Saturday, January 8, 2022

SEVENTH DAY SLUMBER "Death By Admiration"


(c)2022 RockFest Records

  1. Death By Admiration (feat. Word is Alive)
  2. Fatal Love
  3. Solemn Oath
  4. What I've Become
  5. Halos
  6. Snake Mouth (feat. Relent)
  7. Light The Way
  8. Landmines
  9. Some Things Never Change
  10. Can't Say Sorry Enough
Joseph Rojas--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Weston Evans--Guitars
Ken Reed--Bass
Blaise Rojas--Drums, Percussion

Additional Musicians
Miggy Sanchez--Rap vocal on "Snake Mouth"

As people continue to hope that 2022 will bring some normalcy back to the world, Seventh Day Slumber is doing all they can to kick the year off in top form.  After releasing a praise and worship album, Unseen: The Lion and the Lamb in 2021, vocalist and band founder, Joseph Rojas, promised fans a hard-hitting album with their next release.  Let's just say that Death By Admiration checks all the boxes that come to my mind when thinking of a "hard-hitting" album.  While the band has long been a powerful force in the Christian hard rock world, with my introduction to the band starting with the crunchy We Are The Broken album in 2014, I don't hesitate at all in stating that Death By Admiration is the hardest rocking album in the band's extensive catalog which now boasts 13 full-length records and 1 EP.  

The album opens with an electronic build up that gives way to the thunder of Blaise's drums and the thick, chunky rhythm guitars that bore their way to the front are full of aggression.  It is immediately apparent that something is a bit different here than on past Seventh Day Slumber records, as frontman Joseph Rojas has added a smoother singing style to his still-present edgy delivery that he utilized to such great effect on previous records.  That smoother style is made all the more evident with the closing of the song, as the throaty metalcore vocals of Word Is Alive vocalist, Tyler Smith, roar to life.  I'm not sure if the intricate guitar line that weaves throughout the track is handled by new full-time member, Weston Evans, or by Word Is Alive guitarist, Zack Hansen, but whomever tackles it has some serious skill, as that is a frantic finger twister that I have caught myself focusing on to the point that I stopped listening to the lyrics altogether!  

The next track up is "Fatal Love", which I feel has to be released as a single at some point.  The song is pure Seventh Day Slumber from start to finish, and represents everything the band has done so well to this point in their career, and then builds upon it.  Thick, modern rhythm guitar riffing?  Check.  Punchy drums with catchy fills and tempo changes?  Check.  Throaty, edgy chorus vocals mixed with smoother singing vocals on the verses?  Absolutely.  I'm honestly somewhat surprised this wasn't the lead single for the record, as this track just screams Seventh Day Slumber to me.  Add in a crunchy breakdown section before the final run through the chorus, and this is a winner from spin one for me.  Top three on the album, for sure!

"Solemn Oath" keeps things going with the prerequisite electronic intro and punishing rhythm guitar riff kicking things off.  The only track co-written by longtime guitar player, Jeremy Holderfield, "Solemn Oath" is yet another track that is pure Seventh Day Slumber in its approach and attitude.  Joseph strips away the polish on his voice, exposing the rawer sound he has typically used in the past, with some bolstering from well-placed backing vocals.  I'm not sure if Holderfield plays on the track, but the guitars here are chunky and aggressive, reminiscent of the playing on older albums like We Are The Broken and Closer To Chaos. Ken Reed's bass is a full-voiced participant here, and  Blaise Rojas shows nice skill with some snappy fills and tight rhythms in the brief section before the vocal bridge, coming off almost like a drum solo of sorts.  His machine gun strikes to close the track are spot on perfect!  Good, aggressive stuff that long-time 7DS fans are going to eat up.   

The band released the lead single several weeks ago, and "What I've Become" has made steady climbs up various Christian hard rock and metal charts, finishing as the 19th biggest song of the 2021 year on ChristianRock.Net.  The gritty modern rocker finds Joseph Rojas expanding upon his vocal range a bit more than is typical, and it works to strong effect with a lot more singing from the front man than many songs of the past have featured.  A song about depression and self-loathing, the message here is a powerful one, with Rojas singing "Sometimes I build myself up/So I can tear myself down again/I never thought I'd get this low/I hate what I've become".  

