Thursday, December 24, 2020

SPEED STROKE "Scene Of The Crime"


(c) 2020 Street Symphonies Records

  1. Heartbeat
  2. Scene of the Crime
  3. After Dark
  4. Soul Punx
  5. No Love
  6. Red Eyes
  7. Out Of Money
  8. Who Fkd Who
  9. One Last Day
  10. Hero No. 1
Jack--Lead Vocals
Michael--Rhythm Guitar

Speed Stroke is a band I first encountered about a decade ago, and many of you may have ran into them, as well, on the Crashdiet tribute album, Reborn In Sleaze.  After releasing a couple of albums and touring with a virtual Who's Who of New Wave of European Sleaze and Hair Metal bands (Confess, Reckless Love, Hardcore Superstar, Backyard Babies, Crazy Lixx, 69 Eyes, etc.), the Italian band made the move to Street Symphonies Records and the Burning Minds Music Group to release Scene Of The Crime.  With the move comes the most complete record of the guys' decade-long career!

If you are familiar with Speed Stroke from previous releases, much about the band stays the same on the new record.  Jack's vocals aren't your typical hair/sleaze vocals, as he tends to stay lower in his range than most.  Yes, he can scream, and he has some higher end, but he relies more on snarl and attitude in his delivery than he does on range, which is okay with me.  They may take a bit of getting used to for some folks, but to me, Jack is a big piece of what makes Speed Stroke the quality band they are.  They twin guitars are every bit as solid as they have ever been, with D.B. really ripping into some tasty leads throughout the album while Michael works with Fungo and Andrew to set a gritty rhythm and tempo for the rockers that dominate the album.  But on Scene Of The Crime, the songwriting takes a definite step forward (not that it was bad before) and several songs here are more mature in their approach than in the past.  Oh, sure, there are still the rough and rowdy sleaze rockers (I mean, come on..."Who F'd Who"?), but to me, a track like "No Love" would never have been the excellent ballad that it is here.

"Heartbeat" opens the album and has a straight-outta-88 guitar riff and some group "oh oh ohs" from the outset, as the music builds and the drums intensify before the dirty rhythm riffs from Michael's guitars burst forward into a balls-out rocker to kick the album off.  Jack's easily identifiable vocals ooze from the speakers through the verse sections, with some gang back-up, and then the melodic "oh oh ohs" return in the chorus section.  D.B. launches into the first of numerous high octane solos here, and to say he has the 80s style and sound down pat would be an understatement.  Just an excellent launching pad for Scene Of The Crime to take off from.    

Speaking of the title, the title track is up next, and it is instant ear candy.  The gang-shouted chorus actually kicks off the track, with the drums and guitars kicking in shortly thereafter, giving the track a different feel from the rest of the songs here.  Those gang-shouted vocals show up in numerous spots on this record and are really a great addition to a song like this, even tackling small parts of the verses here and there, which I think is pretty cool.  Jack shows off a wailing scream before the solo run from D.B., and there is a definite Skid Row feel to this track that I think will hook listeners from the get go.  Love it.

"After Dark" has a swinging feel to the rhythm that is unlike anything else on the album, and the first point of reference that popped into my head was "D'Stroll" by D'Molls, although "After Dark", to me, is a far superior song.  There's just more meat to the track, more going on musically, and a better solo from D.B.  Fun and bouncy, but with a shade of darkness to the overall vibe, "After Dark" isn't going to clobber you head on, but it's going to sneak up on you and take you by surprise, sandwiched as it is between the two up-tempo tracks, "Scene Of The Crime" and the next on, "Soul Punx".

Speaking of "Soul Punx", this is a fun, high-octane rocker that I think truly captures the style and sound of the 80s scene as well as just about anything I have heard from any band this year.  The noodling guitars at the beginning of the track, the sharp, snappy drums, the snarling lead vocals, and the fast and furious solo from D.B., all contribute to make this an absolute blast of a song.  A few f*bombs are dropped throughout the song, but this is modern sleaze, folks, so what do we really expect?  All in all, possibly my favorite track on the record.  Check out the video below.

As mentioned before, "No Love" is a killer ballad that I found myself really drawn to from the very first time I heard it.  The piano is a great addition here, and the vocal approach from Jack is perfect for the emotion of the song.  At times reminiscent of GnR's "November Rain", this is a beast of a track and one that really showcases the musical growth of the band. The flamenco-styled guitar at the 3:30 mark is a nice touch, as is the stylistic change that accompanies it, both of which set the stage for D.B. to really dive into a soul-exposing guitar solo here.  The gang chorus coming out of that solo is great, and the whole band just nails the track, giving this six minute track an epic feel without getting overly sappy with the production or dropping in programmed string sections that are unnecessary, etc.  This is a great, great ballad and among the best I have heard from the sleaze genre this year, hands down.  Just like "Soul Punx", this track gets a lot of repeated listens.

