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Glitter2Gutter is a review site of all things hard rock! Whether your thing is glam, sleaze, hair metal, arena rock, AOR, or modern hard rock acts, we have them all! Old classics, hot new bands, and relative unknowns alike can all be found here...

Saturday, July 18, 2015

BOBAFLEX "Anything That Moves"

(c) 2015 BFX Records

  1. Burn Them All
  2. Start A War
  3. Lose Control
  4. Dry Your Eyes
  5. Mama (Don't Take My Drugs Away)
  6. A Spider In The Dark
  7. Show Me
  8. Objectified
  9. Turn Me On
  10. You Don't Want To Know
  11. Pray To The Devil
  12. End Of The World
  13. Forgiven
Shaun McCoy--Vocals, Guitars
Marty McCoy--Vocals, Guitars
Tommy Johnson--Drums
Dave Tipple--Guitars
Jymmy Tolland--Bass

It has only been two short years since Bobaflex released Charlatan's Web, but in that time, not only was a tour completed and a new album written, but two new members joined the Bobaflex fold, as well.  Anything That Moves is the first album to feature new guitar player, Dave Tipple, and new bassist, Jymmy Tolland, and while some may argue that the two latest additions have sparked a new intensity in the band, don't expect anything drastically different from the modern rockers.As with their last couple of efforts, Bobaflex's sound continues to be driven by their occasional usage of spaghetti Western-styled musical interludes and imagery ("Bury Me With My Guns On"), unique rhythms, and darkly humorous lyrics ("I'm Glad You're Dead"), all while keeping their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks with a wicked grin spread across their collective faces.  Don't come here looking for synthesized string sections, huge breakdowns, or dub-step styled backing tracks, as you will be sorely disappointed if that is what you are after.  However, if you are after a hard-rocking, hell-raising good time from some of the nicest (sorry to ruin the image) guys you will meet in the business, then Bobaflex and Anything That Moves will be right up your alley.

The new record starts off with a throw away intro...we all know I hate intros...but at just 30 seconds, "Burn Them All" isn't an overly huge annoyance at the outset of this new record.  Things really get going in a big way as soon as "Start A War" kicks in with crunchy modern hard rock guitars, a catchy, sing-along chorus, and those brotherly harmonious vocals that make Bobaflex's sound unique.  "Lose Control" follows up nicely with another rocker, before one of my favorites here kicks in, with "Dry Your Eyes".  If you were a fan of that Western-styled approach I mentioned before, a la "Bury Me With My Guns On" (which is my favorite 'Flex track ever), you are likely going to dig "Dry Your Eyes" as that same approach is used, yet the song does not come off as a clone.

The album's lead single is the humorously (at least to me) titled "Mama (Don't Take My Drugs Away)", which is a solid mid-tempo rocker that has a big hook and more of those harmonies from the McCoy brothers that are such a trademark part of the band's sound.  While not necessarily my favorite 'Flex track, it is definitely a very good one that will likely find its way up the hard rock charts at both satellite and terrestrial radio.  "A Spider In The Dark" has all of the moody creepiness that the title implies and is another of my faves here.

Things hit a bit of a "samey-snag" on the next couple of tracks, as both "Show Me" and "Objectified" feel like album cuts from records past, and while neither is horrible, they don't really do anything to push the album forward, either.  The last three tracks are nearly as solid as the first three (again, excluding the intro), and round out the record in solid fashion.

It's hard for me to believe this West Virginia band has had seven albums now, but even with the line-up changes I mentioned at the beginning of this review, the McCoy Brothers and company show no signs of slowing down.  Anything That Moves isn't earth-shattering, but it is a lot of fun, and minus a couple of semi-off moments, may just be the best these guys have put out, even with the changes.

If you get the chance, check them out live, as they put on a heck of a performance, regardless of the venue size and, as I mentioned, are very nice guys to meet.  Hopefully, I will get the chance to take in a show with the new members soon, and I look forward to the inclusion of "Mama", "Start A War", "Dry Your Eyes", and probably "Forgiven" or "End Of The World" in the live show!      

Rating:  Crank this to a fun 7.5!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

SCORPIONS "Return To Forever (Japanese Blu-Spec Edition)"

(c) 2015 Sony Music Germany/Sony Music Japan
  1. Going Out With A Bang
  2. We Built This House
  3. Rock My Car
  4. House Of Cards
  5. All For One
  6. Rock N Roll Band
  7. Catch Your Luck And Play
  8. Rollin' Home
  9. Hard Rockin' This Place
  10. Eye Of The Storm
  11. The Scratch
  12. Gypsy Life
  13. The World We Used To Know (Bonus Track)
  14. Dancing With The Moonlight (Bonus Track)
  15. When The Truth Is A Lie (Bonus Track)
  16. Who We Are (Bonus Track)
  17. One And One Is Three (Japanese Bonus Track)
  18. Crazy Ride (Bonus Track)
Klaus Meine--Lead Vocals
Rudolf Schenker--Guitars
Matthias Jabs--Guitars
James Kottack--Drums
Pawel Maciwoda--Bass

I'm a bit late on reviewing this album as I was waiting for the Japanese special edition to be released, since I had read it would have at least two bonus tracks not available in America.  (it actually came out LATER than the American release!  When does THAT happen?)  Additionally, this was the first chance I had to actually pick up one of these extremely high-quality Blue-Spec Editions, which feature cutting edge sound quality, so it was worth the wait and...*gulp*...the additional $25 to get it.  

For those of you who may keep track of such things, the Scorpions were actually supposed to be done by now.  They went on a farewell tour, released their "final album", etc., etc., and were supposed to ride off into the German sunset.  But a funny thing happened while on that final tour...they fell in love with performing once again.  They found an energy that Schenker and Meine have both said was missing from the last couple of Scorpions releases, and they also found that they still enjoyed performing together despite the fact that the Scorpions have now existed (in one form or another) for  FIFTY YEARS, with Schenker and Meine having been musical brothers since 1970!  That's an insanely long time to go without killing each other!  Jabs, by the way, has been there since 1978, so that trio right there has been spearheading the Scorpions for 37 years, allowing for a largely consistent sound throughout the band's history...with just a couple of hiccups along the way.  

Since the band decided NOT to hang up their six strings, drums, bass, and microphone, they did the only real thing they could do; they headed back into the studio to record Return To Forever, the band's 19th album.  (Their first, by the way, was 1972's Lonesome Crow...check it out sometime...)  Now, the band has been very upfront about the fact that several of these songs are, in fact, older songs from the recording sessions of the band's two biggest records, Love At First Sting and Blackout, as well as left-over tracks from Crazy World and Savage Amusement, and a couple of other later albums.  There are, however, several new songs, as well, giving this album a true "across the decades" perspective that only a band of this vintage could do.  To help give the reader an idea of the new material versus the older stuff, I'm going to break this review up and separate the new tracks from the old...just to shake things up a bit.  

THE NEW

"Going Out With A Bang" (a foreshadowing title?) is one of the new songs written for this album, and it starts the album out in classic Scorpions fashion, albeit with an updated production sound.  It's funny, because to me this sounds like a song that may have been written in the 90's, when it is actually one of the newest tracks on this album.  A big, catchy chorus, smooth production, and a nice hook drive this song and really gives the album a jump start.      

"We Built This House" is "the philosophy of the band" according to Meine, and "basically tells our story".  Despite the fact that it was written for this record, it is undeniably classic Scorpions material, sounding very much like something that would have come out of the mid-to-late-80's musically.  Sure, there is an updated approach to the way the chorus is structured and how the vocals are layered over the instrumental track here, but for me, this is the best of a batch of good-to-great new songs and is the style of song I would love to hear utilized on a full album's worth of material.

"All For One" is a song that reminds me a lot of the Humanity Hour I era of the band, utilizing a smoother guitar tone on the intro to the track, and Meine's more updated vocal phrasing.  His voice still sounds almost EXACTLY like it did clear back in the 70's, which is amazing, but the way he phrases things has changes slightly as his grasp on English has improved (at least somewhat) throughout the years.  A solid rocker, if not an amazing one, that shows there are still signs of life in this dinosaur of a band.

THE CLASSIC

One thing I want to point out is that these are NOT simply remixed versions of songs that were left on the cutting room floor, nor are they crappy left-overs that the band decided to add here to milk some more cash out of the Scorpions fan base.  These songs were, from my understanding, never fully recorded, nearly always missing lyrics, and often nothing more than a riff or a solo idea that was shelved due to lack of album space, album continuity problems, or what have you.  