"Halos" briefly teases at being a slower track, but that veneer is quickly wiped away when the guitars and drums hit.  To be fair, the verse sections are pretty laid back in comparison to most of the other songs on the album, but the  The chorus section here stand in stark contrast to the verse sections, with some brutally angsty backing vocals screaming behind Joseph's smoother tenor.  There is also a pretty nasty breakdown that stops as abruptly as it starts, with another run through the chorus starting off clean and ending very, very harsh.  I'm working from a preview copy here, so I am not sure who is doing the harsh vocals here, but I intend to find out, as they are brutal!  Love the dichotomy between the clean vocals and the snarls on this track, which is one that I can't stop hitting repeat on.  

By the time "Snake Mouth" rolls around, you may be ready to catch your breath, but trust ain't happening here!  Opening with some minor electronic elements that rapidly give way to a heavy rhythm guitar, "Snake Mouth" continues the sonic assault with possibly the punchiest, grittiest track on the record!  A scathing warning to the self-serving who profess to know God yet turn others away as being unworthy, "Snake Mouth" also features a vicious nu metal rap from Miggy, of RockFest Records label mates Relent, who warns, "Bleeding out, bleeding out/You just walked past. You couldn't see me through the Jesus on your stained glass!"  

"Light The Way" is also not going to give the listener any kind of respite.  Sure, as is the case on a few tracks here, the verse sections are a bit more sparse, a bit tamer, but the pulse of the song is still set high by Blaise's drumming and the aggressive rhythm riffing.  An electronic bed pulsates throughout the track, helping to keep things moving forward at a solid clip, as well.  Joseph really pours himself into the vocals here, and this may be his most impressive performance on the record in as much as he really sounds like he is laying himself emotionally bare here.    

As the title might imply, "Landmines" is another...ahem...explosive rocker, boasting a big bottom end, with Reed's bass rumbling across the chunky rhythms that Blaise hammers out on the drums.  Not blisteringly fast, "Landmines" hits hard, nonetheless, with tight rhythm guitars and more impactful vocals from Joseph.  The band adjusts the typical song layout a bit here, as there is no guitar solo or big breakdown to separate the final runs through the chorus from the last verse sections, however that doesn't mean the song lacks musical dynamic, as Weston flashes some impressive finger work and a nice little burst of speed on a tasty extended solo to exit the track.  A powerful track about letting go of negative relationships, potentially even relationships to sin, "Landmines" is one of my top three or four songs here and gets the repeat treatment quite frequently when I spin the record.

"Some Things Never Change" is yet another uptempo rocker, but it is a bit more angled for radio than perhaps some other songs are here.  A catchy guitar hook worms its way throughout the song, and the track seems to build upon the theme of "Landmines" and moving on from negativity and bad relationships.  Joseph even spits a bit of a rap vocal in the vocal bridge before the last chorus, and a nasty breakdown thumps the listener upside the head before the track exits.  I'll be surprised if this song doesn't impact Christian hard rock radio at some point, and it should get play on terrestrial rock radio and Octane as well.  

The album closes on the only truly quiet note on the record, with "Can't Say Sorry Enough".  Built around an acoustic guitar, some well-placed strings, and some  gently layered vocals, the song is an emotional, almost poignant ending to an otherwise aggressive, hard-hitting record...and it works!  Once again, the vocal growth that Joseph Rojas has put on display on Death By Admiration is impressive.  While he has always been able to sing...some of the band's biggest songs have been ballads, in just seems he has added an extra layer of depth and emotion that I feel really began to grow with the praise songs on Unseen: The Lion and the Lamb.  Add in the exceptional songwriting on this record, and it is safe to say that Seventh Day Slumber continues to grow and improve as a band, not slowing down, but continuing to push forward.

Leaving nothing to chance, the band brought in some big names to twist the knobs and tweak the sounds here, with Kellen McGregor of Memphis May Fire both mixing and producing, while Brad Blackwook, who has worked with Skillet, Korn, POD, and Twenty One Pilots, doing the mastering.  The result is a big sound, aggressive yet accessible, punchy and never overly polished.  Blaise's drums have never sounded this full, and Reed's bass is alive in the mix, whereas so many bands today seemingly bury the bottom end.  There is good separation between the guitar tracks here, and the layering of the backing vocals works exceptionally well, especially for a band that hits as hard as Seventh Day Slumber does here.

