Music Review: FIRST STRIKE – Rock Of Offense

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first strike rock of offenseFIRST STRIKE
Rock Of Offense
Exit Records

I recall the fist time I heard of the band First Strike: It was by way of the Heaven’s Metal Collection compilation, back in 1995. It featured their song “Loneliness Kills”, a song of which I wasn’t exactly enamored with when I first heard it. I pretty much forgot about the band soon after that. About fifteen years later, then come across their only release, Rock Of Offense on a used cassette, and figured spending a buck on this wouldn’t be that much of a big deal. Quite frankly, I paid a lot more for a lot worse.

Hailing from Sacramento, California and forming in 1979, First Strike was one of the earlier hard rock bands in the Christian rock scene that leaned more toward the Daniel Band rather than the Petra side of things. Meaning, they had a more raw guitar-based rock sound than a polished CCM Radio quality to them. Their first and only full-length release, Rock Of Offense, was released on Exit Records, the same label that featured The 77s. As a matter of fact, the album itself was produced by Mike Roe, the main guy behind The 77s.

And that, my wonderful freaks, is all the information I was able to glean from scouring all of my regular sources (and a few not-so-regular sources). That, and the observation that, considering the mainstays on Exit Records were The 77s, Charlie Peacock and Vector, having a band like First Strike on the label was a bit of a departure, style-wise. Not that it’s never happened before, mind you.

Anyway, as far as the music goes, it’s kind of a heavier take on the AOR rock that was prevalent at the time, like Triumph, Scorpions and Quiet Riot, with a bit more melodic style going on. There are tons of guitar hooks and rather good solos going on, and while the vocals aren’t exactly setting me on fire, they certainly do the job. The songs are mostly standard mid-paced hard rockers, with some exceptions; the best song on here, I have to say, is “Prisoner”, as it has a heavier, faster riff that is more of a NWOBHM cut that I enjoyed immensely.

Had you told me Rock Of Offense was released in the later part of the 1980s, or even 1990, I wouldn’t have batted an eye, as it’s sadly the standard practice to wait for three or four years after the fact for a CCM band to start utilizing the style. But, Rock Of Offense was released in 1984, right at the time when this type of hard rock was starting to rise on AOR stations. Plus, the lyrics on the album weren’t afraid to go the darker route, taking on topics that weren’t exactly touched upon in your standard CCM Radio affair. So, for that, First Strike gets major points.

Overall, I have to say that, once again, I went in not expecting much, but finding myself rather pleased with the outcome. From what I understand, Rock Of Offense was never given the proper CD re-release, only getting released initially on the vinyl record and cassette formats. The production is a bit on the raw side but still good, and the cover art is not in keeping with the music contained (really, it looks more like a rejected Duran Duran cover); if you find a copy of this, pick it up, as it’s well worth your time to check out.


Music Review: GALACTIC COWBOYS – Long Way Back To The Moon

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galactic cowboys - long way back to the moonGALACTIC COWBOYS
Long Way Back To The Moon
Music Theory Recordings

Seventeen years. That’s how long it’s been since we were graced with a Galactic Cowboys album. And really, the understanding was that the band broke up after their last studio release, Let It Go, and thus no further album was to b expected. But, here we are, and not only do we have a brand spanking new Galactic Cowboys album, but it’s also from the original lineup that recorded Galactic Cowboys and Space In Your Face. So, after all of these years, how does Long Way Back To The Moon hold up?

Short answer to that: pretty darn fantastic.

Oh, man, I got to tell you, when the opening chords of the lead-in song “In The Clouds” started, that unique tingly feeling you get whenever you’re listening to a genuine Galactic Cowboys album hit me, and I could stop grinning until the final song ended an hour later. You know what I mean. At least, I hope you do. Because it’s rather hard to describe using words and such. Ironic, no?

Anyway, the music on Long Way Back To The Moon finds the band not even skipping a beat, like it hasn’t even been that long between the last release. Meaning, we get the quality signature style of crunchy heavy metal and rock riffs and hooks paired with the mesmerizing Beatles-esque harmony and tongue-in-cheek sense of humor in the lyrics that the band is known for. I would say that Long Way Back To The Moon has much in common with Machine Fish, as the songs are quite heavy in the execution throughout the album, including the ones that my be considered their slower cuts. Songs like “Internal Masquerade”, “Next Joke”, “Zombies”, “Hate Me”, “Losing Ourselves” and “Agenda” have some heavy, driving riffs and hooks going, and the more mid-paced songs like “In the Clouds”, “Drama”, and the title track “Long Way Back To The Moon” don’t loose that heavy edge, giving things a darker tone. “Blood In My Eyes” kind of veers into Nu Metal territory with the riff, but it’s still a good, heavy cut. After the album proper, though, there are two bonus tracks that came with my purchase, “Believing The Hype” and “Say Goodbye To Utopia”, both being rather heavy, the former also leaning towards a Nu Metal riff, while the later a bit more upbeat yet still heavy with a slower mid-point.