Upon listening to several of these songs, it will be pretty obvious to most Scorpions fans what time frame they were written in.  For example, the excellent "Rock N Roll Band" was written during the Love At First Sting/Savage Amusement period, and features that signature Scorpions guitar tone and the tandem guitar riffing that were so distinguishable during the band's heyday period.  "Catch Your Luck And Play" is another excellent rocker that also originates from this same time period, carrying the same guitar tone as songs like Savage Amusement's "When Passion Rules The Game".  The guitars are big, the vocals have that powerful layering that the Scorps and so many other bands utilized in the mid-to-late 80's, and the drums are big and bold without burying the rest of the track.  "Rock My Car" also comes from this same time period, and musically it is a strong track, although lyrically, it is one of those Scorps tracks that comes across as uber-cheesy due to the band members' difficulties translating lyrical ideas into English.  As such, the chorus is extremely simplistic and one-dimensional, filled in with "whoaaas" and several "rocks!", apparently as space savers.  Despite this, a GREAT guitar solo carries the frantic track and actually transforms it into a fun top-down-summer-driving song.   

"House Of Cards" reminds me of "Send Me An Angel" from Crazy World, in the way the song is structured and performed, which leads me to believe it is also a mid-to-late 80's tune.  A very solid Scorpions ballad, it doesn't have quite the urgency of "Still Loving You", but the understated acoustic guitars allow Meine's still-strong vocals to really carry the song.  I really like that there are no overwrought strings or keyboards included here, as so many bands would likely be tempted to layer in, as this song is solid proof of how a well-crafted song and an impassioned performance can say plenty on their own.  Really a high point for me here.  

While not necessarily "classic", a couple other records have unreleased material represented here.  "Gypsy Life" feels eerily like the classic Scorpions ballad "Still Loving You" melded with a bit of "When The Smoke Is Going Down" from Blackout.  Originally written for Acoustica, this track was never released, which I think is a shame, as it is pretty darn good and is yet another excellent ballad that really showcases the band's understanding of this style of song.  "Eye Of The Storm" was originally intended for Humanity Hour I, but didn't fit the flow of that record, largely due to the number of outside writers that were brought in to work on that album.  It has been reworked a bit and included here, fitting in relatively well, even if it is the least "classic Scorpions ballad" sounding effort on this disc.  

THE BONUS TRACKS

The bonus tracks are songs that I know virtually nothing about, as far as when they were written.  Their style and sound gives me some inclination that none of these are overly old, as they have more of the smooth approach utilized on the more recent albums.  

"The World We Used To Know" honestly reminds me a lot of a Men At Work song, if you can believe that!  If you were to swap Meine for the singer of that band (Colin Hay...I looked it up), I think it might be tough to distinguish the two...seriously.  This song is so laid back, with such a simple rhythm and song structure, that never does it really feel like a Scorpions song.  It's not bad, just very 80's synth-pop feeling...but I still get the feeling this is a newer song.

"Dancing With The Moonlight" really allows the bass to shine, especially at the outset of the track.  Returning to more of an aggressive song structure, this is still a song that is definitely from the newer end of the band's songwriting spectrum.

"When The Truth Is A Lie" features an odd acoustic guitar line mixed into an otherwise rocking song, and really showcases Meine's still-strong vocals.  As I have said before, the guy doesn't sound like he has aged vocally at all, which is amazing after all of these years, albums, and shows.  The track is catchy, but not necessarily overly-memorable or typically Scorpions material, which is likely why it was relegated to bonus track status.  Definitely not a skipper, however, and my second favorite of the bonus cuts.

"Who We Are" is yet another undeniably Scorpion-esque ballad, and is performed very well.  Acoustic guitars intro the song, which is accompanied by some luxuriously layered backing vocals.  It never really builds like an 80's power ballad does, and it is a bit lyrically repetitive, but not a bad song, and a decent ballad to be included in these bonus songs.

"One And One Make Three" comes out smoking with rapid-fire guitars and charging guitars on this Japan-only bonus.  Lyrically, it makes very little sense (at least none that I can decipher thanks to these Japanese lyric sheets!), but, again, it's a decent enough song styled along the lines of the band's Humanity, Pt. I material.

Disc closer, "Crazy Ride", features more traditional-era sounding guitars and that familiar song structure from the 80's (I'm guessing this was a left-behind Savage Amusement track, or perhaps Crazy World, based upon the sound...).  Not as urgent in feel as some of the songs this was likely written alongside, but definitely a throwback to the band's most popular period, and my favorite of these add-ons.       
  
One interesting thing of note is that nearly all of the new songs were written by Meine along with "Nord" Andersson, and Martin Hansen (or some combination of the three), who both helped with a lot of the songwriting on Humanity Hour I.  Schenker's name is nowhere to be found on any of the newer tunes (nor is Jabs, who is not given writing credit on ANY song here).  On the flip side, the majority of the "classic" tracks were written musically by Schenker and lyrically by Meine.  And, with only one or two exceptions, it is pretty easy to tell the "classics" from the "currents" if you have been a fan of the band for any stretch of time.

As far as I can tell, there are FIVE different versions of this album:  the regular release, the deluxe American edition, the deluxe European edition, the Japanese import version, the Japanese Blu-Spec version (mine).  I have also heard there is a two-disc version of this album, but I have never seen it.  Each version has the basic 12 tracks that start off the disc, but depending upon which version you purchase, the bonus tracks are different on each.   For the money, I would probably tell most people to get the regular Japanese edition, which contains the final two bonus tracks here.  The Scorpions completist, import collector, or people with stupid amounts of money will want to seek out this Blu-Spec Edition, not only for the extra three European tracks, but the exceptional sound quality.  Yes, you can definitely hear the difference on this Blu-Spec Disc, as it is a VERY clean sound, with virtually no hiss or static between tracks or during the softest moments of the ballads.  Much like a Blu-Ray Video, you may not really notice how crisp and clean this is unless you get the opportunity to compare it side-by-side with a standard release, but if you get the chance, I can almost guarantee you will notice the difference.  Now, is it worth the extra money?  Probably not, and  I kind of doubt this ever catches on in the US where record companies are trying to go all digital download, but man, I wish they would find a way to drop the price (like Blu-Ray Videos have), as these suckers are really that SHARP sounding!  By the way, you don't need a special CD player of Blu-Ray player to play them, which, honestly, was a fear of mine...

So, is this the end of the Scorpions?  Honestly, I kind of doubt it, as the band seems to be having a lot of fun, and I have to believe that with a history as long as theirs, there is even more material they could plumb from the depths of the vaults and restructure/rebuild and present as new material, much like they did here.  And that would be fine with me, as this is an excellent effort from a truly classic band that, realistically, has shown no signs of slowing despite the massive number of years under their belt.

Rating:  A lot of crankable fun here!  While it doesn't displace ...Sting, ...Amusement, or Blackout, it definitely cranks at 8 for me!

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

TALKIN' TRASH WITH....Rex Carroll of Whitecross/King James!




Whitecross founder and axe-slinger, Rex Carroll, is one of the most talented guitar players to run the fretboards, not only in Christian hard rock and metal, but in hard rock period.  But a lot of people don't realize there was life BEFORE Whitecross...and AFTER as well!  Rex was kind enough to open up on a number of topics with me in this extensive interview, which was conducted over the course of a few days.  Find a comfy chair, grab something cool to drink, and settle in as we talk some trash with Rex Carroll!
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G2G:  Rex, it's great to get a chance to catch up with you again!  On social media it seems like you are a man constantly on the go.  How have you been, my friend?

Rex:  Arttie, my friend, it's always good to chat with you.  Yeah, I'm busy, but I'm good, thank you.
Rex and I clowning around at SkullFest in 2013

G2G:  There has seemingly been a lot of renewed interest in Whitecross lately.  I saw a new poll about the band's Top 10 songs on Facebook the other day, and threads pop up on The Christian Metal Realm and various other sites from time-to-time.  How does it feel to still be in the minds and hearts of people after all theses years?  What do you attribute your longevity to in an industry where, let's be honest, not a lot of bands survive?

Rex:  I am continually grateful and humbled by the Grace of God, who used whatever we did to reach people for His purposes.  I don't think of us as "spiritual giants" or anything like that, but I can tell you that in spite of all the many mistakes we made collectively, at the core we were truly about serving the Lord and we were, and are, excited about ministry.  For whatever reason, people made a connection to our music and I'm thankful for however God has used us, un any small way, to impact somebody's life in a positive direction.

