Monday, July 28, 2014

Wiley, Stephen - "Rhythm and Poetry"



Wiley, Stephen - Rhythm and Poetry
1990, StarSong

1. Attitude
2. Colorblind
3. Soulfood
4. Love God Hate Sin
5. You're My All
6. Peace
7. Fight to the Finish
8. On the Devil's Case
9. Teenage Mutant Youth Group Member

I remember Stephen Wiley because back in the day my mother bought this tape. Not for me, mind you. She didn't think it was rap. I think she thought it was going to be like Larnelle Harris or something. Yes, yes, I see the letters of the album spell "R A P" too. I don't know why she didn't see it. Anyway, I liked it okay but was never too enamored with it for whatever reason. He's got an old school rap style with early 90's hip-hop music. I actually enjoyed it more now than I did then. Go figure. Extra points for using the Inspector Gadget theme in "On the Devil's Case." Also, "Teenage Mutant Youth Group Member" features a cornucopia of pop-culture stuff - the Ninja Turtles, Pee-Wee Herman, etc. Of course here's the *sigh* rap ballad, "You're My All." Folks, there's the thing, at some point you're just talking. That's what "You're My All" is. He's just talking over slow music. ARGH! I. HATE. RAP. BALLADS. Other than that though, it's a fun little CD, and a fun little trip down memory lane. Like I said, I enjoyed it a lot more now than I did then.

Useless Fact: From what I've read Stephen Wiley was one of the first Christian rappers ever with his song "Bible Break." Also, Rex Carroll of Whitecross fame plays guitar on the rock/rap mashup "Love God Hate Sin."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rex Carroll & The Bleed - "Take Back a Life"



Rex Carroll & The Bleed - Take Back a Life
1996/2011, Retroactive

1. These Shoes
2. Love Over All
3. Sake/Round the World
4. Hose Me Down
5. Let the Rain Fall Down
6. Me, My Orb, and Mine
7. Take Back a Life
8. Lies/That's the Way Life Goes
9. Too Late (Time Has Come)
10. Stay the Same

Take Back a Life is an interesting little piece of Christian rock history. Originally released under the name "The Bleed" with the album title of Ouch!, this disc was an attempt by Rex Carroll (of Whitecross) to reinvent himself. I remember seeing this in my local bookstore and even listening to the demo. I actually was impressed but then, for whatever reason, never got around to buying it.

After leaving Whitecross, Rex teamed up with Tim Bushong to try and create an album that would mesh well with the current music scene. Of course, most people know that by the mid 90's Rex Carroll had become persona non grata. In fact, the original record company, Rugged, didn't even list Rex or Tim in the liner notes. The question becomes, did this bid to be modern actually work? Well... no... and yes. It definitely didn't work commercially. I think part of the problem is that mid 90's music was made by emotionally hurt kids singing emotionally hurt music. Even in the Christian scene it was hard to find any kind of upbeat anything. Rex and Tim do not appear to be so tortured as they were adults with lives and a little perspective. As a result their music is lacking that sort of emotional writhing and suffering that was so common. Also, their lyrics, while not as evangelistic as Whitecross were still down right "in your face" compared to - let's say - a Tooth and Nail or Blonde Vinyl record.

So do they work musically? Absolutely. This is freaking Rex Carroll here. Imagine a mix of Alice in Chains with King's X and you have a good idea of what's going on. You can tell that Rex and Tim are professional musicians in every note. From the short little guitar ditty "Sake," to the almost bluesy/modern worship sounding "Let the Rain Fall Down," to the cool riff of the closing track the quality bleeds through. Ironically, I think it's another reason this album failed commercially. It was just too high quality at a time when Christian rock was loud and noisy punk inspired amateur hour. Or ska. Or swing. Remember when that was a thing? I suppose it's just not sloppy enough for true "grunge!" It's got too much precision. Anyway, this is a fine album that deserves to be enjoyed. It's cheap too, so you have no excuse!

Useless Fact: Here's what the original, awful cover art looked like:




Monday, July 14, 2014

Bigelf - "Into the Maelstrom"



Bigelf - Into the Maelstrom
2014, Inside Out

1. Incredible Time Machine
2. Hypersleep
3. Almost Gone
4. Alien Frequency
5. The Professor & the Madman
6. Mr. Harry McQuhae
7. Vertigod
8. Control Freak
9. High
10. Edge of Oblivion
11. Theater of Dreams
12. ITM

Here's something completely different. Bigelf is a progressive rock band, but instead of being clean and precise like Flower Kings, Transatlantic, or Spock's Beard they're dirty and heavy. There's just a mess of influences here. I hear Black Sabbath, Led Zepplin, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and ELO. The guitar and bass tones are fat and fuzzy. It's just cool, cool stuff from start to finish. Definitely a refreshing band that's really different from the stuff I'm used to listening to. The lyrics have a distinctly sci-fi slant to them - I almost want to say this is a concept album, but I'm not sure. Some people have complained about the mastering on this album as being horrible. I guess it just proves that I don't have the "magic ear" because I never had any problems with it.