"Red Eyes" picks up the pace with an edgy, three-chord rocker that again features more of the excellent backing vocals from the band that I think do an amazing job of setting Speed Stroke apart from many of their peers.  D.B. contributes a fun little solo, and while "Red Eyes" isn't a track that stands up and screams "LOOK AT ME", it is a solid transition from an epic ballad to a sleaze-fueled rocker, "Who Fkd Who?", and is definitely not a skip-track by any means.

If something dirtier and sleazier is what you are looking for, you need look no further than "Who Fkd Who?".  Sounding a whole lot like a Kix track, musically, this is a sleaze-infused rocker with plenty of tongue-in-cheek attitude and a really solid backbeat from Fungo and Andrew that keep the track driving along.  I've stated several times in several reviews that bands, especially European bands, like to throw the f*bomb around to excess, especially when there is no apparent reason for it, but I will say that on this particular track, it doesn't come off as excessive, "look at us and our attitude" lyrical candy, so much as it comes across as the general attitude of the song and band, in general...and I can live with that.  The guitar work is excellent here, and D.B. blisters his way through another aggressive, dirty solo.  Definitely a top 5 track here on an album filled with great tracks.

"One Last Day" slows things down...a final time, but it's not really a song, per se, as much as it is a musical interlude.  Andrew and his drums get a break here (he gets to smack a tambourine a few times), as do Fungo and the bass, as this is just Jack and D.B., along with some backing vocals, on a great, soul-baring piece of music that may seem somewhat pointless to a few but that I really, really like.  There is just something about the performances here that draw me in. 

Album closer, "Hero No. 1" is another straight ahead rocker, packed with attitude and dripping with sleaze.  Jack comes off every bit as aggressive and edgy as he does anywhere else on the record, and the gang-shouted backing vocals are spot-on perfect for this big fist-pumper!  D.B. blasts into one final guitar solo, unleashing any flash and speed he had left in the tank from the previous nine songs, and while it is a bit shorter than I would have liked, there is little doubt that he is a serious talent on guitar that more people need to hear. This finale is one that really leaves me hoping for big things from the band in 2021 and beyond!

My only gripe here is the production.  There are several tracks where the mix sounds rather muddy, especially around the vocals and lead guitars.  Now, this is a digital promo copy that I am working from, and on more than one occasion the files sound considerably worse than the actual CD does, so I am hopeful that this is the case.  Even if not, this is still a great record, but if so these production issus do take a bit of polish off the greatness of Scene Of The Crime.

To say that there are a lot of great modern hair/sleaze bands in Europe these days would be an understatement, but I truly feel that Speed Stroke deserves to be mentioned with some of the best.  Scene Of The Crime is one of the true surprises of 2020 for me and is an album that hasn't left my player since I first popped it into the disc changer.  While numerous folks have likely head-banged along with Burn 'Em All by Confess this year, there are several other bands that deserve your attention, and Speed Stroke, with Scene Of The Crime, is one such band.  Seek this record out!

Rating:  Lovin' what I'm hearin' from these guys, and musically I would say crank this fun record to 9!  Unfortunately, the production issues drop this to a 7.5!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

MOTIVIK "Death Of The Gunman"


(c) 2020 Roxx Records

  1. Inception
  2. Away 
  3. Lament
  4. The Past Of Tomorrow
  5. Souls In Torment
  6. Undismembered
  7. On The Way Down
  8. Pale Rider
  9. Let It Be Known
Ryan Roebuck--All Instruments, Vocals
Courtney Simmons--Vocals

Additional Musicians
Robert Wolfe--Vocals on "Souls In Torment"

How in the world do two guys create such a huge sound?  That is what I was asking myself as I sat at my desk working on this review for Motivik (pronounced MOE-TEE-VICK), a two-piece "groove thrash band" from Atlanta.  Obviously, technology in the recording studio is a key part to the whole process, but to even consider pulling off such a task as this, a band has to have some serious skill, which Motivik definitely has.