Not trying to dredge up any old memories or hard feelings, if they still exist, but what exactly led to your leaving Whitecross?  Was it the musical direction, wanting to get off the road, wanting to do something new...?

Rex:  Back around 92 and 93, we toured...A LOT.  Now, I love touring, I really do.  However, we got caught in a situation where our fans expected a big show with big production, but we never made enough income to really afford it.  So eventually, we were just losing too much money.  After a time of no income for Scotty or myself...on the one hand, we just couldn't do it any more.  On the other hand, Scotty and I have never gotten along all that well; we're just different people and we both have differing ideas about how to go about doing things.  So the tipping point came when my daughter required a major medical procedure.  I wasn't able to support the band, and the band was more or less just angry with me.  And, I realized that was not where I needed to be.  You could say we jumped the proverbial shark and I needed to reset and regroup.

G2G:  Stryper is still going strong...Petra is back playing shows again...Bloodgood and Guardian did new records recently, so I ask you, why not Whitecross?  Any chance of a new record at any time in the near future?

Rex:  I love how Stryper has been able to keep going.  That is fantastic!  As far as the music industry and music business is concerned, as soon as somebody makes a legitimate offer to make a new record, it's easily doable.  What I'm NOT interested in is a situation where a small label says, "you make the record at your own expense and take all your own time, we will sell it and then we're not going to pay any royalties anyways!"  I can assure you, I've done that enough already!  (Laughing)  So THAT is not happening any time soon.  But, any serious offers and of course we're interested in it.
Whitecross debut

G2G:  Your last band effort, 1987, was basically a remake of the debut, self-titled album and the highly sought after "Love On The Line".  I'm going to be very honest with you, my friend...I was VERY happy the ballads were left off of 1987, as they always lacked something without you tearing up the fretboard, at least for me.  Was there a specific reason the ballads were left off?

Rex:  Hmmm...I'll give you a very political "answer without answering response".  There was a collective discussion, and the collective thinking was that it would be fabulous to have a new recording of "Love On The Line".  (Laughing)  I hope that helps!  (Laughing)  In all seriousness, I've heard from people who were actually UNhappy with us not including the ballad.  I guess you can't please all the people all the time.  I'm jut happy we did the record at all.  I really like it, speaking for myself...
1987 re-record of debut record

G2G:  I like it a lot as well.  Let's switch gears for a second because Whitecross is certainly not the only thing you have going on.  You have another really good band called King James that is actively recording new albums.  I actually have the newest disc, Maximus, playing in the background as we chat.  I have to tell you, the more I listen to this record, the more I love it.  The song, "Waiting For The King" is just AMAZING in my opinion.

Rex:  Thanks, Arttie.  I think you are correct...the more you listen to this album, the more you realize it's pretty amazing.  There are several reasons for this.  Some really great songs, yes.  Fantastic musicians and singer, yes.  Hey!  I'm not being egotistical, I am really speaking the truth here.  The support we received during the recording process totally helped, also.  Having the GREAT John Lawry assisting us in the studio...yes and yes again!  But, most importantly, there was a decision made at the very start of the record that we were going to honor God, honor each other, honor the songs, check all of our egos at the door, and we were going to treat each other with respect, love, and doing what was best for the album, as well as doing things in as Godly a way as we knew how.  For all of these reasons, we made what is undeniably a great album!  As you can tell, I'm extremely proud of the guys and of the record.

G2G:  You just recently released a new video for the album, correct?

Rex:  Yes, that's correct.  In January, we went to Nashville and filmed two music videos for the Maximus album.  I could not be happier with the videos.  They're pretty awesome.


G2G:  Have you ever taken King James and Whitecross out at the same time, one opening for the other, for example?

Rex:  Yes, actually, we have done that a couple of times.  There was a festival in Switzerland that liked the idea of having King James on Friday night, and Whitecross on Saturday night.  It went great and everybody benefited.

G2G:  What would you say are the key differences between working in King James and working in Whitecross?

Rex:  That's a difficult question to answer, because there are so many differences!  Where to start...

In the Whitecross albums, it seems like the various record label people always wanted to get involved, so you see on the different albums where there are guest musicians, studio musicians, songs written by people who are not in the band, all kinds of things.  To be fair, sometimes we NEEDED the help.  But it also became a pain in the rear end, too.  And everybody wanted to take the credit!  (Laughing)  At times, it became a big corporate production where the band is just one element and there are WAY too many people having too much input.  I can't say that was all necessarily a bad thing....I would have to admit, I like it when there's a big fuss being made about the band.  But, it's not healthy when other people are deciding who plays on the album and who doesn't.

The first thing to my mind in regards to King James was the desire to put an end to the Merry-Go-Round.  We are actually a band of four guys who work together, and do things together as one unit.  I know, I know, basic stuff, right?  But here's the thing...the same guys who are in the picture are the same guys who play on the record, are the same guys who play at the gigs.  I believe that one reason it's hard for new bands to succeed is this: when you fall in love with a band, you have to make an emotional commitment to the songs, the sound, and the guys in the group.  Think about it.  If the Beatles show up to perform and casually say, "Oh, George couldn't make it tonight...we have a fill in...", yes, there will be a riot in the street!  If Led Zeppelin shows up and says, "oh, Robert Plant isn't here, so we have so-and-so to sing tonight..." (Laughing)  That doesn't work, does it?  So my point is we really wanted to make sure that King James is a band that will be around for a long time.  Unlike previous situations, it's a real band that you can sink your teeth into and we do what we want as a group.  I'm a fan, too; once I latch onto a group that I like, I want that group to be there for me.  So that's probably the single biggest difference from Whitecross to King James, the stability of the line-up.

G2G:  That being said, the two bands are actually the same now, only with different lead singers, correct?

Rex:  Yes, and there you go.  There's a reason why I work with the guys I work with.  Michael and Benny are some of the best musicians in the world, and it took a long time to find them and get a chemistry together.  My desire is to keep a core band together for the long run.  We actually took our time and spent a lot of effort, time, and money to make sure we had the right lineup for King James.  As it so happens, there is a continuity from Whitecross to King James.  But, don't comfuse things by saying, "same band/different singer".  The mindset, the musical goals, the way we go about doing things....all very different.

G2G:  Rex, let's go back a bit, if you don't mind.  A lot of people probably don't realize there was life before Whitecross for you, correct?

Rex:  (Laughing)  Yes, there was me and my guitar...

G2G:  Let's talk a little bit about Fierce Heart, a band that I really like, but that disappeared almost before you even really had a chance to get started.

Rex:  (Laughing)  What a mess.  First, let me start off by saying this isn't just me and sour grapes.  People will probably say, "Oh, Rex is just pissed off at Larry," but there is so much, and it's all true.

G2G:  Larry refers to the singer, Larry Elkins, correct?

Rex:  Yeah.  He was a trip and a half.  I mean, Larry always needed two limos when we went anywhere...one for him and one for his ego.  (Laughing)  They had to widen all the doorways at Unique Studio just to fit his head through!

G2G:  Ouch!

Rex: (Laughing)  I remember him and the drummer...they NEVER had any money.  (Rex talking in his redder-than-redneck southern accent) "Ray-ex, I GOT to go to the club tonight...loan me some money."  So, I'd pull out a five, knowing full well it's gone, and he'd look at me, "Ray-ex, man, that's not enough.  Make it a ten!"  Never once did he thank me.  It's interesting that he always thought of us as a group, except when it came to himself.  "We gonna be a super-group, Ray-ex!"

G2G:  (Laughing)

Rex:  One thing he and Scotty (the drummer) both seemed fascinated by was the idea of firing people.  I remember one time, Larry was with Tom, the bass player.  "Now, listen, Tom...you can either do it MY WAY or you can GO HOME!"  One time, he got about an inch away from my nose and said, "Now, Ray-ex, ah can it me anutha gitah playah, but you CAIN'T find anutha singah!"

G2G:  (Laughing)  You have to stop with the accent, Ray-ex!  

Rex: (Laughing)

G2G:  What do you think of the record, though?

Rex:  I'm disappointed with it, honestly.  (Laughing)  Now you got me going, man!  Here, let me give you some background.  Jim Delehart, the great A&R guru at Atlantic Records called me on the phone because I had sent in a cassette tape to the label.  I wanted to get an audition with Whitesnake, and he personally listened to my cassette.  When I realized who I was talking to, my while body started shaking uncontrollably and I dropped the phone...CRASH!!!...on the floor.  (Laughing)  I didn't have a singer, so Jim said, "let's build a band around you."  Mind blowing, right?  Or maybe not...you really can't appreciate that unless you lived in the era where having a record deal with a major label actually meant something HUGE!

