Monday, November 30, 2009

ZION - THRILLSEEKER


Zion kicked around the metal underground from the early 80’s until they released their spectacular ‘Thunder from the Mountain’ album in 1989. That album should’ve faired a lot better than it did with great production courtesy of David Zaffiro and tremendous songwriting. I remember just playing that disc to death. As a matter of fact I own two of the original Image Records releases on Compact Disc. I’ve always wished they had played Cornerstone one of the times I attended but no dice.

That brings us to this release entitled ‘ThrillSeeker.’ I am not really sure why this compendium of odds and ends was released. I mean why not just re-release their debut with some bonus tracks? That would be a lot more preferable than this compilation of ‘left over’s?’ or unused material.

The first two tracks ‘Who Pulls the Strings’ and ‘Kick in the Gates’ claim to be ‘Live.’ Now I would assume that to mean ‘Live Concert Recordings.’ Honestly there is NO WAY these tracks are live. NONE! The intro’s and outro’s are, but the actual performance is clearly from the ‘Thunder From the Mountain’ disc. The ending of ‘Who Pulls…’ segues right into ‘Kick in the Gates’. There is some in-between song banter which is clearly live, but again THE PERFORMANCE IS NOT! How can this be labeled live? I feel ripped off!

It reminds me of one of those MTV video’s where the band is performing in front of an audience and you hear audience noise, but clearly the song audio is the studio version. Iron Maidens ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ comes immediately to mind.

There is a bass/drum solo which clearly is live in concert. The difference in audio quality is enormous between that track and the first two. There are a couple of short clips which run under a minute each. You also get a couple of Zion cuts from their (1985?) release entitled ‘Rock for Eternity’ tape. There are also some pre-production versions of ‘Roll the Rock’ and a track entitled ‘The Big Fall.’ It sounds to me that ‘The Big Fall’ morphed into ‘Kick in the Gates.’

Lastly the track ‘ThrillSeeker’ from “Thunder from the Mountain” appears.

I like Zion and have always thought that Rex should’ve stayed with them. They could’ve pushed a disc that was much better then the following X-Sinner material.

Again I ask why this disc was released, horrendous cover art and all. Then I must ask who compiled this material which frankly is clearly second rate. Save your money, this disc isn’t worth it. Put out ‘Thunder from the Mountain’ and make a nice package out of it, which would be worth it. This one ain’t.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SAINT - HELL BLADE




A powerful storm is brewing to take place in 2010 and at the center of that storm is the latest album from Oregon Headbangers Saint. ‘Hell Blade’ hits the stage with all guns blazing and ready to take no prisoners. This is a tremendous heavy machine that is simply hitting on all cylinders with this disc.

Richard Lynch (bass) and cohorts Josh Kramer (vocals), Jerry Johnson (guitars) and Bill Brost (drums) have assembled a massive array of heavy metal thunder. Josh is in full throated glory here blasting it out with the best of them. The drum sound Bill was able to obtain just drives and plows this release in total submission. Richard was able to couple his blasting bass with Bill’s drums and they lock together nicely. However it must be pointed out the Jerry Johnson’s guitar playing is forthright and dominant.

There are many different elements to dissect on this record. On the production front, it’s solid, big and demands your attention. Energy just oozes out of the performances given. A darker feel is predominant that I think was intentional is very dominant. Lyrically the end times still plays a major role in the themes explored. Yet coupled with the overall feel and vibe it’s almost epic in its presentation. Struggling with temptation is the also explored.

Top players include ‘To the Cross,’ ‘New World Order,’ ‘You and Me,’ and ‘Hell Train.’ ‘Hell Train’ being a nice production piece that has lots of atmosphere and is just eerie with a very staccato like riff from Jerry. The thing I noticed the most is that the collaboration of Jerry and Richard brought the catchiest songs. The title song itself is very reminiscent in theme of the song ‘Times End.’ If you compare the two lyrically I think they make a nice pairing.




This is a heavy album, but there isn’t a speed killer here. Most of the tunes are mid-tempo with one or two up-tempo songs. A song like ‘Through the Night’ would’ve been killer as I think it would’ve fit the vibe, but alas there isn’t one. The one ‘commercial’ oddity as it were is the song ‘Crying in the Night.’ This song is about as commercial as say a ‘Heading Out to the Highway’ still a bit heavier and a good song non-the-less.

Saint fans should be scooping this one up by the bushel and hopefully some newer fans as well. This is crunching heavy metal that is a must buy and listen. Boy could I see a Saint/Ultimatum/Jacob’s Dream tour. Am I the only one who thinks that would be a scream? Headbanging glory my friends.

There has been so much anticipation for this disc that I do not want to overhype it. You know what happens, it’s eventually not as good as you’d like. So let me say this, Hell Blade is a great heavy metal album. A classic? Only time will tell that, but until then Keep Rockin’ till the Final Day!!!