The album kicks off with "Inception", which I honestly expected to be an intro, based solely upon the name.  I was wrong.  "Inception" is a  full-on thrashfest with a style and sound, especially on the guitars ,that is going to be reminiscent of old-school Metallica, while also being infused with the twin vocal stylings and multiple tempo changes of Christian thrash legends, Tourniquet.  In fact, comparisons to Tourniquet's Gary Lenaire and Guy Ritter are going to be obvious throughout the record, but would we consider that to be a bad thing?  I certainly wouldn't, as the first three Tourniquet albums are among some of the most unique thrash records to come out of the late 80s when thrash was at its peak.  The rhythm guitars are high speed and gritty, and the drum work here is exceptional, but it is the solo work that that really caught me off guard.  Starting off smooth and soulful, the solo almost sounds like Roebuck is playing an electric Flamenco guitar at the beginning, but then his guitar seemingly sonically EXPLODES into a fit of speed and precision picking that simply must be heard to be believed.  This is insane!  Things then slow WAY back down into a plodding, morose final run through the chorus, and my brain is trying to catch up to what I just heard, as this is NOT the type of music that most bands are attempting these days.  What a killer way to start off a record!

"Away" is up next, and the music is more mid-tempo thrash, with those buzzsaw rhythm guitars and the overwhelming drums, but the vocals are barked in almost nu-metal style...but in a good way!  After the chorus, the song speeds up to break-neck pace for a few seconds, then it slows back down to its original pace for the next verse section.  After that verse, its back on the gas pedal for the drums and rhythm guitars as Roebuck absolutely tears into a shredding solo that has some serious notes-per-second density, only to be closed out by a little flourish from the bass, then back into the chorus to conclude the song.  

"Lament" is an old-Western instrumental, complete with south of the border violin playing and the plodding rhythm of an old gunslinger's horse moseying through the dirt streets of whatever town the hero happens to be riding through at the time.  Many will say this song shouldn't be here, others will say it shouldn't work, but all would be wrong, as this is a killer inclusion to this record, really playing upon the title of the album and working to establish Motivik as a band that will do what they want on an album, stylistic expectations be danged.  I, for one, love this track, especially as a kid who grew up with Spaghetti Westerns and John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies, both black and white and color.  This is really great stuff!

"The Past Of Tomorrow" is a complicated track, focusing almost exclusively on the groove of the track on the first verse section and throughout the choruses, but then just unleashing the speed in bursts between musical sections.  Some gentle effects are used on the vocals, which reach pitches and ranges not attempted thus far on the album, and one can hear a nod to the vocal approach of Deliverance legend, Jimmy P, Brown II, especially as the song outros.

"Souls In Torment" is a cover of a song from the underground Christian thrash band Sacrament.  Once again, the comparisons to Tourniquet are going to be obvious, but once again, I have to ask if that is a bad thing.  Time changes, a huge drum presence, harsh vocals, and alternately chugging and speedy rhythm guitars are all featured in this song, and Motivik stays really close to the original song in the structure, which I will admit made me smile, as I was a huge Sacrament fan back in the day.  But the real kicker here is the guest vocals from Robert Wolfe, the singer from Sacrament!  If you are an old-school thrash fan, especially a Christian thrash fan, this track alone makes Death Of The Gunman an absolute must own! 

"Undismembered" starts off with a somber tone, a slowly picked guitar reminiscent in style of what Metallica did with "One".  The drums catch a military rhythm about half-way through this opening section, then the rhythm guitars ignite on a mid-tempo thrash attack, complete with some solo work from Roebuck...and this is all in the first 1:35 of the song!  From here, the dual vocals of Roebuck and Simmons join the fray, one barking, the other snarling, again recalling the work Ritter and Lenaire used to do in the first years of Tourniquet, but never with the high-end wailing used by that band.  As is the case with Motivik throughout this album, tempo changes abound, never letting the listener settle into an expected pattern with their head banging or fist pounding, which is a huge part of what makes this record work so well, at least for me.  The big outro solo is excellent, also, and despite the fact that the song is five minutes long, it seems over far quicker than the running time would suggest.

"On The Way Down" has a power metal feel, not unlike something Iron Savior would do, speedy and punchy, but not quite full-blown thrash.  Do not take this as a musical loss, however, as there is a lot to like here!  The drum work continues its remarkable charge through the record, and the riffing here is powerful and melodic, crunchy and aggressive, all at the same time.  Backing vocals are utilized to musical effect here more than in other parts of the record, which is cool to hear, as the two guys' voices really work well with each other.  Roebuck treats us to another string bending solo to feast our ears upon, but power and emotion are the keys here, not just speed and dexterity.  A nice change of pace, to be sure.