G2G:  I'm that old, Rex...I remember!  

Rex:  Jim Delehant, by the way, is the man who personally signed AC/DC to their American record contract.  He also signed Foreigner to the label.  One experience I'll never forget.  I was sitting in his office and he played the cassette tape for me of Foreigner rehearsing in Mick Jones' basement!  It was totally...unreal.  They were all playing and singing on the cassette tape, live, doing all the songs from their first album, and there was no AutoTune, no time-correction, no cut and paste, no ProTools....just 5 guys.  It was absolutely amazing.

G2G:  Wow...that would have been amazing!  Foreigner is one of my all-time favorite bands....

Rex:  Anyways, from the time he contacted me I was driving all over Chicago with the Illinois Entertainer "musicians wanted" ads in one hand, and my tape recorded in the front seat.  I never did find a pro-caliber singer the whole time.  Finally. Jim called me and said he had found Larry Elkins, from Virginia Beach.

G2G:  So the idea was to build around you, right?

Rex:  Pretty much, yeah.  So, once we had Larry, well...Larry assumed that the entire universe revolved around him "becuz I am the sangah!"  (Laughing)  You know, Larry used to lecture me about marriage.  (Laughing)  I've been married for a LONG time, but good ol' Larry made it clear to me, "Ray-ex, ah KNOW about mah-ridge.  Ah've been engayeged FIVE TIMES!"  (Laughing)  Then, him and the drummer would get into typical rock band conversations about girls they liked, and then he would say something along the lines of "oh, Ray-ex, y'all wouldn't know about THAT, now would ya?  You bein' the mahreed man and all..."  (Laughing)

So, anyway, once we had the deal in hand. Larry threw his weight around progressively more and more and more.  Finally, he made that comment to me about getting another guitar player.  But, I was young and, in reality, I had spent years of frustration actually trying to find a singer and couldn't do it, so it's partly my fault because I allowed it to happen.  I allowed him to get away with his "Larry-all-the-time-show" which I guess is the same thing as "enabling".  Anymore, I would just say, fine, whatever you need to do, you can pick up and go home RIGHT NOW if you think that's what you want to do.  But that's too logical, right?  (Laughing)  Besides, it doesn't make for a very good read, huh?  And, if there's one thing people want, it's drama.  Or even better, stupidity AND drama.  But, I digress...

G2G:  (Laughing)

Rex:  Coming to New York to live in Times Square for eight weeks was an eye-opening experience.  I lived at the Edison Hotel, on the corner of the Square.  To get to the studio, all you had to do was cross the Square diagonally, walk one block, and take the elevator up to the 4th floor.  Our recording schedule was 11 to 11 every day, but it was PM to AM.

G2G:  Yikes!

Rex:  (Laughing)  So...the education of Rex continued.  Every...single...time...I had to cross the street.  Two hookers and three drug dealers and a couple of muggers would literally come out to meet me in the middle of the street, because why else would you be there at 3 am, right?

G2G:  I hate cities!  (Laughing)

Rex:  My Christianity was put to the test, early and often.  Somehow or another, I made it through all of that.  I guess God was with me!  Maybe that and the fear of "social diseases"!  (Laughing)

G2G:  (Laughing)

Rex:  So, Jim Delephant and the mighty Chris Lord-Alge were the producers.  Chris did the mix on the record, and believe it or not, Tom Lord-Alge was the assistant.  Talk about the Council of the Engineering Gods, or something!  So, anyway, what they wanted me to do was record every song with multiple guitars.  No song had less than 32 tracks of guitar.  Some of them, I was required to play the solo 16 times in a row...and then they played them all back at the same time!  People walking into the studio would usually stop in stunned amazement.  My jaw was on the floor!  It was so...HUGE!  It was the most amazing thing I had ever heard in my life!  One song, I counted, had 164 tracks of just guitar!  It was just in different dimension altogether!

G2G:  That's like Blind Guardian kind of stuff!  (Laughing)

Rex:  And, to my everlasting disappointment, the biggest mistake of that record, probably, was the decision to mix all those guitar tracks down to two tracks.  A single track on the right and one on the left.  And then they did the typical 80's thing where the drums are the loudest thing on the record.  Larry, of course, sang his brains out, and you've got this never-before-heard sound that would have been just amazing, and they actually turned the guitars down kind of quiet, and ruined it, in my opinion.  Anyway...

G2G:  Wow...
Rex and Larry on the ORIGINAL album cover

ex:  The record was supposed to come out in October of 1984.  That fall, we go the call that we were booked to be the opening act for the Deep Purple reunion tour of 1985, which was huge!  But, then there was a problem with the cover.  And they didn't like the pictures, which didn't surprise me at all.  I thought the pictures were rather horrid, myself.  (Laughing)  So, they delayed the release until February of 1985....3 months...

G2G:  Ouch...

Rex:  ...and with that, we lost the shot at opening for Purple.  It just steamrolled from there.  The president of the label went and got a nasty divorce, our contract was sold to Polydor, things went downhill, and BOOM!...that was the end of that...  Scary how fast it all went in the toilet.

G2G:  (I show Rex a copy of the above picture)  Isn't the Internet a beautiful thing, Rex?  (laughing)

Rex:  See, told ya!  HORRIBLE picture!  However, the photo girl was waaaay into the guitar player!  (Laughing)  She kept going, "oooh, you look like Luke from General Hospital!"  I couldn't quite tell if she was hitting on me or if she was just trying to add some positive flow to the otherwise horrible photo shoot. (Laughing)  It didn't matter, anyway, because as you can see the picture sucked.  By the way, notice how Larry HAS to be in front in the picture?  Typical...

G2G:  Wow is about all I can think to say....

Rex:  I knew the photo shoot was a bad idea in the first place, but I didn't have the confidence to voice my opinion. let alone veto the cover photo idea...let alone insisting upon having actual input into the cover art.  I knew it was just all kinds of wrong, because anybody who looks at an album cover with only two guys on it knows immediately, "okay, this is not a REAL band", right?  This is why, in my opinion, the Black Keys...sorry guys, you can call it a band all day long, but no.  Sorry.  Number 1, you are disrespecting actual bands that work together, live together, fight it out together, and make it work with four or five people and personalities.  Number 2, you are nothing more than a duo, so in a sense you are somewhere on a scale between being disingenuous and out and out lying to the fans.  So, to recap, two people attempting to represent as a band...NO.  Glad to straighten that out for you.  (Laughing)

G2G:  (Laughing)

Rex:  See, I knew these things instinctively, but at the time I didn't know how to speak up.  Too bad, because that picture cost us.  (Laughing)  One thing I CAN say is Larry did nothing but make me miserable, 24-7.  It was a living nightmare.  I was SO happy to get back into a Christian rock band, which was Whitecross.  And, everything that I learned about life, people, the studio, how to play guitar, songwriting...I mean EVERYTHING...helped me in so many ways that I was able to guide Whitecross, at least to the point of getting us through our first album.  And, if I hadn't had that experience with Fierce Heart, I'm, quite sure I wouldn't have been able to do the Whitecross band thing, no question.

I've honestly got a lot of Fierce Heart stories.  I've been trying to write them down in a book, you know, for the half-dozen or so people that are intrigued with this kind of stuff.  I know I am.

G2G:  I'd buy the book!

Rex:  Well, there's one...  (Laughing)

G2G:  So, Fierce Heart basically implodes, but you aren't ready to give up on music yet.  How is Whitecross born from all of this?  

Rex:  When Fierce Heart was done...well, we actually did four shows first...but when we were done, there was no clear path to move forward, so I just went back to guitar teaching, waiting for another opportunity.  One day, Scotty Wenzel came through my door looking to bone up on his guitar skills.  "Christian music" was such an underground thing at the time that you didn't talk about it much in public, but Scotty had a Petra shirt on, so that was the cue for me that it was okay to talk about it.  So, anyway, we talked a bit and I found out he had a group together jamming in his basement.  I suggested we should get together so I could hear him sing...boy, he resisted that idea!  He did NOT want to do it, and he cancelled out on me 3 or 4 times.  Finally, I nailed him down.  He claimed he was sick, etc., etc., but he finally opened his mouth and did a little bit of "Dust In The Wind".  (Laughing)

G2G:  Your first listen to Scott was some Kansas karaoke?

