5. I'm Alive
  6. Talking To The Wall
  7. Glass House
  8. Plastic In Paradise
  9. Bottom Line
  10. Food For The Vulture
  11. Said And Done
  12. No Time (Bonus Track)
Steve "Lipz" Kudlow--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Rob Reiner--Drums
Chris Robertson--Bass

As hard as it may be to believe, 2018 marked the 40th anniversary of this Canadian metal machine, who just keeps on cranking out album after album, regardless of their success...or lack the world of music.  They have a very specific style and sound that they have rarely strayed from, they have been named as major influences on big time bands, and they have a loyal and dedicated following that a lot of bands only dream about.  So, perhaps Anvil defines success differently than a lot of bands do, and that has typically been a good thing for fans of classic heavy metal with heavy doses of speed and thrash mixed in.  It certainly has worked on the majority of the band's albums, so how will it work out now on album number 18?

The album kicks off with the title track to the record, "Legal At Last".  But, while a hair metal or sleaze metal band of old would have been referring to some underage hottie, Anvil is referring to the fact that Canada has now legalized marijuana.  As such, the song naturally kicks off with the sound of someone hitting a bong.  When the actual music kicks in, it is classic Anvil all the way, with speedy guitar riffs and big, heavy drums jackhammering away through this uptempo rocker.  Lips still sounds largely like he did in the band's 80s heyday, although he may be a bit gruffer in places, which actually works well on the material the band has been putting out on the past few releases.  Now, while I am no prude, I have never partaken of the "all natural drug" that is the inspiration for this song (and the next), so I can't really relate to the song's subject matter, but I can relate to the music, which is pure Anvil from start to finish.

Being from the Cornhusker State, and proud of it, I was naturally intrigued by the song "Nabbed In Nebraska".  Apparently, the song is an autobiographical account of the band being arrested for possession of marijuana in Big Red Territory, which has not legalized weed.  Musically, this is exactly the kind of song people have come to associate with Anvil, with aggressive guitars, big, heavy drums, and a style that screams traditional heavy metal with its mid-tempo riffs and plodding bass line.  And, despite my anti-drug stance, I can't help but find a bit of humor in the tongue-in-cheek lyrics here.  I especially like the gang vocals used on the chorus, which adds just a bit more menacing sound to the humor of the song.  Check out the animated lyrics video below...

By the way, I have to ask...if there are signs saying "Drug Dogs On Duty" and "Nebraska Drug Control Ahead", can you really claim (lyrically) that "police lay in wait" as you cross from state to state?  Just asking...while smiling...

"Chemtrails" blurs the line between classic metal and thrash just a bit, which is not uncommon for this band.  The speed and aggression of the guitars is definitely here, and Reiner really hammers away at the kit on this track.  In fact, it's his drums that really give that thrashy feel to the track, along with the edgy vocals of Lips and the political slant of the lyrics.  To me, this is when Anvil has always been at their best, on the heavy, fast stuff.  Really, the only thing that keeps this song from fully crossing over into the thrash realm would be the lack of a blazing lead guitar solo.  Let's face it...Lips has become a really, really good rhythm player since the band reverted to a three-piece unit, and yes, he has shown some flashes of speed in some of his older, classic-era solos, but he has never been much above average as far as creative and catchy leads go (with a few exceptions), and this song, and really this whole album, is no different.  Perhaps if he only had to focus on leads things would be different.  Regardless, this is still a really good metal track, and, if you can get around the paranoia of the lyrics, this is one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album.  

Just as quickly as things picked up pace with "Chemtrails", they are slowed back down to a plodding, dare I say doomy pace on "Gasoline".  To me, this is Anvil in Sabbath worship mode here, from the thick, sludgy tempo to the thumping bass line and the chug-chug-chugging guitars.  Lips takes his vocals down about a half-notch, especially on the chorus, and it is on a slow, churning song like this that his lead guitars actually really fit the pace and feel of the song.  For that reason, this is the perfect type of track for his style of guitar playing, but one or two songs like this from a band that is generally thought of as pre-thrash is really all that is necessary.  So, as long as "Gasoline" is the only track of its type on the record, I'm good with it.