"Pale Rider" starts off with a church organ intro, accompanied by a spoken word narrative about the Pale Rider that "is coming for us all", of course referring to death.  A roar from the singer (I never know which man is singing which part), and the song takes off from here!  The drums are once again a true pleasure to listen to here, with so many different fills, and stop-start tempo changes, which really set Motivik apart from so many bands I am sent to review these days.  Some of the vocals on this track fall more into the metallic scream category than the harshly barked style that is often used here, which is cool to hear.  The solo is catchy and quick, but perhaps not long enough for me now, as it has become quite obvious Roebuck can carry out a guitar run for a considerable amount of time if he chooses to.  Another high quality track.

"Pale Rider" bleeds seamlessly into the album's closer, "Let It Be Known", which again incorporates that Western flair that "Lament" so expertly exhibited earlier in the album, including the se of the violins to establish the mood.  Unlike "Lament", however, "Let It Be Known" is not an instrumental but the story of the album's hero whose "draw was just too slow" to beat "the bullet [that] lies within me", as the gunman is overtaken by the Pale Rider of Death.  Surprising to many, this song never blazes into a big thrashy solo or jackhammer drum pattern, rather letting the song...and the album...ride off into the musical sunset at a (relatively speaking) lazy pace that showcases the band's songwriting skill as much as their musical prowess.  Color me impressed with this musical choice, as it is not one that a lot of bands would have made!

The production is very, very well done here, which is necessary when you have so much going on with the various styles, speeds, and tempo changes, and the mix is clean with no muddiness.  I don't have the liner notes for this record, but if this is truly all played by Mr. Roebuck, then he may be one of my new musical heroes, as this is flat out impressive from start to finish!  Thrash fans, all I can say is DO NOT MISS THIS RECORD!  Roxx Records never does massive print runs so this will become harder to find the longer you wait!

Rating:  Very, very well done, Death Of The Gunman is a musical treat to hear!  Crank this to an 8.5!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

GALE FORCE "Subhuman"


(c) 2021 Independent Release

  1. Crash & Burn
  2. Subhuman
  3. Master Machine
  4. Red Line
  5. Dystopia
  6. Never Say Goodnight
  7. Rat Race
  8. Where Am I Going?
  9. Fire In The Hole
  10. Alter Ego
  11. Riot Act
Michael Drive--All Vocals
Tracy G.--Lead Guitars
Randy Oviedo--Bass
Paul Alfery--Rhythm Guitars, Keys

In the 1980s and early 1990s, there was likely no band in the Christian scene that waved the heavy metal flag higher than Barren Cross did.  Not death metal, not speed metal, not thrash, hair, or doom metal.  I'm talking just heavy metal.  Albums such as Rock For The King and Rattle Your Cage, and most notably the band's two biggest, most well-known efforts, Atomic Arena and State Of Control, really showcased a heavy band that delivered with big, screaming guitars, pounding drums, deep, rumbling bass, and a front man who could wail with the best of them, Christian or secular.  Michael Drive (then known as Mike Lee), was the epitome of a heavy metal front man, with a powerful, deep tenor that could shake the rafters if necessary, or drop to a menacing snarl, whatever it took to command your attention.  When Barren Cross was no more, Drive (Lee) could be heard fronting bands such as Bare Bones and Sanxtion, and even trying his hand at a more pop-oriented sound as a solo artist, but never did he really find his musical voice again, in my opinion (although Bare Bones was close). 

During a slightly later period, Tracy G was the screaming guitar voice of Dio, which of course featured one of the most lauded singers in heavy metal history, Ronnie James Dio.  Tracy G (real name Tracy Grijalva) brought to the band a heavy-yet-still-melodic style and helped to forge the sound on what are considered to be two of Dio's heaviest records, Strange Highways and Angry Machines, and he served as the guitar player for the band from 1993-1999.  Much like Drive, however, once his stint with that band was over, the guitar player found himself drifting from project to project, with none of these really catching on in a way that seemed to suit his style or talent level.     

 It seems things have perhaps changed for both men with Gale Force!

Gale Force has been together as a band for not even two years, yet they have put together a powerful album of metallic hard rock that completely sideswiped me.  Having been a massive fan of both Barren Cross and Dio since...well, since forever, it seems...I was intrigued by the pairing of Drive (who I am certain I will call "Lee" at some point in this review) and Tracy G, and I hoped the results would be a solid start for a new band.  There is no way I was prepared for Subhuman in its totality, however.