Rating:  Time will ultimately tell, but at this point, I'd say Death By Admiration is Seventh Day Slumber at their crankable best!  Crank this beast to a 9!

Tuesday, January 4, 2022



(c)2021 Cleopatra Records

  1. Whole Lotta Love
  2. Good Times, Bad Times
  3. Misty Mountain Hop
  4. Dancin' Days
  5. No Quarter
  6. Kashmir
  7. Houses Of The Holy
  8. Trampled Underfoot
  9. Moby Dick
  10. The Rover
  11. Stairway To Heaven
  12. Heartbreaker
  13. Living Loving Maid
  14. Communication Breakdown
Jack Russell--Lead Vocals
Robby Lochner--Guitars
Michael Olivieri--Rhythm Guitar, Keys
Dan McNay--Bass
Dicki Fliszar--Drums, Percussion

Three quick truths...  

1)  Great White is my all-time favorite band.  
2)  I've never been a fan of Led Zeppelin, per se.
3)  I LOVE the Great Zeppelin Tribute the band did more than two decades ago. 

These three truths are important when considering this newest release from Jack Russell's Great White, because all three things come into play on Great Zeppelin II in a variety of waysFor starters, and most obviously, there was the split between Jack Russell's version of the band (Jack Russell's Great White) and Mark Kendall's version (Great White).  When Great Zeppelin was recorded in 1996 and released in 1998/99 (depending upon the label you snapped the album up from), there was just one band, and people remarked at the ability of the band to so nearly perfectly combine the musicianship AND atmosphere of a Led Zeppelin show...and to pull it off in a live setting, no less!  The combination of Jack's vocals and Kendall's skilled guitar work wowed a lot of fans of both bands, even if some critics didn't necessarily love the idea of a band spending an entire album covering another.    Heck, it was because of Great Zeppelin that I went back and re-examined much of the Led Zeppelin catalog outside of the "hits" that classic rock radio keeps in heavy rotation.  While I am still not a Zeppelin "fan", I certainly appreciate several songs now far more than I did when I first dismissed them 35 years ago.

Without getting into the "whys" or the "who's to blames" of the mess, Great White, of course, fractured and went their separate ways, but there continued to be a least amongst Great White fans...about if either version of the band would revisit the Led Zeppelin catalog.  Jack Russell's Great White gives reason for fans to wonder no more, as Great Zeppelin II: A Tribute To Led Zeppelin was released in the last trimester of 2021.  This time recorded as a studio effort, Great Zeppelin II again features 14 tracks from the legendary Zeppelin, however JRGW manages to duplicate just three songs from the original (more on that in a minute), and has also created a more up-tempo rocker of an album, with less dependence on the bigger, more epic tracks that the first tribute covered.

The new album kicks off with the classic "Whole Lotta Love", and right from the get-go, it is apparent that Jack and Company are here to rock!  They follow this up nicely with the romp of "Good Times, Bad Times", which finds Lochner playing off of Flisznar's heavy drum rhythms to great effect, and McNay DOMINATING the bass line...and solo at the end of the track!  Huge stuff there!  "Misty Mountain Hop" was a pleasant surprise for me here, as I really dig the groove the song works in, and the inclusion of "Houses Of The Holy" was an awesome choice, as I have always felt that to be one of the better songs in the band's catalog, yet one that a lot of people overlook.  Of course, when making the decision to rock out, it is impossible to have a Zeppelin set that doesn't include "Kashmir", with that big hook...and THAT RIFF!  Again, Jack cements himself as a vocalist supreme in his handling of this riff rocker, and Lochner leaves no doubt as to his skill with the axe; the man dominates this song!  "Moby Dick" isn't my favorite song in the mix here, but it is handled very well and gives Fliszar a chance to shine, which he does not pass up!  "Trampled Underfoot" with its quirky intro and catchy rhythm is one of those Zep songs that most people know but that hasn't been worn to death, so its inclusion here adds a bit of funked-up flavor that should provoke a smile from a lot of folks. "Heartbreaker" was a great choice to include this time around, with that classic, stair-stepped guitar intro fitting nicely into the harder-edged track list of this record, and for me, album closer, "Communication Breakdown" rounds out the collection in fine, hard-rocking fashion.