"I'm Alive" picks the pace back up and injects a classic 70s metal feel into this uptempo rocker.  Once again, the rhythm guitars are top notch here, and Reiner, who I really think is an underrated talent on the drums, is the driving force behind this track.  The tones on the rhythm guitars here SCREAM "Cat Scratch Fever" by Nugent, but the guitar solo, while fairly fast and decently executed, is certainly not Nuge worthy.  All in all, another decent rocker with a classic feel that I enjoy.

"Talking To The Wall" and "Glass House" are two more tracks that fall perfectly into Anvil's wheelhouse, both heavy as stink with excellent drum work, grinding rhythm guitars, and a big, full sound despite the fact that we are dealing with a three-piece outfit here.  "Talking..." is the faster of the two tracks here, while "Glass House" is a bigger, thicker metal song, reminiscent of 80s-era Accept, especially with the gang choruses and that borderline power metal riffing.  Good, good stuff that I could listen to full albums of.  In fact, to me, it's stuff like this that really screams classic Anvil, as in Strength Of Steel, Pound For Pound and Forged In Fire-era stuff, which is when I really fell in love with the band.  Throw in the massively underheard Speed Of Sound record, and you have what I feel are the truly necessary albums from this legendary band, and tracks like "Talking To The Wall" and "Glass House" both are worthy of consideration with some of the best these albums have to offer.  (By the way...if you haven't heard Speed Of Sound, you need to IMMEDIATELY order/download a copy of that record as soon as you finish reading this review.  You will NOT be disappointed!!!)

Remember when I said one or two doomy, sludgy songs was enough for one Anvil album, as far as I was concerned?  Well, here is number two, as "Plastic In Paradise" lumbers along with a plodding riff and equally thundering drums, but with less heft than on "Gasoline".  In fact, this is definitely the lesser of the two tracks, although there are some fairly decent guitar antics from Lips on this one as he pulls out some whammy bar wizardry in a couple of spots.  I'd probably have cut this song from the fairly bloated 12 track list, but its not a skippable moment for me, nor will it be for most people.

As they previously did coming out of a slower number before, the band turns the tempo back up on high for "Bottom Line" and "Food For The Vulture", which may be the catchiest song title I have heard in a while, and is likely the best track on the record.  If "Bottom Line" borders on speed metal, "Food For The Vulture" crosses that border with lethal intent, as it is a full-on ripper of a track.  Once again, Anvil showcases why so many speed/thrash bands of the 80s point to this band as an influence.  The rhythm guitars and drums are relentless here, and once again, the days of high-speed classics like "Speed Of Sound" and "No Evil" come screaming back to me.  

"Said And Done" slows things down to a sludgy drone for a few moments, but just before I am about to protest, the track slides more into traditional heavy metal territory, and all is right once again.  Not a bad track, but not a classic by any stretch, "Said And Done" finishes the album proper, before giving way to the "bonus track" of "No Time".  Now, if there are album versions that don't have "No Time", then avoid those and get the bonus track version, because this snarling speedster is well worth seeking out.  Again, this is classic feeling Anvil and a song that I am glad I stuck around for!  There is no way this should have been a bonus track, folks!  This is really, really good metal, again treading that speed/thrash line that Anvil seems to play so effortlessly!  The bass work of Robertson is particularly strong on this rocker, and I really like the drum sounds here.  

Again, the album feels a bit bloated at 12 tracks, especially when none of the songs clocks in at under 3 minutes, and twice we have tracks that exceed 5 minutes.  I'd probably cut "Plastic In Paradise", and maybe even "Said And Done", to trim this back to a more manageable 10 tracks.  If the band really pushed the issue, I could see "Said And Done" becoming the bonus track here.  

The production is really good, the instruments are clearly heard, and I like the tones of the guitars and the drums.  Yes, there is something of an 80s feel to the way the drums are mic'd, but I'm fine with that, as that era was the pinnacle of this band's now 18 album career (yes, you read that right!).  Every bit as good as 2016's Anvil Is Anvil, Legal At Last doesn't quite live up to the band's best, but it is certainly an excellent addition to the continuing legacy of a band that simply refuses to quit.  And that, my friends, is a good thing!