The record kicks off in a big, aggressive way, with "Crash & Burn", which was actually the first song the band wrote together, even before really being a "band".  The rhythm guitar riff reminds me of EZO's "House Of A Thousand Pleasures", but the rest of the track is nothing like that quasi-hit from the cult Japanese metal band.  Right away, it is apparent that Lee...err...Drive (see, I did it already!) has not lost a step at all vocally, as he is all over this song from the get-go!  Alternately gritty and soulfully smooth, Drive is in complete command of this hard-and-heavy rocker.  Tracy G shows that he hasn't missed a step, either, as he tears through a nifty, speedy solo as he tears across the solid bass work of Oviedo and the rhythm riffing of Alfery.  Interestingly (at least to me), the drummer for this track...and for the entire left uncredited, with the liner notes simply thanking the "great session drummers who played on this album".  Not sure what that's about, but the drums here are definitely worthy of the rest of the track and don't sound at all like they are programmed.  There are some programmed car crash effects dropped into the mix, but otherwise this is just five guys and their instruments rocking out full force!  Check out the lyric video below...  

The album's title track is up next, and immediately a contender for the crown of "Best Song On The Record" steps up to the place.  Thick and chunky, "Subhuman" has a scorching solo section from Tracy G., an uber-catchy, sing along chorus, and an undeniable hook that sucks you in upon first listen.  Drive again powers his way through the track in a way that I haven't heard from him since the last studio record from Barren Crosss.  Metal-tinged hard rock at its finest, there are no keyboards here to tinkle away in the background, no programmed orchestral sections layered in for emotional effect; this is just punishing hard rock that will have fists pounding and head banging from the first listen!  

If "Subhuman" throws down the gauntlet for song of the record, "Master Machine" answers that challenge, as it is every bit as powerful and catchy, with even more metallic bite than its predecessor!  Lee...DANGIT...Drive is simply unrelenting here, snarling his way through the chorus sections, then backing off into a more singing vocal style for the chorus work.  The drums are really, really good here, leading me to really wish I knew who was playing, and Oviedo gets a bit of the spotlight shone on his outstanding bass work on this track.  Tracy G. once again blasts through a metallic fret running solo that hearkens back to some of his work with Dio, particularly on Angry Machines, and this album is blowing me away three tracks deep.

If there's a miss on this record, it would have to be the ballad, "Red Line", which drops in at track four.  But make no mistake, this isn't a horrible song at all.  It just seems of out of place on the rest of this punch-you-in-the-earhole record.  Drive is able to showcase a softer side, and the piano really serves to set the track apart from the blistering metal tracks that surround it.  The problem is that it the song just sticks out SO MUCH that it serves as a serious speedbump in the flow of the record.  I'm not saying I would have dumped the track, but I would have moved it much farther down in the track listing, or at the very least surrounded it by a couple of more mid-tempo numbers than "Master Machine" and "Dystopia".  Placement aside, the song is a strong one, and again, Drive sounds really strong here.  For his part, Tracy G lays into a really nice, melodic string-bender of a solo, and the previously mentioned piano is well-performed by Alfery, so it isn't a throw-away track by any means.  I will note that there is an odd "referee's whistle" effect that pops up in a couple of places that I'm nor really sure why it is there.  I'm wondering if it is an after-effect of the digital download that I am reviewing, and I will be interested to see if I can even hear the sound on the actual CD when it arrives.  I'll let you know!

Speaking of "Dystopia", this track is Michael Drive at his best, plain and simple.  Utilizing every tool in his vocal toolbox, Drive spits, snarls, screams, and soars at various times, adding a demented, haunting twist to his vocals (think Alice Cooper theatrics) in places, as well.  Tracy G lays down another fret-melting solo, and Alfery's rhythm playing is at its strongest on songs like this one.  Again, uncredited, the session drummer used on "Dystopia" is really, really good, and this track is definitely one that fights for the listener's attention every time it comes up on the stereo!  I typically hit repeat at least a couple of times, but then have to force myself to stop so that I can get to "Never Say Goodnight".

Bass lovers, you are going to drool all over yourself when you hear the fat groove that is dropped by Oviedo on "Never Say Goodnight", a deep, thick, haunting song that reminds me of some of the stuff that Tracy G was doing with Dio.  While mentioning the guitarist, Tracy G once again delivers a excellent solo, creative, soulful, and willing to allow quieter moments to enhance the notes and tones that he entices from his guitar.  Drive is, once again, in rare form here, adding an angry edge to his powerhouse delivery, and I find myself really wishing I could watch the man lay down these tracks in the studio, just to witness the theatrics I have to believe he brings into the booth with him.  The man is a vocal master that really doesn't get the love he so deserves because so many people choose to ignore his work with Barren Cross (which is folly in and of itself).  

"Rat Race" has a definite mid-80s metal feel to the guitars and even the production.  It reminds me of old Twisted Sister in its stylistic approach and guitar tone, although the angrily barked chorus is probably a bit harsher than anything Dee and the Twisted Boys did back in the day.  Not enough can be said about the way Drive attacks this record vocally, unafraid to alternate approaches and to experiment with different techniques.  And, as on every song here, Tracy G., sets fire to the solo section, this time using that retro sound to blaze away before the song surges headlong into the final runs through the chorus.

