Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Back in 1984 reading through a copy of Campus Life magazine I saw a photo and read a blurb about this new band from Southern California called Stryper. The article mentioned that their first release would be out later that summer on Enigma Records. The accompanying photo was in black and white so I wasn’t able to really see the Full Monte as far as their attire. I wondered what could they possibly sound like?

One day about four months later it came to my astute attention that the Yellow and Black Attack had been released two weeks earlier. After a cross town ten speed ride I found one copy of said 6 song EP at my local Record Factory (now defunct). Two things caught my attention (well actually three), first was that it appeared that the bottom part of the cover was trimmed off (a printing defect corrected in subsequent pressings), second the big thank you to Jesus Christ The Boss Man (wow maybe this was for real), third was their absolutely nuts yellow and black outfits!! Not too mention all that hair!

When I got home and spun the original six song EP I was completely blown away and proceeded to play it…. Over and over and over and over again… for just about anyone who would listen, Ad infinitum Ad nauseam! That just started a rather long love affair with Stryper, who weren’t always my favorite band but one I always would gravitate to.

With all that being said it now brings me to their latest release entitled The Second Coming. Lots of folks were very vocal about a new Stryper album, hoping for new stuff and then finding out that only two new tracks would be present. However 14 classic tunes would be re-recorded. 6 songs from To Hell With the Devil, 6 songs from Soldiers Under Command and 2 tracks from that original EP. (No Writing on the Wall from In God We Trust??)

If you’re not a fan of re-records then you might as well stop reading right now, because if done right I’m a HUGE fan! The Second Coming was done right!! The spirit of the originals have been captured without simply being a rehash. The quality of the performances is world class as we have come to expect from Stryper. Truthfully Michael has never sounded better, one of the defining voices in rock n roll today period. Oz has continued to show that he is an underrated talent on guitar, not to mention the contribution that Michael brings as well. One of the best one-two punches in heavy metal from the six string point of view.

On this album the drumming of Robert Sweet is amazing. He brings such a groove and meter, his style has blossomed and it shines throughout this album. He delivers that underlying energy which drives it all. However on The Second Coming we can say authoritatively that Tim Gaines bass guitar is present and delivers a lock in step with Robert. And in some instances without that bass guitar (Calling On You, Free) those new versions would fall.

The overall feel of this release is one of energy and punchy power. The guitars are more upfront than on the original recordings, and because of that the edge has increased rather dramatically. Just listen to Calling On You the guitars are stronger, Gaines bass guitar pushes things along and Robert’s drums smack of authority. Superior! (Alright I will admit I never was a big fan of the original, way too bubblegum for my tastes).

Throughout this release the biggest change is that Michael sings in a lower register, just listen to Reach Out for an example. Yeah it was weird the first time or two, but to accomidate a lower register (the guy isn’t 25 anymore.) However don't make the mistake that Mike can't cut loose anymore, that would be a mistake. The drums embellish a lot on this album, but to these ears that’s part of this releases charm.

Some of the song highlights include The Rock That Makes Me Roll, Soldiers Under Command, The Way, More Than a Man and To Hell With the Devil.

Don’t expect a simple rehash of what was on the original releases.  That would be boring. If anything this album has reminded me what was so exciting about Stryper to me in the first place; high energy music that glorified God and was top tier through out. It was music that I would not be ashamed to play for my friends.

Heck with all that said there are even two NEW songs! Bleeding From the Inside Out and Blackened, both of whom are fantastic bits of heavy rock whimsy.  Of the two I’ll take Blackened as my favorite, a much harder and faster tune. Bleeding From the Inside Out has more of a commercial vibe, but I’ve always been a bigger fan of Stryper’s heavier stuff.

The Second Coming is great album of melodic heavy metal. If you’ve never bought a Stryper album before than this might be the best place to start and if you’re already a fan then be prepared to remember why you loved them in the first place.

9 axes
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Saturday, February 23, 2013

MASS - TAKE YOU HOME Retroactive re-issue

Take You Home was originally released as a six song EP by Enigma Records subsidiary label Medusa back in 1988. This EP was Mass’s first release following their 1985 RCA release New Birth, after that albums release contractual hell ensued and Mass fought for their release and got it. Take You Home has been reissued by Retroactive Records with one bonus track, Under the Gun.

With songs that are straight to the point and highly melodic, without losing their guitar driven edge, Take You Home is sure to please fans of TNT, Stryper, Dokken, Crystavox. An array of melodies that is extremely memorable from the title track to the album starter Pedal to the Metal and the upbeat Over You.