Rating:  Still cranking after all these years!  Crank this to 7.5!

Friday, January 3, 2020

SCOTT STAPP "The Space Between The Shadows"

(c) 2019 Napalm Records

  1. World I Used To Know
  2. Name
  3. Purpose For Pain
  4. Heaven In Me
  5. Survivor
  6. Wake Up Call
  7. Face Of The Sun
  8. Red Clouds
  9. Gone Too Soon
  10. Ready To Love
  11. Mary's Crying (Bonus Track)
  12. Last Hallelujah (Bonus Track)
Scott Stapp--Vocals

Whether you loved or hated him and his band, Creed, in the 1990s and early 2000s, Scott Stapp is one of the biggest, most recognizable voices of his generation.  Often considered an Eddie Vedder clone...which, for many, is NOT even close to a compliment...and despite the multitude of hits Creed strung together, the more than 50 million albums sold worldwide, and the multiple successful tours, Stapp, and by extension Creed, could not catch a break from the people who sought to slander them.  Some of that was, of course, the same thing that bands such as Nickelback, Pearl Jam, even Metallica, have faced as their careers skyrocketed and the pockets of people who "have been there since the band was nobody" became disenchanted that their own personal favorite band now belonged to millions.  But some of it was because of the demons Scott Stapp has fought against, fallen to, and then regrouped himself to fight against once again.  To be fair, Stapp has owned up to his failures, even opened up about them in his book, Sinner's Creed, and in numerous songs, including the powerful title track to the latest album by the band Art Of Anarchy, The Madness.  And, whether you love or hate him, the man continually feels called to keep writing, recording, and releasing new music to his fans, both as a part of his chosen profession, but also as a means of staying in touch with his fans and spreading a message of hope to those who seek it.

The Space Between The Shadows is Stapp's third solo album, following the multi-platinum success of  2005's The Great Divide, and the critical acclaim and Christian rock chart success of 2013's follow-up, Proof Of Life.  This new record, however, may be his most consistent musically and his most honest...perhaps even vulnerable...lyrically.  

The album kicks off with a bang, as two of the first three songs are hard-edged rockers, with the second being a tough, mid-tempo snarler of a song.  "World I Used To Know" laments the state of the world we live in today, a world filled with hate and anger and division among people.  The track starts off with a howling wind and the sounds of a distorted radio talking about dark...perhaps taking place in the world.  There's a steady drum build then the explosion of guitars as the song kicks itself in.  Stapp sounds strong, smooth yet edgy, his voice unmistakable to anyone who listened to rock radio from about 1995 on.  The uncredited (more on that in a bit) is definitely strong, with special note given to the gritty, buzzsaw feel of the rhythm guitars and some really big sounding drums.  Stapp appears to be supplying his own backing vocals, which is neither good nor just is, and it works fine on a punchy rocker like this one.

That edgy, mid-tempo number I mentioned a second ago is up next, as "Name", finds Stapp reflecting upon his life as a young child abandoned by his father and the pain that abandonment caused.  More mid-tempo than ballad-esque, "Name" is truly autobiographical, as he sings,  "I was a child/I was abandoned/Too young to fight to have a say/Oh God what seemed so heavy handed/Made me the man I am today."  Later in the song, Stapp makes a promise to his own children that they will never know the pain that he experienced as "...a son without a father/He gave his name and walked away...".  This is also the track from which the album's title, The Space Between The Shadows, is referenced, when Stapp refers to himself as both the "space between the shadows" and the "light inside the sorrow" for his own children, something that he never had for himself.  Poignant and powerful stuff.