Rex:  I just wanted to verify if he could hit pitches, and then get an idea of the sound of his voice.  From there, I went to his band practice.  On the one hand, when I heard him at rehearsal, I knew, "yep, this voice will definitely work in a rock band".  But, on the other hand, the band...wow...what a mess.  It was about a twenty year process to get to where Whitecross is now with Michael (Feighan) and Benny (Ramos).  We didn't start at "zero"...more like from way behind zero....


Ratt's Pearcy
G2G:  One thing that always seems to come up with regard to Whitecross is you were so frequently labeled the "Christian Ratt".  (Laughing)  What do you make of that?

Rex:  Yeah, I heard that a lot.  I'll be honest...I used to sit around my trailer park home with my guitar and a Marshall half stack, tweaking the controls all day long, trying to get that Ratt guitar sound.  For weeks on end!  (Laughing)

Scott Wenzell of Whitecross
G2G:  I love Ratt, man...always have.

Rex:  Yeah, so did I.  You know what?  Whitecross and Ratt should swap singers for a month, just because!  (Laughing)

G2G:  Yes!  Finally, the Christian Ratt is a reality!  (Laughing)

Rex:  Scotty would come out on stage with Ratt and go, "are you ready to worship the Lord tonight!", and the crowd would be like, "What the...?!"  (Laughing)

G2G:  (Laughing)

Rex:  Pearcy would come out with us and go, "How the 'F' are ya?!"  (Laughing heavily)  The Whitecross crowd would also go, "What the...?!"  But the singers are IDENTICAL, right?!  (Laughing)  Listen, I know Whitecross gets compared to Ratt.  Let me tell you, I've seen Ratt.  I get the impression that Stephen Pearcy has a two word vocabulary, and one of them is the "F" word.  I know it's hard to imagine, but there is a certain percentage of people that are not all that impressed.  I love the music, I just want to live for something larger than my own little kingdom of being a rock star.  But, other than the language, the vocal resemblance between Pearcy and Scotty is uncanny.


G2G:  Honestly, I never really heard it.  Some similarity, sure, but not like some people who made them out to be vocal clones...

Rex:  Thing is, Scotty actually had no idea who Ratt was.

G2G:  Really?

Rex:  Nope.  No clue.  But, I liked it when people compared us.m  I took it as a compliment, actually.

G2G:  I've heard that for all intents and purposes, you played virtually everything on that first Whitecross record...

Rex:  Not completely true.  I wrote most of the songs, arranged most of the parts, and ghosted all of the bass parts for the first two albums.  Then, starting with Triumphant Return, the record company
insisted on bringing in Rick Cua to play bass.  I resisted it at first, but I'm very glad it happened.  I ended up learning a LOT from Rick, and he's a really nice guy on top of that!

G2G:  That's funny to me.  I remember hesitantly liking Rick's song, "I Can, I Will", but not admitting to it because it wasn't hard rock or metal at all...

Rex:  Well, yeah.  (Laughter)  There's no question I pushed him HARD to bring out his rock side.  I think Rick is a guy who was a rocker at heart....don't forget he played in the Outlaws...but he wrote the kind of music that he felt he needed to do to sell the most albums at that time so as to take care of his family.  I don't fault him, or anyone else, for doing that.  But, like you, I'm not much of a fan of the AOR sound.  To put it differently, I like MY music, which ranges from hard rock to blues.  Some metal, but I'm not a "core" guy, either.  I like melody and soulfulness.  I LOVED the whole 80's/90's era Whitesnake vibe, for example.  Soulful vocals, melodic songs, incredible musicians, and guitars to melt your brain...and make you practice!  I'm also really into Stevie Ray Vaughn and blues in general.

G2G:  I've always been curious as to why there was a lyrical change in "Stoplight" from the Axemen compilation to the version on Triumphant Return.

Rex:  Is there?  (Laughing)  I don't know...

The Axemen cover
G2G:  Yeah, the line on The Axemen goes, "He said 'I am the way to God'", but on the album it goes, "'I am the way to God' he said..."  I always thought maybe someone was giving you or Scott flack for the phrasing...

Rex:  No, that would just be Scotty doing the things that he thought were important....

G2G:  Getting back to your statement about the record company telling you to bring in Cua...  Is there a lot of pressure to be Biblically sound and Scripturally accurate when you're on a Christian label like Pure Metal or Word, or were they really all that involved?

Rex:  It was a weird mix.  Yes, there was incredible pressure to be Biblically sound.  Way past the point of hypocrisy from the labels.  They put EXTREME pressure on the artists at all times.  Funny thing, though, whenever royalties are due, they (the labels) don't seem all that interested in stepping up.  Or, there are always "inaccuracies" that "will be fixed on the next statement".

That's a twisted, murky rabbit hole right there....the tightrope you try to walk representing CCM on the one hand, versus being real with all of your own shortcomings on the other hand.  But people don't want to see that.  They want to see perfection at all times...and, of course, inevitably you make a mistake of one sort or another and are revealed as who you really are...just another sinner who desperately needs the blood of Christ to cover a lifetime's worth of not making the grade.  In my case, it happens that my sins come with a skill to play guitar a little bit and a desire to at least point people in the right direction, towards Jesus.

Anyway...now that I've put a flame thrower on the labels...(laughing)...I would say that just as the dog is the natural enemy of the mailman, the label is the natural enemy of the artist.  BUT...if I was a label, I also think I might say to an upcoming artist, "What?!  You want me to give money to a ROCK band?  What are you?  Crazy?"  (Laughing)  "You'll just blow the money on motorcycles or something!"  (Laughter)

But, back to your point...I believe that, by and large, we upheld the ideal that we wanted to make music that was solid spiritually and would give people something positive to hang on to.  We WANTED to point people towards Christ, so we put as much pressure on ourselves as anyone else, including the people at the labels.

G2G:  We've spent so much time in the past, I want to make sure people know what's going on with you now.  You have a pretty big event coming up, right?

Rex:  You mean Rock Academy?

G2G:  Yeah!  What is it?  Are we talking School of Rock kinda stuff here...?

Rex:  Rock Academy is an event I started a year ago to offer a chance for musicians to come together and get some incredible interactive master classes with top-level instruction.  The whole flavor of the event is guided by my ideas and philosophies, so that's why it's called the "Rex Carroll Rock Academy" as opposed to any other "school of rock" out there.

Last year was phenomenal for us, and this year I'm looking for the same.  If people are interested in direct learning for guitar, drums, bass, and voice, that's who Rock Academy is for.  Really, it's an even for your whole band.  That's one of the ideas...to have the entire BAND making better music together.

G2G:  So, people are actually encouraged to participate as a band, if possible, correct?

Rex:  Oh, yeah...

G2G:  Who do you have participating as instructors?  I know you just announced Michael Feighan, right?

Rex:  Yep.  Benny will also be there.  Tamara Anderson is teaching voice this year.  She has a long list of successful students.  And then there's additional guitar instruction, not just from me.  Our local amazing prodigy, Straten Hammond, is gonna show us his Yngwie-like shred techniques...without the attitude (laughing).  And Peter Stenlund from Sweden is amazing at getting bands to play better and more as a unit, and he will be here as well.

G2G:  I know some people are going to ask, so I'll do it for them:  is this a Christian-only event?

Rex:  No, it's not.  It's a musical event.  (Laughter)  But, it is at the Christian high school in Kenosha, WI, so if that's okay, then we're good.

G2G:  So how do people find out more about the event, the activities, sign-ups, etc.?

Rex:  I need to do an update, but the basic rundown can be found at http://rexcarrollmusic.com/rock_academy_2015/ 

G2G:  Sounds like a lot of fun!

Rex:  It will be, Arttie...you should come.

G2G:  (Laughter)  Trust me, you don't want me singing or playing a guitar!

Rex:  (Laughter)

G2G:  Rex, this has been a lot of fun, and thanks for being so candid about things.  We need to do this again sometime...maybe when you...or WE...get done writing that book!  (Laughter)

Rex:  I'd love to, Arttie...  Thanks!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Well, there you have it, folks...  What a GREAT guy to meet and talk to.  Very humble, very down-to-earth, and also very honest and willing to talk a little "trash" when necessary.  Check out his website at www.rexcarrollmusic.com and also check out Rock Academy at that same site.  You can also find him on Facebook, along with his bands, Whitecross and King James.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

JACK RUSSELL'S GREAT WHITE "Hard Habit" (Single Release)


(c) 2015 Digital Single

  1. Hard Habit
Jack Russell--Lead Vocals
Tony Montana--Guitars, Keyboards
Robbie Lochner--Lead Guitars
Chris Tristam--Bass
Dicki Fliszar--Drums

Man, oh man, am I gonna hate it if this is the way Jack is going to go about releasing music now!!!  I am simply NOT a digital singles kinda guy.  What I AM, however, is a monster Great White fan and collector, so I had no choice but to download this song when I found out about it, and I'm glad I did.