"Where Am I Going?" has an odd intro that had me scratching my head a bit, to be honest.  Once the strumming was over, however, a throbbing bass line sets in motion a slower-tempo rocker that doesn't really check all the boxes to be categorized as a power ballad, especially with the different time signatures utilized by the drummer here.  But if you drop the word "ballad" you are still left with "power", which Drive delivers here in a deeply introspective song that finds the singer exploring the darkness of his past and questioning where that past will lead him in the future.  If I have one complain about this track it is that it seems to end rather abruptly and I would have loved to have heard Tracy G. get to solo his way out of the song as it faded into nothingness.  I really miss those long outro solos of the 80s and 90s...  Just sayin'...  

For those who have heard the Rattle Your Cage album by Barren Cross, "Fire In The Hole" is a bit reminiscent of the song "The Unsuspecting", but is definitely not a rip-off track.  The chugging guitars and plodding bass line are both slower than on "The Unsuspecting", but there is definitely something there.  Perhaps it is the impassioned vocal performance from Drive, who again alternately snarls and wails on this heavy track, pushing the power level of his vocals about as far as one would think they could go.  Tracy G...who is specifically called upon by Drive ("T.G...pick up that guitar and talk to me!"  JUST KIDDING!) blasts into a metallic fretfest that is unmatched on the record in terms of note density and sheer force of will being exerted upon his guitar, and the overall feel of the track has it in firm contention with "Dystopia" and "Subhuman" for song of the album.  Love this track! 

"Alter Ego" is a bit more hard rock than much of the album, but don't take that to mean it backs off the intensity or the attitude, as the difference is more in the songwriting structure than anything.  Faster than the previous couple of tracks (and the following track, for that matter), "Alter Ego" has a catchy hook and a sing along chorus that finds Drive backing himself up perfectly (Drive handles all of the vocals according to the liner notes), with big, layered backing vocals soaring behind his slightly edgy lead vocal line.  

"Riot Act" closes the album in excellent fashion, with the gritty metallic grind of the song serving as an angry sonic slab for Drive to snarl across. Tracy G explodes in a couple of different solo runs here, including a monstrous shredding exit at the end of the song, as the bass and rhythm guitars relentlessly power the song forward.  Proof that heavy doesn't have to mean fast, "Riot Act" is another top notch entry into contention for song of the record, which puts it into the company of half the album!  To me, that tells you there is something special about Subhuman as a record, and about Gale Force as a band.  

Thankfully the liner notes include the lyrics, as I was curious to see if Drive would back off of his lyrical approach with this band.  Thankfully, he absolutely does not.  There is not shortage of references to God throughout the record, but at no time does Drive wield his faith like a weapon against the listener.  Much like Scott Stapp did in his turn with Art Of Anarchy, Drive sings from his heart and soul about his own worldview, but at no point does he condemn the listener to hell for not sharing that same worldview.  Take, for instance, these lyrics from the album's title track...

"Sub-man, are you exposing the scam, that God is 'dead', 'fake', 'blind', or 'sick'?  Or a figment of your imagination running, Must be some elaborate trick!" 

Elsewhere, on "Crash & Burn" he announces that "Only God can move you to the place where faith is really built", while on other songs, such as "Dystopia", he warns of today's society that seeks to steer people away from God when he sings, "Don't fear Dystopia, All is fine, don't seek a higher way".  

The production is solid and professional, but sounds a bit dull in spots.  To be 100% candid, however, this review is based upon a digital download as the CDs are still being printed, so I have strong hope that this is more of a download issue than anything else. If that is not the case, the production will by no means stop fans from enjoying this slab of metal and metallic hard rock.  I truly hope Gale Force is not a one-and-done project, as this is some impressive stuff.

You can get your copy right now by going to and pre-ordering the album.  You will get an instant download of the entire album including the album cover and complete booklet for like $16 or $17.  The first 200 CDs ordered will be autographed, as well.

Rating:  A surprisingly powerful record that I didn't see coming at all!  Crank this to 8.5!

Back To Reviews Index

Saturday, December 12, 2020

BAYLESS "Christmas"


(c) 2019 Independent Release

  1. O Holy Night
  2. Little Drummer Boy
  3. First Noel
  4. O Come O Come Emmanuel
Jared Bayless--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Vanessa Bayless--Lead Vocals, Keys, Programming

I honestly thought that with 2020 being such a...well, let's call it "frustrating"...year, we might see more new Christmas albums being released to try to brighten up the end of the year.  That has not been the case, at least with bands and labels that send music to Glitter2Gutter or our all-Christian sister site, PositiveRockReview, so I pulled up an EP from last year to spread some holiday cheer in these dreary Covid days.