Perhaps of all the tracks the one for me that stands in contrast to the others is the original EP closer, Holy One. Musically it’s one of these tunes that start off slowly and almost melancholy, yet it builds and builds to a driving conclusion. Holy One is a pretty heavy song musically but also lyrically. Mass on the whole I’d give a PG rating lyrically (typical boy girl stuff but very innocuous), but Holy One brings in some strong religious overtones that are pretty hard to ignore but very cool.

The production values are extremely 80’s with the big drum sound with the biting guitar attack, with a tone reminiscent of George Lynch. The re-mastering done by J Powell at Steinhaus is superb as has been his reputation.

Under the Gun which is the bonus track is a solid tune. I would guess it didn’t make the original cut due to the length of vinyl EP’s back in the day.

Take You Home is a nice slice of melodic metal that will fit just fine in the collection of anyone who enjoys this genre of music. I was pretty surprised and I’ve found myself hitting replay on many occasions as I’ve spun this disc. After you grab this one don’t forget to get the Michael Sweet produced Voices in the Night!

7 axes
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Sunday, February 17, 2013


Born Twice Records, if you’re not already familiar, is a division of Retroactive Records with one purpose; to reissue Classic Jesus Music releases primarily prior to 1982. With that time frame caveat you might wonder if there was a lot of hard driving Christian Metal/Hard Rock released back then and you’d be surprised to know that there are several releases.

Enter Stronghold with their 1982 album, Fortress Rock. Originally released on a small Canadian label called Tunesmith (who also released some of the early Barnabas albums) this is an album that I used to hear about for YEARS! I mean that. When I first started listening to Christian rock which was 1983/84 this album was already out of print and impossible to find. However the name would come up from time to time and my question would always be, "What do they sound like?"

Well here I hold this reissue in my hand and it’s quite good. Even though Stronghold (originally from New York) issued this album in 1982 it feels more like an early to mid 1970’s hard rock album. Musically at times I found myself thinking of Blue Oyster Cult (another product of New York!), not ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ but Seven Screaming Diz Busters, Astronomy or Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll. The arrangements and song structures had the same feel and power to these ears.

Some reviews claim a comparison with early Judas Priest (only their first album Rocka Rolla comes close) or Black Sabbath (?). The production values are actually quite well done for an early 80’s release, better than some of the more well known Christian albums issued at that time. Lyrically there is no mistake as to what they stand for, this is Jesus music remember?

J Powell at Steinhaus again does some master wizardry behind the mastering controls and helps to bring this release to life. Some nice reflections by drummer Jay Molina and a few cool photos are includes in the 6 panel digipak. 

The songs themselves are what you’d expect from a band of this time period, not written directly for commercial radio play. Fortress Rock is gritty and driving with a tinge of a prog feel at times, but mostly heavy and moody. This is heavier than Daniel Band or Jerusalem, if you’re a fan of 70’s hard rock this album is a must.

7 Axes
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Saturday, February 16, 2013


Retroactive Records released this second Menchen album actually in 2012. In The Light is the title of this fine release of heavy metal wreckage. The players on this album include Robert Sweet on drums, Ken Redding on vocals (who sang on the first Menchen disc) and Cousin Bruce Menchen who handles the bass guitar duties.

These tracks are actually an amalgam of older material written for some of Bill’s older bands, Redeemer and Rev Seven. Having said that I will say, that doesn’t matter one iota; these songs have some great melodies that rock hard and heavy. I actually found this album to be a bit better than the first Menchen album. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but these songs seem a bit more energetic.

This doesn’t sound like a Titanic or The Seventh Power release (at least not a carbon copy), the songs themselves have some different arrangements and it really grabbed me the second or third time through. When looking at the song credits cousin Bruce has several credits where Bill does not (i.e. Don’t Leave, Remember My Chains, King or Liar) it just adds another dimension to the song writing. Straight ahead heavy metal with plenty of hooks.

Strong production elements which emphasize the pounding drums of Robert Sweet as they lock in with Bill Menchen’s crunchy guitar rhythms, just check out You’re Not Alone for exhibit A of this hammer head approach. Crushing.

In The Light is a solid album of bruising heavy metal with strong hooks that stay with you long after the album is done. They don’t break new ground musically, but you know what you’re gonna get; a loud album of straight ahead Christian heavy metal that makes no bones about their lyrical stance.

8 axes
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Saturday, February 9, 2013

MASS - VOICES IN THE NIGHT Retroactive Reissue

Mass is one of those bands like Y&T or Armored Saint, where everything is there; the talent, the songs, the work ethic; however main stream success just seems to elude them. In 1989 Michael Sweet of Stryper came on board to help produce Voices in The Night. The result was a stellar masterpiece of melodic 80’s heavy metal.