"Hard Habit" is the first single release by Jack Russell's Great White, the now legally-named version of the band headed up by the band's iconic lead singer and now featuring the return of Tony Montana.  Montana, you may recall, was with the band during the height of their industry success, playing bass on both Once Bitten... and ...Twice Shy, as well as on their Live In London import EP, and the massively underrated, Hooked.  Montana returns to the fold, but now as a guitar player and keyboardist, which is an interesting turn.  Also in the band is Jack's longtime guitar side-kick, Robbie Lochner, and newcomers Tristam and Fliszar on bass and drums, respectively.

"Hard Habit" is pure late-era Great White, no bones about it.  The bass-thumping shuffle of the music, the bluesy slide of the guitars, the sassy rasp of Jack's voice, and the classic phrasing of the lyrics leave absolutely ZERO doubt as to who is performing this track that could have slotted in nicely on Can't Get There From Here or Back To The Rhythm, back before the band fractured.  Is this the best Great White song ever?  No...but it's better than anything the non-Jack version has released, and would have been one of the strongest tracks on the last couple of full-band efforts.  As it stands, this is a nice re-introduction of Jack's version of the band, a nice return for Montana, and REPORTEDLY (we'll have to see) the first single off of a Jack Russell's Great White album (rumored to be tentatively titled Gauntlet).  For now, I'll put it into the mix of my recent favorites from a band that I have loved for so long that I simply can't let go of them.  And, in all fairness, "Hard Habit" is a good song to hold on to if you are a fan of the band's more classic sound, because Mark Kendall's version of the band seems to have forgotten what Great White was all about from about 1991 through the Back To The Rhythm era.

Rating:  I don't rate singles, but I would encourage fans of Great White to snag this on iTunes or Amazon and check it out.  Definitely not going to disappoint fans of Jack Russell or Great White.

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BLOODGOOD "Dangerously Close"

(c) 2013 B. Goode Records

  1. Lamb Of God
  2. Run Away
  3. Child On Earth
  4. I Will
  5. Bread Alone
  6. Pray
  7. I Can Hold On
  8. Run The Race
  9. Father Father
  10. Man In The Middle
  11. Crush Me
  12. In The Trenches
Les Carlson--Lead Vocals
Michael Bloodgood--Bass, Backing Vocals
Paul Jackson--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Oz Fox--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Kevin Whisler--Drums

If you have been awake at all for the past 8-10 years, it has become obvious that everything old is new again in the music world.  80's bands are enjoying a resurrection of sorts, playing to large crowds and festivals across the country, even if they aren't able to crack the Billboard charts any longer.  Bands seem to be reuniting on a regular basis these past several years, and new albums are coming out of nowhere from bands that many people had long-since written off.

The same phenomenon has occurred in the Christian hard rock and metal market as well.  Recent releases by Stryper, Saint, Barren Cross, Deliverance, Guardian, Tourniquet, and others, have shown that there is still a market for many of these so-called "legacy" bands to put out new material and possibly take one more run at getting out there to see their fans in live settings.  Add Bloodgood to the mix of bands taking at least one more stab at adding to their already rather significant legacy within the Christian hard rock and metal community.

Twenty-two years had passed since Bloodgood released what was their most commercial, and at least to me, their most complete album, All Stand Together, WAY back in 1991.  Prior to that, the band released several albums to fairly high amounts of acclaim, particularly with their much more metallic-sounding album, Detonation (1987), and 1988's Rock In A Hard Place.  But All Stand Together seemed to be the band's first real stab at making any kind of attempt to grab some of the mainstream melodic hard rock/hair metal market of the late 80's/early 90's...and it failed.  Personally, I love the album, but it is definitely an album that seemed to divide the band's fanbase and actually had the opposite effect that I felt it should have.  Instead of making them more popular, the band promptly disappeared, never to be heard from again....  

Until 2013.  Seemingly out of nowhere, Bloodgood showed up on Kickstarter with a plan for not only a new album, but also a career-spanning documentary film (which will hopefully see the light of day now in 2015).  In addition to returning with some of the strongest material...and some of the heavier material in several albums...the band also returned with their Out Of The Darkness album line-up along with a new friend to help them out on guitar, as Oz Fox of Stryper fame not only recorded the album, but also became a full-fledged member of the band.  

From the second the CD starts playing, it is evident that even though 20+ years have passed, the musical ability of the band is still very much intact.  Closer to the more metallic-natured material of their earlier albums, Dangerously Close comes out swinging right from the start with "Lamb Of God", which is probably the most "radio friendly" track here.  Whisler's drums kick the track off before a gritty guitar track enters, matched in grittiness by the love-'em-or-hate-'em vocals of Mr. Les Carlsen, who sounds literally EXACTLY like he did all those years ago.  Not to be overshadowed by his more-famous guitar partner, Paul Jackson rips into a tasty solo just before the bridge of the song, showing that he has the chops to carry the guitar load if necessary.  Also obvious on this song (and throughout the album) is a MUCH stronger bottom end than had been present on the last few Bloodgood discs, courtesy of the band's namesake member, Michael Bloodgood.  (Honestly, I always found it odd the bass was typically mixed so low in the band's previous releases considering the bass player was the founding member and the guy the band is named after...)  

"Run Away" again sports a chunky bass groove and a strong melodic sensibility throughout, again utilizing a solo from Jackson and a spoken/whispered word section from Carlsen to really establish an urgency to the mood of the track.  Interestingly, this song was also co-written by another former long-time member of the band, David Zaffiro, who also mastered the record, really giving this album a full "family reunion" feel to it.

"Child On Earth" has a killer classic 70's metallic vibe to it right from the outset, conjuring up a doomy, sludgy style that is really given a haunting quality when Carlsen sing/chants "amen" as part of the chorus.  This song is also the first to give Fox a chance to step up to the guitar solo podium, and he does not disappoint, as he lays down a smoldering solo, but one that fits with this song and this band, not one that is reminiscent of anything Stryper has done in the past.  No rehashed work from Fox on this track, just good, good stuff here.  Carlsen also shows that he is more than capable of still reaching the upper-ends of his register with ease, never sounding strained...and certainly not auto-tuned...when he cuts loose with a scream, or when he drops into lower register, either, for that matter.  

"I Will" slithers directly out of "Child On Earth", using a slightly middle-eastern sound to the guitar licks that kick off the song.  This is one of my favorite tracks on the album, although it is not one that I have seen given much love by other reviews or when I read fans talking about the album.  I think Carlsen sounds especially strong here, with a powerful vibrato utilized when necessary on the chorus, and a really nice solo from Jackson that sounds like it was actually recorded twice and layered ever so slightly to give it that Maiden-esque twin guitar feel.  

"Bread Alone" features some excellent double-kick work from Whisler, and on this track Oz's backing vocals are the most noticeable to me.  Straight forward American heavy metal is the order of the day on this number and the band serves it in top notch fashion.  

Without breaking the rest of the record down on a track-by-track basis, it is safe to say that the rest of the album is as good, or nearly so, as the first half of the disc.  Three tracks, "Run The Race", "Father, Father", and "Man In The Middle" all feature solos from both Jackson and Fox, and, as you may expect, all are really well-crafted.  In fact, "Man In The Middle", with its tribal drum intro and aggressive rhythm guitar section, would possibly steal the honors as best song on the album if it weren't for the powerful, plodding metal of album closer, "In The Trenches".  "Pray" sports a killer "chugga-chugga" riff and some thunderous drumming to drive the simple-yet-punchy track along until it collides head-long with one of Jackson's best solos.

Despite being a more metal-edged band than many in the 80's Christian world, Bloodgood has never shied away from the occasional ballad, and they don't change formulas on Dangerously Close.  "I Can Hold On" is the first slower moment on the record, featuring a blusier take on a classic rock ballad.  Don't think "power ballad" because that is not what this is; think 70's classic rock ballad with no keys, no acoustic interludes, or any of that other fluff that all to often found its way into 80's ballads.  "Father, Father", which I mentioned before, also features a bluesy feel to it, but it takes a more 80's top-40 rock ballad approach than the classic rock vibe of "I Can...".