With the third track, the album really comes alive with the lead single, "Purpose For Pain", which is the pinnacle of the album, musically.  Bordering on metallic, "Purpose..." is one big guitar hook right from the start as the rhythm guitars swirl among the big, thundering drum crashes with hints of synthesizer providing some musical fill in the few gaps to be found in the track.  Stapp wails about how he "...Shut every door but the right one/I fought the devil...and he won" when singing about his addictions and personal demons.  The song is listed as the third biggest hit on for the 2019 year, and it is easy to see why.  A far heavier rocker than anything I can remember Creed doing, this song is a brilliant piece of modern hard rock and one that has found its way into my workout mix.  Check it below...

"Heaven In Me" slows things down significantly, as the album enters into ballad territory for the first time.  A largely acoustic track, "Heaven In Me" is about as far away from "Arms Wide Open" as it can get musically, yet in both cases, it was Stapp's voice that does the majority of the heavy lifting.  "Wake Up Call", however, is another ballad that finds itself leaning a bit more in the direction of Creed, particularly when a children's choir is interjected into the piano-driven song.  That the track manages to avoid becoming overly sappy is in large part due to the song's subject matter: finding your way back from your own personal turmoil and making a change for the better..."if you want to/This is your Wake Up Call/And you can change it all/If you want to...".    

There is plenty of punch to keep things moving along through the first ten tracks, however, with "Face Of The Sun" being a catchy, positive rocker, and "Survivor" hits hard and heavy as a bottom heavy riff-rocker with a message of never quitting on oneself or letting anyone deter you from moving forward, as Stapp snarls, "I'll never bow down/Never own defeat/Cuz you messed with a fighter/I stand here, Baptized by the fire/A Survivor".  Sounds like the kind of call-to-arms anthem that Skillet might have placed on their latest effort, Victoriousbut outside of the lyrical direction, the song styles really aren't all that similar

While I tend to gravitate towards the harder/heavier moments of an album, those aren't always my favorite tracks on any given disc.  As such, on Space Between The Shadows, my three favorite tracks on the album would be the rockers "Purpose For Pain" and "Survivor", and the the slower (not really a ballad), powerhouse of a song that is "Red Clouds".  This song is huge in its sound, and Stapp really delivers a vocal performance to match the style and scope of the track.  Probably the most "Creed-like" song on the record, it still has a heaviness and urgency that Creed hadn't really had, at least on any of their singles, since the My Own Prison days.  Stapp really seems to be pondering the state of the world in "Red Clouds" as he opines, "These are the days we live in/Sliding, winding, finding our way through the maze/The times of the unforgiven/The Light inside it slowly fades away"...and that's just the first verse.  For those who question where Stapp is at spiritually on this record, the chorus seems to answer that question, as he sings, "Reign down/Reign down/Red Clouds/Wash over me/Reign down/Reign down/Red clouds/Come and set me free".  For those who may miss the meaning, "Reign" would seem to refer to Christ coming to Earth to set up his reign, while "Red clouds" seems to be a reference to events in the Bible book of Revelations.

"Gone Too Soon"is a song of mourning for the loss of people who, as the title implies, have left us, seemingly before their time.  The video for this song incorporates images of Prince, Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, and Linkin Park's Chester Bennington, along with soldiers at war, and people visiting the grave sites of those they have lost.  Yet, when you really listen to the lyrics you soon discover that the mourning feeling of the song is gone after verse one, and the song gives way to a message of hope that we will be rejoined with those that we have lost.  Stapp really delivers vocally here, especially when he pours his emotions into the last few lines, when he belts out, "Gone too soon, my friend/I know you're dancing with angels on the wind/Its not the end/Until I reach forever/And we're together...".

"Ready To Love" isn't a power ballad or anything, but it is definitely a much slower song than "Purpose For Pain" or "World I Used To Know", and the incorporation of strings in the track gives it an epic ballad feel, which would have made for the perfect album closer, except this isn't where the record concludes, as there are two "bonus tracks".  I give that term the quotations treatment, because I have yet to find a version of this album without the bonus tracks, although I am told that there is a version with just ten cuts.  If that is truly the case, then I would avoid that version and find this one, because the two "bonus tracks" are among the strongest on the record.  "Mary's Crying" is a poppier mid-tempo track with a strong message and some of Stapp's best singing, and "Last Hallelujah" is a heavier, plodding mid-tempo number, similar to "Red Clouds" in style and tempo, but with a bit less darkness to the sound.  Again, a strong lyrical message and a great performance from Stapp really pushes this song for me, and I find myself repeating this track every now and then...which, to be fair, I do with "Purpose..." and "Red Clouds", also.  