8 axes
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Saturday, November 21, 2009

ETERNAL RYTE - ANTHOLOGY


With a sound akin to TNT, Stryper, Soldier, (old) Guardian and (old) Dokken, fans of melodic metal should be rejoicing with this anthology of Eternal Ryte material. To label them as just a ‘hair band’ would be doing them a disservice. These guys were capable musicians and Bobby Smith was probably the most underrated guitarist in the entire Christian Metal scene.

All of their demo material appears here including their extremely hard to get 1986 demo. Tape traders were waving that one around in glee, I got my copy how ‘bout you??? Their 87 demo entitled ‘Anthem’ is here as well as live tracks from all three of their live video appearances. Those would include the ‘Metal Mardi Gras 1987,’ ‘Metal Midnight III,’ and ‘Metal Meltdown.’

However the real gem is how Bill at Roxx Records was able to provide us fans the only album Eternal Ryte released. That would be their 1990 debut ‘World Requiem’ released by Pure Metal Records. The production is crisp and tight. ‘World Requiem’ at times reminds this listener of ‘Tooth and Nail’ or ‘Back for The Attack’ by Dokken with its harder edged guitar sound and spectacular guitar playing by Bobby Smith.

My favorite Eternal Ryte songs ‘On the Line,’ ‘He’s a Killer,’ ‘No More Lies,’ and ‘Fight for the Light’ all appear in various forms here. All fans of melodic 80’s metal will want this anthology in their collection. I know for many they will see the image and assume ‘It’s gonna be weak and sound like Poison….’ Not even close my friends. That’s not to say a fan of ‘Poison’ wouldn’t like it, I’m sure they would. Good solid, stuff here.

There are some nice photos and very nice liner notes. I saw Eternal Ryte at both HIS Festivals and Metal Mardi Gras; they really did tear it up. There are some photos of the fliers for those gigs, and they bring back some really great memories.

Lyrically Phil St.Vincent provides solid Christ based lyrics. Remember those were the days of ‘a sermon in 4 minutes’ as it were. You knew where the band stood period.

This double disc collection of material rocks!! Thanks Bill for putting this out.


8 AXES
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

ORPHAN PROJECT - SPOONING OUT THE SEA


This could be one of the greatest musical finds in 2009…. I’ve never heard Orphan Project before, but based on what I’m hearing this is simply fabulous progressive hard rock with smooth melodic overtones. Their bio lists Kansas, Yes, Dream Theater, U2 and Peter Gabriel as influences. I’m overwhelmed as I listen to this release. The quality of musicianship, the quality of songwriting and the quality of production flows together into a rich offering of musical excellence.

I understand Orphan Project has been around since 2001 and released their first album in 2003. I had heard of them but in name only so when James from Open Grave passed this release onto me I didn’t know what to expect.

Starting with ‘ReachOrphan Project show they mean business with a tightly constructed song that has many different elements melded together into one. Piano, keyboard, intricate drumming, driving bass, crunchy guitar and melodic vocal make this song an ethereal experience. ‘Angels Desire’ starts with heavy guitar parts and a more grove laden hook approach. ‘Fallen’ opens with some off time drums with a guitar and keyboard interplay that moves the listener into something of another musical realm. The piano touches add class and melody. A soaring vocal locks the melody into your brain that stays with you. Wow….

Some of the other major highlights are ‘To Me’ (scorching rock n roll, guitar solo heaven YEAH!!!), ‘Spooning Out The Sea,’ ‘Head On Your Platter,’ (very Kansas like that just ROCKS). You won’t find epic songs lengths here, but songs in the three to five minute range. What Orphan Project does in that time frame is wonderful. At times they remind me of prog-rockers Frost* in style. Yet Orphan Project doesn’t necessarily indulge in the long musical interplay that a lot of progressive bands do. I’ve heard many people complain of progressive rocks tendency to ‘noodle away’ on the guitar. That doesn’t occur on ‘Spooning Out The Sea.’

Lyrically I so appreciate the approach they’ve taken, an introspective approach on their Christian faith, but make no mistake you know what they’re singing about. Just read the lyrics to title song or perhaps ‘Head On Your Platter.’ These intelligent and creatively written words have and will continue to make an impact on the listener.

Shane Lankford provides the melodic voice that soars over the musical soiree. Tim Kehring offers up tasty drum patterns that are more than a standard 4/4 time. Bill Yost graces this release with some fantastic bass playing. John Neiswinger brings the keyboard sounds and does this nicely without excess. Finally, Shane McBride plays the guitars both rhythm and lead that really add that edge to this whole event.

Tim Kehring shows himself to be a very apt producer. The tonalities are spectacular and the mix is very even without things becoming overly compressed or compacted. The music is able to breathe and travel in an open architecture that fits so well.

James thanks buddy for passing this along. A truly great find that I appreciate so much, it fills a void in the prog area that this prog fan has missed. They’re not the next Rush, however I will spin this disc repeatedly and often.