If I had to pick one song that doesn't do a lot for me it would be the third ballad, the mistitled (in my opinion) "Crush Me".  Rather than a smack-you-in-the-mouth metal song, this is an acoustic ballad that just doesn't grab me.  It is nicely played and Les pours his soul into his vocal performance, as he has always done on his ballads, but this one just feels like it is missing something.   

The packaging is decent, if not spectacular.  The inner sleeve is a tri-fold with writing credits, guitar solo credits, and a brief thank-you section, as well as a section for the higher-end Kickstarter supporters.  A single band group photo is included, as is a rather artistic shot of the band's guitars, bass, drums, and microphone.  The back cover of the tray insert also features a different full-color photo of the band.  No lyrics are included.

Produced by Jackson, co-produced by Bloodgood and Carlsen, mixed by Mark Simmons, and mastered by David Zaffiro, the sound on the record is top-notch throughout.  As I said, it is really nice to hear a Bloodgood record with a solid bottom end, and the separation of instruments is clear with no muddiness at all.

If this is the book-end on this classic Christian metal outfit's career, it is definitely a solid one and shows a band going out on a high point.  If it is NOT the end (and greedy me, I hope it's not), I can honestly say I am more than anxious to hear how Bloodgood follows up a stellar return to form.

Rating:  ALL puns intended, Dangerously Close is dangerously close to the best this band has ever recorded.  Crank this to an 8.5.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

IMMORTAL GUARDIAN "Revolution Part I"

(c) 2015 Independent Release

  1. Beyond The Skies
  2. Walk Alone
  3. Immortal (featuring Roy Z.)
  4. Between Fire And Ice
  5. Victory Shore
Carlos Zema--Lead Vocals
Gabriel Guardian--Guitars, Keyboards
Cody Gilliland--Drums
Thad Stevens--Bass

Additional Musicians
Foster Minor--Bass
Jyro Alejo--Gutars
Roy Z.--Guitar solo on "Revolution"

Okay, so I was sent this EP for review, and I honestly paid very little attention to it at first.  Yeah, the artwork was cool and all, but I just didn't feel particularly inspired to pop it into the player and give it a spin.  But then, one rainy day, I thought, "What the heck", and put Revolution Part I in for a spin.  To say I was taken completely by surprise would be an understatement.  Then, when I read these guys were from Texas, it is the understatement of the year to say I was completely blown away!

Immortal Guardian play Euro power/speed metal in the vein of such names as Helloween, Blind Guardian, Beyond Twilight, Demons & Wizards, Dragonforce and the like.  BUT THEY ARE FROM TEXAS, PEOPLE!!!  (I honestly can't overstate that fact, even if its for my own reminding...)

First off, the music is just blistering fast from start to finish, with very little in the way of a slow down moment through out the five tracks included here.  Honestly, when I hear music like this, I have no idea how fingers can move so quickly up and down a guitar's neck and still find the notes they are seeking, because this borders on the insane at times.  Add in the lightning fast drumming and I'm not sure that my heartrate wasn't altered simply by listening to this EP!  On top of all of this...and some excellent bass playing as well, mind you...Carlos Zema has one of those voices that can sing, growl (in limited quantities), and scream, all seemingly at maximum quality and volume with minimal effort, often times within the same song.  (I have since read that Zema is not the original vocalist and that his power metal approach is actually something of a departure from a more gutteral, growling style incorporated by previous vocalists, but I am not familiar with them...)

The album launches from the speakers with "Beyond The Skies", which quickly drew a parallel to Blind Guardian for me.  The huge, layered backing vocals power this rather uplifting track that features Zema pretty much running the gamut as far as vocal styles go, starting off with high pitched, melodic screams then dropping down into more of an edgy tenor range on the verses, then elevating the pitch and vibrato once again to join the harmony vocals on the chorus.  The drumming here is so fast it borders on grindcore speed at times, and the insane amount of guitar notes that are picked per measure just blows my mind.  In terms of sheer note density, I can't say that I have come across a band with so much going on since some of Theocracy's material.  Shred is almost too tame of a word for the speed involved here, but it is also almost a dirty word when describing Immortal Guardian's sound, as this is not guitar-bation simply for wankery's sake; the solos, intricate and blazing, are well-placed and serve to enhance the song, not the other way around.

"Walk Alone" starts off a bit more slowly than its predecessor with more of an orchestral buildup interrupted occasionally by psycho bursts of guitar and drum speed and the occasional tinkling of a piano.  Zema again trends toward the lower end of his register, adding a bit of snarl to his vocals on the verses, then elevates and absolutely tears into the high-pitched screams so many people associate with this style of power metal.

"Immortal" starts off with a very scratchy-sounding vinyl approach for an intro, with a piano and Zema's voice being all that is utilized here for instruments.  Slowly the music clears up as Zema builds into a power scream and Guardian's guitars come sweeping in, backed by Gilliland's sprinter-styled drumming and a pummeling bass line.  Roy Z, himself, gets in on the action here, delivering his own scorching solo, although I will be 100% candid in stating that I don't think even the mighty Z holds a candle to the fire and fury that Guardian displays throughout this disc.

"Between Fire And Ice" must have been a rest-point for Gilliland, in particular, as this is the slowest number on the EP.  Sporting a strong piano line, big, splashy, punchy orchestration, more Blind Guardian-esque backing vocals, and Zema spending the majority of his time in the lower tenor range, this song really serves to showcase the fact that this band is more than just a musical treadmill jacked to maximum speed and endlessly looping the same types of riffs, solos, drum fills, and keyboard interludes over and over.  No, "Between Fire And Ice" showcases strong songwriting skills and an understanding of the fact that as dazzling as speed can be, there comes a time when you start to appear to be a one-trick pony if the only way you know how to play is full-speed ahead.  

Album closer "Victory Shore" returns to a quicker pace, although the band remains at least somewhat restrained at the beginning of this six-minute long track.  Zema incorporates some harsher, almost barked vocals for part of the verses, but they are rather short in nature and don't detract from the melodic speed metal majesty of the track as a whole.  Once again, Guardian unleashes a searing solo with some absolute breakneck drumming on the part of Gilliland, whom I imagine must lose 8-10 pounds of sweat per show, just based on the music on this EP.

After listening to this entire EP several times through, it becomes immediately obvious why worldwide names such as Judas Priest, Dragonforce, Metal Church, Kamelot, Symphony X, and even Slayer, have called upon this indie Texas band to open for them, as their talent is massive.  I do wonder if some of these bands changed their minds upon seeing the fury of Immortal Guardian unleashed at hyperdrive speed live, because I'm quite sure many new fans were made and some older fans of the headliners may have turned to their heroes with questions of "soooo....can you top THAT?!"

Mixed by Roy Z., my only complaint is that the bass feels a bit lost in the mix at times, perhaps due to the overwhelming amount of guitar that fills these songs.  The keys are not heavily out in front, which is always a pet peeve of mine, and Zema blends perfectly into these songs rather than trouncing over the top of the rest of the band.  Very nicely done, especially for an indie project.

Absolutely not what I was expecting, and something that I am glad I coaxed myself into giving a chance to.  If you are into the Euro power sounds of Blind Guardian, Kamelot, Hammerfall, and all of those other Eurocentric power metal/speed metal bands, whom I admittedly am not overly well-versed in, I would imagine you will fall in love with Immortal Guardian's new direction and sound on Revolution Part I.  Do NOT plan on using this EP for relaxation purposes, however, as your pulse rate will be JACKED upon completion of this fret-melting scorcher that I am certain involved the loss of blood and possibly consciousness while being created!

Rating:  Shockingly crankable.  A bit short at just over 26 minutes, but relentless in its execution.  Crank this to 8!

Friday, June 5, 2015

TALKIN' TRASH WITH....REY PARRA of Worldview/Sacred Warrior!



Rey Parra, the former lead singer of Sacred Warrior, one of the first true power metal bands in the Christian metal scene, has returned to the music scene with a brand new band, a brand new album, and a brand new interview here on Glitter2Gutter!  Hang on as Rey talks about his new band, Worldview, hanging with the guys from Bloodgood and Vengeance Rising, the state of the Christian music scene today, and what it's like to work with a legendary guitar player like George Ochoa!


Several years...and inches of hair...ago in Sacred Warrior!
G2G:  Rey, first I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview!  You are definitely one of the main voices behind a very important part of my teen-aged years...