One of the most exciting modern rock bands to come out in recent years has been the independent act, Bayless.  The husband and wife team features incredibly powerful clean vocals from both, with some harsher vocals coming from Jared, who also plays guitars, while Vanessa is responsible for keys and programming.  Does that mean the drums are programmed here?  I would have to assume so, as no drummer is credited anywhere that I can find.  This is of minor concern here, however, as these are traditional Christmas songs, and there is little to really shake up for the most part, although the Bayless couple does alter the arrangements just a bit to keep things fresh.  But if you know anything about Bayless...which you should after last year's stellar Ready.Aim....then you know Bayless is about powerful vocals from both spouses, with strong guitars and programmed elements.

This EP starts off with "O Holy Night", although "Carol Of The Bells" is used to lead the song a chorus of what I'm guessing are programmed bells, kick the song off.  Once this traditional favorite kicks into it's familiar vocal opening, things really take off.  Surprisingly, I would say this is my favorite performance on the EP, as Bayless does a great job of keeping things traditional as far as the melody and tune go, while also adding some programmed orchestral elements and the heavy rock riffing from Jared's guitar, along with a driving drum line.  Jared sticks to backing his wife on vocals for most of the song, with his haunting baritone ringing out in the chorus sections, but for the most part this is Vanessa's baby, and she delivers in a big way.  Jared does break into a refrain the band adds to the end, as he sings about "the night that saved my life", referring of course to the "holy night when Christ was born".  I couldn't tell you how many times I have requested this song on (I'm sure THEY could tell you!), but it is a lot!  I really like what Bayless did here, and I was jacked for the EP to continue.

My all-time favorite Christmas song, "The Little Drummer Boy", is up next, which had me very excited.  Unfortunately, I ended up being rather let down, to be honest.  The vocal performances are superb, to be sure, but I am not a fan of the arrangement at all.  The drums, physically, are lacking, and lyrically, there is very little in the way of "pah rum pum pum-ming" going on here.  The song features some slightly discordant piano at the beginning, which gives way to the the soaring vocals of Vanessa who sounds absolutely exquisite here.  But Jared's backing "ahs" where there should be powerful "pah rum pum pums" really shocked me.  On the second verse, the snare drums kick in with a marching cadence as Jared takes over on lead vocals and Vanessa slides into the background, but she doesn't "pah rum pum pum" for me, either!  The guitar work is solid but not overpowering, which it typically isn't in this classically drum-centric song, and the programmed strings and orchestral elements remain enhancements rather than major players, giving plenty of room for the vocals to work, which they do extremely well.  But in the end, the lack of a truly powerful drum presence and the overall arrangement just really let me down.  Perhaps I am unduly biased due to this being such a favorite of mine. 

"The First Noel" is an acoustic-based number here, with Jared handling the lead vocals on the first verse, with Vanessa tackling verse two.  The production here is a bit thin but not horribly so.  Some tinkling xylophones and chiming bells ring in the background as the song builds on verse two, with the electric drums smoothly sliding into place over a simplistic drum line.  Nothing overly unique about the arrangement here for the first 2/3 of the track, as Bayless plays it pretty close to the original for most of the track here.  They do add some of their own style in the later stages as there is some nice tympani work added in and the vocal arrangement is altered a bit.  A few modern flourishes are dropped into place toward the end.  I like this quite a bit.

"O Come O Come Emmanuel" closes things out in unique fashion.  The first verse is starkly different than the rest of the song, with an almost island feel to the sparse acoustic guitar and simple drum line that backs Vanessa's soaring voice, with a tinkling of piano drifting in as the first verse closes.  The guitars crunch their way into the track with the start of verse two, as do some programmed strings and drums, with Jared's powerhouse baritone adding solid support to his wife's remarkable soprano which is used as the lead on every verse here and throughout the chorus sections.  Again, I really like what the band does here, I just wish the production had been a bit beefier.  Very much listenable, just not in line with the greatness that Ready.Aim. as far as fullness of sound goes.

As far as I know, this is only available digitally, and I am sure you can download it on all your favorite platforms.  I know Amazon has it for under $4.00, so snag it an put it into your favorite holiday musical mix...although I'd honestly consider leaving "Little Drummer Boy" out, especially if you are as big a fan of the track as I am.