Useless Fact: Ex-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy bangs the skins for this disc.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Iron Maiden - "Number of the Beast"



Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast
1982/1998, Sanctuary

1. Invaders
2. Children of the Damned
3. The Prisoner
4. 22 Acacia Avenue
5. The Number of the Beast
6. Run to the Hills
7. Gangland
8. Total Eclipse
9. Hallowed Be Thy Name

When I was growing up Number of the Beast was like numero uno on any Christian watchdog's hit-list. Just look at the cover art! There's Satan! The chorus of the title track says "666!" They're evil. Case closed. I mean looking at the lyrics and understanding the context would get in the way of sensationalism - and that crap sells! So yeah... contrary to popular Christian belief the song is far more "horror story" than "evil worship song." In fact, the narrator is expressing horror at what he's seeing, desperate to call the authorities. Also, let's take a look at that cover art again. Is the devil on strings like a puppet? Were Iron Maiden actually commenting on the true sovereignty of God? Um... probably not, but I think it's interesting nonetheless. It's got great anthemic songs - "The Prisoner" and "Run to the Hills." I don't have to tell anyone reading this that The Number of the Beast stands as a metal classic. An essential disc for any metalhead, Christian or no. Walmart chains regularly carry this album so you have no excuse not to buy it!

Useless Fact: While on the surface "22 Acacia Avenue" is about a hooker at said address. Of course, like a lot of Iron Maiden songs, a little digging reveals that it's actually against such things. It pleads for the lady to wake up, value herself, and get out of the situation.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Xandria - "Sacrificium"



Xandria - Sacrificium
2014, Napalm

1. Sacrificium
2. Nightfall
3. Dreamkeeper
4. Stardust
5. The Undiscovered Land
6. Betrayer
7. Until the End
8. Come With Me
9. Little Red Relish
10. Our Neverworld
11. Temple of Hate
12. Sweet Atonement

Sacrificium finds Xandria with their third vocalist in three albums, Diane Van Giersbergen (related to Anneke, maybe?). She's not quite as operatic as the last, but she does well and I really like her voice. I do miss Manuela though. They've also refined their sound a bit. I think the Celtic influences have faded back a bit, giving way to a more commercial sound. Slightly. I still prefer Neverworld's End over this one but I can confidently say that Xandria is one of my new favorite bands.

Useless Fact: I don't know this band well enough to have a fact. Other than the three vocalists in three albums thing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Xandria - "Neverworld's End"



Xandria - Neverworld's End
2012, Napalm

1. A Prophecy of Worlds to Fall
2. Valentine
3. Forevermore
4. Euphoria
5. Blood on My Hands
6. Soulcrusher
7. The Dream Is Still Alive
8. The Lost Elysion
9. Call of the Wind
10. A Thousand Letters
11. Cursed
12. The Nomad's Crown
Bonus Track
13. When the Mirror Cracks

The first time I heard samples from Neverworld's End I thought, "This is like Loreena McKennitt singing metal." Indeed, along with the crushing riffs and epic symphonies there's vocalist Manuella Kraller. She sounds like a more operatic version of McKennitt or, if the internet is to be believed ex-Nightwish singer Tajra. Not that that matters to me at all. The combination sounds awesome. The band also has, at least in this album, a distinct Celtic flavor - especially in songs like "Call of the Wind" and "Cursed." So yeah... Xandria: Celtic McKennitt metal. And it's awesome.

Useless Fact: Vocalist Manuela Kraller was only on this one album.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Choir - "Shadow Weaver"



The Choir - Shadow Weaver
2014, Galaxy 21

1. Shadow Weaver
2. What You Think I Am
3. It Hurts To Say Goodbye
4. Get Gone
5. We All Know
6. Two Clouds Are One
7. White Knuckles
8. Everybody's Got a Guru
9. The Soul of Every Creature Cries Out
10. Frequency of Light
11. Rhythm of the Road
12. The Antithesis of Blue
13. Shadow Weaver Reprise

I've had some problems reviewing the last few Choir albums. I'd listen to them, love them for the first two weeks, write a glowing review, then realize that I didn't end up really liking them as much as I did initially. I wanted to eliminate that problem with Shadow Weaver. I've been listening to this for months, marinating in it, waiting for the "honeymoon" period to be over. I think I can talk about it a little bit more objectively. It's the band's very first Kickstarter release (a campaign which I supported!). I think they really wanted to take their time with this one - get the whole band to write songs together and not worry so much about time or funding. I think all the hard work shows as this is the strongest album the 2010's albums. Where Midnight Sun was solid, but suffered from a boring middle bit and Loudest Sound was just completely light-weight, Shadow Weaver is a step up. Steve's lyrics are leaps and bounds better than the previous album - striking that perfect balance of personal, universal, poignant and beautiful. And while the choruses can be pretty simplistic at times I really connected with the songs. The music is just as weighty. I would be remiss to mention "What You Think I Am" which is probably the darkest, heaviest sounding song the band has done. Shadow Weaver isn't perfect, but it is more than sufficient to scratch my Choir itch.

Useless Fact: "It Hurts To Say Goodbye" is based off the band member's daughters moving away. It makes me think of the day my little girl will have to move away. It also makes me appreciate how much my own mother sacrificed in letting me go.