Rey:  My pleasure, Arttie.

G2G:  So, Worldview has FINALLY dropped...and to extremely good reviews thus far (see the G2G review HERE).  How does it feel to finally have it out there?

Rey:  Arttie, it's such a blessing to see how well people have empbraced our music.  We believed it would be a great album, but never did we dream of getting such great reviews.

G2G:  This is a project that, in a sense, has been in the making for 6 or 7 years now, right?  I mean, going back to Rick's initial desire to get you and George Ochoa together, correct?

Rey:  I guess you can say that, yes...

G2G:  Can you talk a little bit about how the idea was presented to you?

Rey:  No!  (Laughing)  Just kidding.  In 2007, Rick and I worked in San Antonio, Texas.  Rick lived there and I actually stayed with him for 7 months or so.  During those months, we often spoke of doing some music outside of Sacred Warrior.  Rick came up with the idea of collaborating with George Ochoa.  We toyed with the idea every once and awhile, but we never really got serious about pursuing it.  Some years later, Rick came to Florida to visit me.  I remember it was a Friday night and Rick told me he was going to visit some friends in Orlando but he would be back on Sunday for church.  He never made it back; he died on Sunday.  After that, I contacted Ochoa and told him that I thought it would be a good idea to fulfill Rick's dream of us working together.

G2G:  Did you previously know George, or just know OF him?

Rey:  Yes, we had done some shows together...

G2G:  I have to tell you, in my teenage naivete, I had this vision of there being this big "Intense Records club" of sorts, where automatically Sacred Warrior and Deliverance and Vengeance Rising, Bloodgood, whomever...Angelica, Tourniquet...you all just knew each other and hung out all the time....

Rey:  Actually, we are all friends.  Good friends.  We hook up whenever we can.  The other guys actually see each other more than I do 'cause they are all in Cali and I'm in Florida.

G2G:  Interesting.  That kind of brings me to my next question...  How did the recording process for Worldview work?  Did you have to go to California for recording sessions or did technology play a big part in getting the record put together?

Rey:  Yes, I flew to Cali several times for the final tracks, but we did collaborate through technology.

G2G:  So did you each come in with some song ideas and just collaborate taht way?  I noticed George listed on all of the tracks, but you contributed to some of the songs as well...

Rey:  George had most of the stuff mostly written, then I came along and added my flavor and also helped make changes.  But, I would have to give George most of the credit for writing.  He has a great way of seeing the end product.  There were several times when I called George and told him that a certain part did not appeal to me.  I also helped in the arrangement of some of the songs.  But, yeah, George is the mastermind behind Worldview songs.  What I brought was my instrument: my voice.

G2G:  So did you have any doubt that you still could "bring it" vocally?  Did you have to work your way back into "rock" shape?

Rey:  I'm going to say this as humbly as I can.  No, I had no doubts.  I told the Lord that as long as He continues to bless me with a voice, I will always use it for His glory.  Yes, I did have to bring out the vocal scales and breathing exercises, though.  But I never doubted my ability to sing again.  I continually protect my vouce and I try to keep it in good shape.

G2G:  After you left Sacred Warrior, did you ever feel like, "Well, that's it.  God must have something else in mind for me because I just don't see the band thing or recording thing happening again"?

Rey:  Not at all, bro.  I decided to leave Sacred Warrior, but it was because I was burnt out from being on the road.  I continued to sing, but at my church, Calvary Christian Center.  I believed I would record again, but I did not know at what level.

Rey's last official Sacred Warrior album

G2G:  Well, you certainly still have the power to your voice, which I have always said was one of my favorites.  At least vocally, it sounds to me like this could have been done not that long after Obsessions, so that's amazing to me.

Rey:  Thank you, brother.  To God be the Glory...

G2G:  I've probably listened to The Chosen Few a dozen times or more now, and I'm thoroughly amazed at the overall product.  What I noticed a lot is that contrary to what many people might have expected, this isn't Sacred Warrior 2 or Recon 2.  Worldview is its own band with its own style.  Was that a conscious decision?

Rey:  Absolutely.  Yes, it definitely was...




 G2G:  How important is the message of a song for you?  Not that you would ever go out and start singing Slayer songs or anything, but how direct do you want your lyrics to be when you are putting a song together?

Rey:  I want God to get the glory for my singing, not me.  But, I also want to write songs about real life issues.  People will always hear God's heart through our lyrics and songs, but they will also be entertained.

G2G:  That's a great point you make.  I was just reading something on Facebook the other day that another prominent Christian rock artist had posted about the Christian music scene changing so much in the past few years.  One point that was made in the thread by several people was that Christian bands frequently write lyrics now that are so generic they could be about anything.

Rey:  So true.  Times have definitely changed, but I believe that Christians also want good music.  Not every song has to be a turn or burn song.  You see, if people know who you are and what you believe and hold true to your heart, they aren't going to question what your songs are about.  If we, as Christians, can't have entertainment from Christian bands and artists, they (Christians) will probably get it from the world.

G2G:  Do Christian bands also have to be mindful of turning people away by being too focused on, as you referred to them, "turn or burn" lyrics?

Rey:  I don't think so.  There are people who really just want ministry-type songs.  They hold onto those lyrics and embrace the concept of turn or burn lyrics, so its good...but it's not for everyone.  I'm not saying water down the message.  You can hear with our songs "Last Cry" and "Two Wonders" that we are definitely strong about our love for Christ but not every song on the album is like that.

G2G:  I absolutely love "Last Cry", which is one of my favorites on the album, for sure.  That brings me to my next question, which a lot of people tell me is unfair, but I'm going to ask it anyway.  Most people tell me it's like trying to choose between children, but if you had to choose two or three songs that really stand out for you from The Chosen Few, which would they be, and why?

Rey:  "Last Cry", for obvious reasons.  I really like the way the song turned out and because George was able to really bring out the best qualities in my voice.  I say that with all humility.

I would also have to say...."Mortality".  That song speaks of how people need to understand taht all earthly things end.  No one vexes death or judgement.  I also really like that one because of it's originality.

G2G:  It is definitely original.  I really like the Middle Easter musical parts to it...they really add a unique feel to a pretty heavy song.  Okay, since you brought him up, I have to ask:  What is it like to work with George Ochoa?  Is he pretty intense, laid back, challenging, funny....?  I've spoken with George on the phone a couple of times and he comes across as somewhat intense, but also pretty easy to talk to with a sarcastic kind of humor...


George...2nd from right...in his "other" band
Rey:  (Laughing)  George is a funny guy.  I think George should be asked how it was for HIM to work with ME, because I'm the crazy one.  (Laughing)  George is a great guy and very focused during the sessions.  He cuts loose at times and we had lots of laughs, but it was a great time laying down the tracks.  No challenges to speak of.  We just clicked and it seemed that we were both going in the same direction.

G2G:  Were you there when Les Carlson (Bloodgood) or Larry Farkas (Vengeance Rising/Once Dead) or Oz Fox (Stryper/Bloodgood) were in the studio?

Rey:  I was there a few times when Larry came by, but not when he laid down his tracks.  I wasn't there when Les came by, either.  Oz recorded his tracks elsewhere and sent them to George.

G2G:  George has been pretty up front and aggressive online against people pirating music in general, and pirating the Worldview album specifically.  How much do you think piracy has hurt the industry in general, and maybe even more so in the smaller Christian music market?

Rey:  It's stealing for sure.  Many artists rely on album sales to support their families, and pirating takes away sales, therefore taking hard earned money from the bands.  It has a negative impact on everyone involved.

G2G:  So, to make it easier for people, how can they get the new Worldview album legally?

Rey:  There are many ways to get it, but the best are to either go to www.worldviewmetal.com or www.amazon.com

G2G:  Rey, again, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.  It's been an honor.

Rey:  Thank you, Arttie, for the interview.  Hope I didn't sound too whacked out or prideful in any way (laughing).  Honestly, I totally sold out for Jesus and give Him all the glory.

G2G;  You were great, Rey.  Thanks again, best of luck, and God bless!

Rey:  You too, my brother...

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Well, there you have it.  Nothing too "trashy", but what did you expect from a truly classy guy like Rey Parra?  If you haven't done so yet, I encourage you to check out our review of the new Worldview album, The Chosen Few.  If you like what you hear...and I'm certain you will...you may also want to check out Rey's catalog with Sacred Warrior, as well as George's work with Deliverance and his own band, Recon.

Rey's Sacred Warrior catalog