Retroactive Records has re-mastered and re-released this piece of classic metal history. Michael Sweet definitely seemed to add some punch in the producers chair as the presentation is straight ahead with plenty of vocal harmonies and several guitar harmonies. The songs themselves are extremely hook laden and will have you humming along (or singing along if you’re adventurous!).

Tracks like Reach For the Sky, Turn it All Around and the title cut brim with serious melodic appeal without going all syrupy and weak. They rock and bring some full on depth of song writing. Even the ballad Chance to Love avoids the syrup trap; this is the type of ballad that Stryper should’ve been writing (sorry I never was a fan of Stryper’s ballads).

I remember hearing this album back in 89 and really thought it was something special, but it seemed to get lost in the proverbial shuffle. Thankfully Retroactive brings this release back to the mainstream and they even add two bonus tracks! Still Of The Night and Stevie are added, one track was the bonus added to the original CD (the cassette didn’t have it) the other track was the Japan bonus track.

Lyrically Mass (short for Massachusetts their home state) are a clean and positive act. They shouldn’t be confused with a Christian rock band, but I will say that many of their lyrics I found could be interpreted that way. I suppose their association with Michael Sweet lends one to think they must be a Christian band. I found nothing remotely objectionable, in the liner notes this quote exists, “Mass – Music composed to unite the masses and arranged to inspire the individual.” Very appropriate.

Mass executes a solid hard rock attack that any fan of TNT, Stryper or Dokken. This re-issue benefits from the expertise of mastering guru J Powell at Steinhaus. His ear and velvet touch has brought out the best in many releases through the years and this album is no exception. Solid and clear with plenty of punch and drive, grab this album and rock yourself into a virtual euphoria. Hearing this album again has done it for me and I’m spinning a 9 axe review here.

9 axes
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Sunday, February 3, 2013


Never heard of Absolon? I hadn’t either but through the Christian Metal Realm I followed a couple of threads there and discovered that former Malachia/Vision vocalist Ken Pike was involved. Curiosity got the best of me and requested a copy of their debut CD ‘Darkness Rising – The Tale of Derek Blackheart.’ Ken had mentioned there had been some comparisons to Kamelot so I was even more intrigued.

Absolon self described this way, “Absolon… is a Symphonic/Goth Power Metal outfit. Influenced by old school metal bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Queensryche; and the newer Power Metal bands like Kamelot, Epica and Nightwish. Absolon has brought together a blend of metal that will please old school/European metal heads and Symphonic/Goth metal fans. We just call it Epic Metal.”

Darkness Rising: The Tale of Derek Blackheart is a well thought out and extremely well produced independent metal album. The songwriting is top notch and the performances are exceptional. Honestly I wasn’t sure if this album was gonna grab me or not, this is a concept album make no bones about it. To my delight the melodies here are soaring with plenty of superb guitar work courtesy of Ed Dumas. Grab is not the term to be used here, hook in is!

Concept albums don’t often lend themselves to the simple verse chorus verse chorus formula and this album is no different. Yet the melodies are hypnotic, Ken Pike never sounded better. Yes there are moments where his tonality reminds you of Queensryche but pay it never mind, that is how he sounds.

Songs like Pretender and Nail in the Head is almost hypnotic, strong European power metal with driving rhythms and explosive lead work. Contrast that with songs like Even Heroes Fall a bit of whimsy that exceeds in nuance and dynamics all the while moving the story of one Derek Blackheart’s fall into a pit of despair. Wonderful keyboard styling’s that expand the sound and add layers of depth which enhances the overall mood and feel of this release, but don’t worry the crunch of the guitar is definitely the driving force.

The lyrics tell the story of one Derek Blackheart, a kid who dreams of nothing more than being a heavy metal legend. The fable speaks of his ascendency and the emptiness that he realizes once he reaches the peak of his profession. This story ends badly but not without a lot of introspection and questioning of the meaning of things. Based on the classic story A Portrait of Dorian Gray with a modern interpretation, Absolon have scored a knockout.

You won’t find ten songs of Jesus saves; as a matter of fact you won’t find any direct mention of the Alpha and Omega. However His presence is there by his absence, there are several slight allusions that scream out to me as I read the enclosed lyrics. Without a doubt this is a cautionary tale, “What is it worth to have fame and fortune only to lose your soul; Derek Blackheart.” This is art that can be enjoyed by anyone, much like a Christian painter who paints landscapes. Similarly it reminds me of the old Rez Band tune Tears in The Rain from their Hostage album.

Darkness Rising: The Tale of Derek Blackheart is a melodic bit of heavy metal whimsy that is lyrically original and musically superior. Absolon have arrived in a big way. Fans of the aforementioned bands should really enjoy this; I know I am which is why I’m swinging 8 axes at this album.

You can check out their website at http://www.absolonrocks.com/

8 axes
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