The packaging is pretty solid, overall, although I am still a fan of the old-school jewel case as opposed to digipacks.  That issue aside, the booklet contains full lyrics and writing credits for each song, as well as a thank you section and the typical production credits.  What it DOESN'T include, however, is credit for who plays what instrument on the album.  Unless I have completely missed it somewhere, I can't find a single name of a guitarist or drummer or anything.  I have to wonder if Escape The Fate's guitar player, Kevin "Thrasher" Gruft plays on the album as he is thanked in the credits.  It's also worth noting that Stapp give special, specific credit to Aerosmith's Steven Tyler "for giving me hope and teaching me to 'pass it on'".

This is a powerful album, musically and especially lyrically.  To say that it is not Stapp's finest post-Creed effort is foolish; to say that it is his best effort ever is possible.  The sad thing is that there will be those who deny themselves the opportunity to hear this great record simply because they continue to do the once-trendy thing of bashing the man and his former band, largely because of their success.  That is their loss, however.  It doesn't need to be yours.  Get The Space Between The Shadows and see if you can't find something to love about this album.

Rating:  Love him or hate him, this album is crankable!  Crank The Space Between The Shadows to 9.


(c) 2019 Rockfest Records

  1. Desperate Measures
  2. Motivation
  3. Weight Of The World
  4. Tension
  5. Outgrown
  6. So Close
  7. Public Enemy
  8. Set It Free
  9. The Sound
  10. White Flag
Aaron Watkins--Lead Vocals
Micah Labrosse--Guitars
Rob "Los" McDonough--Bass
Patrick Madsen--Drums

Denver's Random Hero is no stranger to mainstream success, at least on a limited scale, but they are quite possibly a stranger to you.  Despite the fact that they have had two mainstream rock Top 30 hits with the catchy rocker "Impossible", as well as "Running"...not to mention numerous other Top 5 charting Christian rock hits...most fans of the modern rock genre probably couldn't pick Random Hero out of a lineup.  They seek to change that with their latest effort, and first for RockFest Records, Tension.

The album kicks off with a boom-crash-boom-boom-crash from Madsen's drums, and we are off and running with "Desperate Measures", the uber-catchy, hook-laden opener.  The song is an absolute powerhouse, with pretty much everything a hard rock fan could want from a band these days:  strong vocals, a big drum presence, and aggressive guitar work.  What goes unnoticed by so many is the strong bass presence in this song, and nearly every other song on the record.  McDonough is a very competent bassist, staying on the drum's line when necessary, or straying outside the lines to create interesting textures and rhythms when called upon.  When you grab this record (which you definitely should do), take the time to seek out the sounds that McDonough drops into each song and see if you don't appreciate him even more.

"Motivation" is another catchy rocker based largely upon a snappy drum/percussion line to open things.  The chorus is the big hook for me on this one, as Watkins' big voice is used for the call portion of the chorus, while a more laid-back vocal approach is used for the reply sections.  Good, good stuff here, and that isn't even giving proper credit to the guitars being used so strongly on these chorus sections or the superb drum work on this track, with changing tempos and patterns being used throughout.

"Weight Of The World" is probably the most aggressive song on the record, with edgy guitars blazing the path to Watkins' vocals right from the outset of the song.  A song about heaping too much upon yourself and stressing yourself out in the process, the lyrics likely hit home for a lot of people in today's full-speed-ahead world.  With stress being a huge issue of this record, "Weight Of The World" has some of the most blunt lyrics, as Watkins sings, "Oh no, the panic in my heads getting hard to bury/Let go, Easier said than done./Am I extraordinary/Running on fumes, getting close to empty/Oh no, the Weight of the World is getting hard to carry!"Good, good stuff here, both musically and lyrically.