9 axes
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You can listen to one of the songs on 'Spooning Out The Sea' and listen to some interview clips. This is a clip I borrowed from YouTube, Anvil and The Hammer

Saturday, November 14, 2009

SWEET COMFORT BAND







Sweet Comfort Band performed their last shows in 1984. I was privileged to see them on that tour. It was probably my 3rd or 4th concert ever. They played at Great America amusement park if front of maybe 1000 people. I remember being amazed even then (I was what… 16 maybe??) at their musicianship. I remember seeing a young Brian Duncan and Randy Thomas exchange pitches on their respective instruments, guitar and voice. The vocalist won that duel.

At that time I was listening to primarily Heavy Metal, yet Sweet Comfort Band was a different. It was loud and so was the guitar but they weren't hard rock. Hearing those albums back then they didn’t have the energy of their live performance, at least to a 16 year old. Well I’m 41 now and hearing these releases is simply mesmerizing.

The melodies soar and the performances are top notch. Bryan Duncan really shows he can rock, he also shows why he continued into a long solo career. A top notch singer/songwriter. Randy Thomas also shows why he continued on into Allies and made them the strong rock/pop band they were.

Retroactive Records has re-released 5 Sweet Comfort Band albums, ‘Perfect Timing (1984),’ ‘Cutting Edge (1982),’ ‘Hearts of Fire (1981),’ ‘Hold on Tight (1979),’ ‘Breakin’ The Ice (1978).’ And a good job they’ve done with them. To hear them without all the vinyl noise (don’t get me wrong I like vinyl, but after 25 years the advantages of the compact disc shine bright. A clean and warm sound that allows the original performances to shine in a way they couldn’t before.

“Cutting Edge” enjoys a fresh sound that has depth and feel. “Perfect Timing” sounds the most produced for the time. Perhaps it’s because of the production of Dino Elefante but ‘Timing’ has the strongest guitar and drum sound. “Hearts of Fire” has bright guitars with a clean vocal sound that really is enhanced by the mastering at Steinhaus. The songs ‘Isabel,’ ‘Contender’ and ‘Now or Never’ are some great rock ’n’ roll. A heartfelt solo by Randy Thomas on ‘Never’…. At times these discs remind me of Toto or perhaps aspects of Kansas as far as musical aptitude and style.

The pop leanings of ‘Hold on Tight’ glean some new life with a great remastering job. It’s not until this albums last song ‘Find Your Way’ is a hint given as to what was to come. ‘Breaking the Ice’ has some nice moments as well. Both of those albums are pure 70’s rock with a feel not unlike Steely Dan or Billy Joel.

One of the charms of Sweet Comfort Band was that lyrically they avoided the clich├ęs. They made no bones about their faith, but you won’t find a lot of simple answers and Jesus loves me lyrics here. Real life and the difficulties that come along with it are topics often explored.

Fans of Sweet Comfort Band will want to pick these up, so they may save their vinyl releases. Music lovers who want some Jesus music that is not overtly polished, but played by musicians will want to obtain these releases ASAP. Myself I’d start with ‘Perfect Timing’ and go from there.
7 axes
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GRAVE ROBBER - BE AFRAID


Grave Robber had to have a debut disc to follow up on and this one is it! ‘Be Afraid’ was released originally in 2007, but Retroactive have seen fit to re-release this with 2 additional tracks. You can hear Wretched and crew spit it out in all their rigor mortis infested glory.

This release has a bit more of the punk aspect than does their current release ‘Inner Sanctum’ (a strong album of the year candidate for 2009!). Songs like ‘Rigor Mortis,’ ‘Skeletons,’ and ‘I Want to Kill You Over and Over Again’ are just fabulous. Misfits/Danzig inspired punk/metal that really catches you by the throat and digs in deep. These ghostly ghouls just know how to write hooks. In music that is the most important thing to these ears.

The lyrical metaphors to the spiritual life of a follower of the way are simply amazing. ‘Army of The Dead’ is one of those songs that just ‘kills me’…..! I loved the cool intro to ‘Burn, Witch, Burn,’ since I know exactly where it came from. Heck I thought I was the only one who owned that album!!

This special re-release includes one new track and a remix of the amazing ‘Rigor Mortis’ by Angel from Dope. The remix is more a novelty, but their cover of the old Nazareth song ‘Love Hurts’ is really good.

Be Afraid is another superb offering from the Robbers. If you had to choose between this disc and their current release ‘Inner Sanctum’ I would say you can’t lose either way. I myself lean toward ‘Inner Sanctum’ as my favorite of the two yet ‘Be Afraid’ is getting its share of play time.

I understand that the Robber crew filmed a live DVD that should hopefully see the light at some point. Hopefully enough of the songs from this release will make it as well. Living on the West Coast will probably mean that I won’t get a chance to see Grave Robber perform so that DVD will be the next best thing. I should also mention that they have also released a comic book which looks to be very promising, the first issue sets up things rather nicely for the follow-ups….

I still need to obtain some Grave Robber gear, which will come in time. For the GR fan among you Christmas is coming sooner than you think….

8 axes
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