What about the repeated material?  In fairness, it was going to be nearly impossible for the band to not include "Stairway To Heaven", as it was not only handled so extremely well the first time out, but it is also, arguably, the biggest song in Zeppelin's catalog.  Once again, Russell proves himself at the top of his game here, easily handling the slower, softer, more emotive early sections, then powering through the huge build in the later stages of the song.  Lochner nimbly runs through the various tempo changes and multiple styles utilized, showcasing himself as a master musician as he stays faithful to the original but manages to find small areas to move around a bit.  "Living Loving Maid" was another track that screamed for inclusion yet again, as did "The Rover", as both songs fit the harder-hitting attitude of Great Zeppelin II and served to give the album a cohesive feel.  (To that end, I was a bit surprised that "Immigrant Song" wasn't repeated here, as I think it would have just blistered in the middle of this track listing.)  The other repeater was a bit of a surprise to me, however, as I'm not entirely sure it was necessary to drop the massive "No Quarter" into the mix again.  I say this because it tops out at more than 10 minutes in length on this album, which could have easily cleared the way for a couple of other tracks (the very short "Immigrant Song" and just about anything else in the catalog would have fit).  That being said, "No Quarter" is handled EXTREMELY well here, with the keyboard intro from Olivieri beautifully setting up the crush from Fliszar's drums and the bluesy riffing from Lochner.    

Jack sounds 100% still in full control of his classic voice, and unsurprisingly he easily tackles the material here.  While he is adept at handling the hard-hitting rockers included here, it is, of course, his skill on the bluesier numbers that characterize Russell as one of the truly great vocalists to come out of the 1980s scene.  When listening to Great Zeppelin II, however, it is not going to be Jack's vocals that anyone might question with this effort, as his is a voice that has managed to retain its tone and timbre despite the years.  His voice takes on a bit of a huskier sound in a few spots, but generally speaking, Russell stays in his zone, which suits the material here perfectly.  For casual fans of the band, however, they are more likely to be pleasantly surprised at the caliber of the band that surrounds Russell now.  For my money, Robby Lochner is every bit the guitar player Mark Kendall is or ever was, and I have gone on record stating that I actually think he is a better musician than Kendall.  Fliszar is a tremendous player on drums and proves himself more than capable of working the various styles and tempos presented by the Zeppelin catalog.  Dan McNay is equally solid on bass and he helps the band hold the line throughout each of these tracks, adding a depth and richness to the sound here that is frequently missing from so much rock these days.  Fans of the band will likely notice that Tony Montana Cardenas is not credited here, with Michael Olivieri from Leatherwolf serving as the rhythm guitar player and keyboardist on this effort, and he does an outstanding job, I might add.  I was curious about this situation, so I went to the source and asked Robby about it.  Turns out there's not a lot to report, simply that "Michael just did the Zep shows we did", referring to some dates JRGW did, and being familiar with the material, he was tabbed to play on the record, also.  I'm wondering if there was something to the Covid quarantines that kept people from being able to make their schedules and the studio locations work for the recording this album. 

So, is Great Zeppelin II a worthy successor to the original?  Absolutely!  In fact, I would have to say I probably prefer the track listing here to the first one, as this one rocks a bit harder overall, and the album cuts chosen here are more to my liking than on the original.  What about the musical quality?  Again, Great Zeppelin II more than holds its own in that department.  If there is one area that I thin the original exceeds this newest effort is actually in the atmosphere.  It is hard to understate just how impressive it was to hear Great White pull off that first album...LIVE...and the sounds of the live crowd intermixed with the band just add to the ambiance of the entire project.  That simply can't be replicated in the studio, and to JRGW's credit, they don't attempt to do that by mixing in audience sounds and background noises.

The production here is excellent with Lochner handling the recording and mixing in his own Lochner Studio.  The flow of the album works well, also, which was a bit of a question for me since there was no opportunity for band/audience interaction to provide breaks between songs that might not normally line up perfectly, stylewise.  The packaging is pretty simple, with a fold-out front cover that features the track listing, band credits, and writing credits, with band thank-yous and a great white shark image gracing the inside of the single fold front.  

All in all, this is a nice effort that is a lot of fun to listen to and that should serve to tide over fans as much as it likely served as a bit of therapy for a quarantined band.  Hopefully, 2022 will see a new studio effort from Jack Russell's Great White as well as some extensive time on the road.        

Ranking: A crankable effort, that I would say is on par with the original.  Crank this to 8.