Rating:  The performances are strong but the arrangements are a bit hit or miss for me, especially on "Little Drummer Boy", and the production is not quite at the peak.  Rock this to a 6.5.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 5, 2020

ROYAL BLISS "Our Favorite Things EP"


(c) 2020 

  1. Favorite Things
  2. Medication (featuring SHIM)
  3. Ritalin
Neal Middleton--Lead Vocals
Taylor Richards--Guitars
Memphis Hennesey--Guitars
Dwayne Crawford--Bass
Jake Smith--Drums

Additional Musicians
SHIM--Co-lead vocals on "Medication"

Just in time for the holidays, Royal Bliss fights through the pandemic unknown to return from quarantine with a bite-sized EP, Our Favorite Things.  Currently only available digitally, not only does Our Favorite Things find the band hitting hard with some of the heaviest material they have released in some time, but they also bring in SHIM (Shimon Moore, formerly of Sick Puppies) to collaborate on the current single, "Medication" (more on that in a minute).  Utilizing the same four-person line-up found on the self-titled release from 2019, Royal Bliss offers up this little musical gift for its fans in a time when so many are begging for new music to tide them over until a time when we can go see our favorite bands live again, a theme which the band visits on a couple of occasions on this effort.  

The EP kicks off with the band covering the classic "Favorite Things".  The music is eerily haunting in the way it is performed here, and Middleton matches the mood perfectly, especially with the reverb that is added to his vocals.  Always teasing at becoming a hard rocking affair, "Favorite Things" sticks to relying on acoustic guitars and simple drums, along with some effectively placed strings and a children's choir to back things up.  There's a potent instrumental section before Middleton comes screaming back into the fray with another run through half of the chorus before he leaves the scene and allows the children to carry the song home.  There's a lot going on musically in this track and it is definitely a fun listen that I hope drifts across the airwaves of more than a few rock stations during the Christmas season. 

Things get amped up in a BIG way with the band's late-summer single, "Medication", which features SHIM, formerly of Sick Puppies, on co-lead vocals.  An aggressive rocker, this is the type of hard-hitting Royal Bliss track that I fell in love with from the band several years ago on the Waiting Out The Storm and Chasing The Sun albums.  Fueled by the angst of the pandemic and the lack of live music due to lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing across the country, "Medication" blasts the listener with heavy guitars, a punchy bass line, and thunderous drums as Middleton snarls, "Where's my medication?!"  It should be noted, however, that medication in this case doesn't refer to pharmaceuticals, but to the music that the band...and so many of us...need to keep ourselves sane.  As such, the accompanying video, which can be seen below, fits the mood and attitude of the song perfectly, as does the lead vocal assist from SHIM (Shimon Moore), formerly of Sick Puppies.  SHIM is featured on the second verse of the song, and also appears in the video in a television commercial for the medication, SHIMTAC, which will apparently help with the "Rockvirus" that has swept the country.  (Be ready with the pause button in several spots in the video to catch the different references that are sprinkled throughout the television programming that the strait-jacketed Middleton watches from his padded cell.)  Moore's vocals are distinct enough from Middleton's to add a different feel to his verse without compromising the crunch of the music, and I hope that more came out of the pairing of SHIM and Royal Bliss than just this one song, as I think they fit together perfectly!  Also of note are the gang backing vocals that are incorporated in the track, adding even more depth and power to the agitated snarl that Middleton uses on the chorus sections.  Check it out below and see if you don't agree...

And in case you missed it, beware of the side effects of SHIMTAC should you choose to take your "medication"...

The EP wraps with another medicine-based track in "Ritalin".  A snappy drum beat and punked-up guitar riff drive this three minute rocker that again harnesses the angst of the band during this shut-down period for live music.  I like the guitar solo that follows the second run through the chorus, and the outro frenzy from Richards is excellent as well!  Seemingly speaking out against the government making decisions for us and pointing out that the far-left and far-right are both missing the mark for the majority of the people, "Ritalin" has a catchy rhythm, a sharp hook, and a sing-along chorus that will likely become a live show staple in 2021 and beyond.  The lyric video is below...

As I stated previously, this EP is currently only available digitally, and I honestly doubt the band will go to the expense of pressing a 3-track CD, but perhaps these songs will show up in 2021 on a full-length record that the band decided to assemble while touring was on hiatus.  Regardless, if you are a fan of the hard-edged rock n roll that Royal Bliss is known for, you are definitely going to want to track these last two songs down, and "Favorite Things" is a must-have for your Covid Christmas playlist!  

Rating:  Not a fan of rating EPs due to the small sample size, but in the spirit of the season, I'll gift you with a rating of Our Favorite Things at a crankable 8!