The album's title track and lead single, "Tension" is up next, and it is a perfect example of the growth of the band in the songwriting category.  Teaming with Josiah Prince, guitarist of Disciple, Watkins, Madsen, and McDonough craft a song that builds upon some introductory programmed elements, adding in rhythm guitars and drums, before Watkins jumps in.  A bed of programming and guitars burns beneath the verse sections, but its the big, soaring vocals on the chorus that are likely to grab the listener's attention the first few times through the song.  After the second chorus run, we get a big tempo change with a piano being added to the mix as Wakins calls out, "Am I going out of my mind?/My vision's blurry all the time/I know You see where I hide/But I'm just too scared to chase the Light."  Already a hit at Christian rock radio, this is a song that should be all over Sirius/XM's Octane channel, as it hits all the musical chords that crowd craves, while delivering a message that so many people of EVERY crowd needs to hear!

If I had one complaint about Tension, it would have to be the middle of the record, specifically "Outgrown" and "So Close".  The first feels like a blatant stab at the modern pop scene, coming closer to the electronically enhanced hip-hop style that someone like Manafest uses than what I would expect from a hard rock group.  I mean, we have electronic drums, layers of programmed synths, fingersnaps...just not what I would have expected to be dropped into the middle of an otherwise stellar record.  As to "So Close", it's not the song that is troublesome for me, it is its positioning on the record.  Putting two slower-tempo songs back to back nearly bogs the record down for me.  But, I also want to be fair in stating that I don't dislike either song...not at all.  For example, I have made no bones about the fact that I actually like a lot of what Manafest does, and "So Close" is performed exquisitely, with Watkins sounding exceptionally strong on the ballad.  I just don't understand the track listing order, I guess.  I think both songs would have been better served to be separated from each other.

Fortunately for the rockers that either stuck around or skipped ahead, the record rights itself in a big way, as "Public Enemy" is one of the really good tracks on a record chock full of good-to-great songs!  Marching style drums intro the track and Watkins applies a rhythmic approach to the verse sections to go right along with the drums.  The pre-chorus becomes a bit more melodic and less rhythmic, only to return to that cadenced vocal approach on the chorus.  A grinding guitar solo tears into the musical fabric after the second chorus, and the track's intensity picks up a bit from there until it comes to a conclusion.  I love the sparse nature of the chorus and the rhythmic approach taken to the song as a whole, and it's stuff like this that really sets Random Hero and Tension apart from a lot of other bands out there today.

"Set Free" is a more straight-ahead rocker with buzzsaw guitars and a solid rhythm section bolstering Watkins powerhouse vocals that range from singing to shouting on this one.  The backing vocals are also really strong here, which serve to make Watkins stand out that much more.  I usually find myself hitting repeat on this track when I put it on.

"The Sound" starts off with some programmed elements and some subtle effects used on Watkins vocals, giving the track a very modern sound but with a catchy riff and a sing along chorus.  This leads us to another of my favorites, the album's closer, "White Flag", which is a song all about surrendering to God.  The chorus is very catchy and the guitar solo here is among the best on the record as Labrosse does some serious string bending before the band jumps back in to make a final run through the vocally-layered chorus.  An impressive ending to a very impressive record.

I'm not sure how much the move to Rockfest Records influenced the style and sound of this record, but it certainly didn't hurt things.  Rockfest has been a beast of a label in 2019, and the production work done on Tension is top-notch.  The guitars retain their grittiness on most songs, and the voices of the instruments are all given room to be heard.  I honestly feared that Tension would sound over-produced, especially with how well it was received on the charts, because, let's face it, hard rock and metal are generally not well-received without some sort of concession in the sound of the band.  That is not the case with Tension, however, as Random Hero still sounds like Random Hero, and I think a lot of that has to be due to the fact that the producer, Kellen McGregor, has learned a thing or two about industry perceptions with his own band, Memphis May Fire.  Yes, there are some differences between this record and the band's previous effort, but that is what we call "growth".  And, in the end, Tension shows serious growth for the band, especially as songwriters.  Now, my only real question now is how is Random Hero going to top this?  

Rating:  Definitely a crank-worthy release!  Crank it to 8!