Though I wasn’t expecting another release from the band, I’m not complaining. As a matter of fact, overall, I found Long Way Back To The Moon a rather enjoyable and satisfying release, seeing the band in top form. The only real strike against it is the production seems a bit…I don’t know, a scosh on the muddled side? Minor quibble, though. Go out and purchase this thing post-haste.

Movie Review: X-SINNER – Fire It Up

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x-sinner - fire it upX-SINNER
Fire It Up

Fire it Up, the 4th release from gritty hard rockers X-Sinner, isn’t so much a studio release, as it was a complete re-recording of their second release, Peace Treaty. If you’re wondering what the purpose of that was, it boiled down to the band wanting to re-release their first two releases with a better remastering than what the originals had. Unfortunately, the rights to both the releases were tied up in so much red tape, the band decided to just re-record the songs from Peace Treaty, leaving out the ballad “Hold On” and replacing it with the newly recorded “Fire It Up”, and releasing it with that particular title.

As the lead off of the album, new song “Fire It Up” is what you would come to expect from X-Sinner: A crunchy, mid-paced three-chord hard rocker with a catchy groove hook. The vocals do seem a bit strained here, though not unexpected. I bring this up because, though the rest of the songs are toted as new recordings, the vocals don’t match the new song vocals. It’s like comparing James Earl Jones’ Darth Vader voice from 1977’s Star Wars with his voice from Rogue One. Which leads me to believe the note on the Firestream Music Vault entry that mentions that the vocals themselves were not re-recorded. Which is fine, really. Because the entirety of Fire It Up sound fantastic.

The re-recording of the music itself on the songs have seemed to breathed a bit of new life into them. The production is heavier, the sound thicker than on the original release. And really, the decision to keep the original vocals in (if that were the case) was a good one. Fire It Up is a solid, back-to-front release with some nice, heavy and crunchy hard rock stuffed to the gills. The riffs and hooks on the songs beg to be cranked loudly while driving with the window down, presuming the weather is permissible for that kind of thing. There is the more bluesy “Getch’ Ya”, and the power ballad “Don’t Go” that is pretty good for what it is. But, overall, Fire It Up is a great collection of hard rock goodness that needs to be in your collection.

Music Review: X-SINNER – Loud And Proud

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x-sinner - loud and proudX-SINNER
Loud And Proud
M8 Distribution

X-Sinner has always struck me as a band that really should have been bigger than what they were. They had a more gritty hard rock sound than the standard hair metal bands back then, having something akin to Krokus or early Def Leppard. I guess one of the bigger complaints from the fans was that the two studio albums released on the Pakaderm Records label were given too much of an homogenized production by the Elefante Brothers, draining the music of the raw live energy and leaving a slick yet underwhelming sound. Kind of what they did with Petra in those years. But I digress.

Anyway, long story short, there was an attempt to remaster and re-release the two albums, but because there was so much red tape tying everything up, the band decided it would be better to release a collection of original demos, and then re-record the second album entirely.

Loud And Proud was the collection of original demos. Originally released on the Magdalan/M8 label in 2001, it was then re-released on the Retroactive Records with two extra tracks in 2007. The edition I have is the M8 version, and this is what this review is based on.

The music contained on Loud And Proud is what you would come to expect from X-Sinner — loud, heavy three chord hard rock in the vein of Krokus, Helix, early Def Leppard and yes, AC/DC. The production is raw on the songs, as these are demos; there are three songs that I could recognize as having been included in the first two releases later: an early, raw version of “Medicine” that, while rather good, I think I prefer the 1989 studio version better; “No Where To Run”, which is an early version of what would become “Walking Evil”, the production on this rather sub-par quality, muffled and such; and “Got To Let Go”, which became “Gotta Let Go” on the Peace Treaty release, this one having good quality and a good early 80s AC/DC style with vocals that go between Bon Scott and Billy Squire in the execution. There’s only one other song on this collection that is of such bad quality — “A Cut Above” — that it’s pretty much unlistenable. Otherwise, the majority of the demos included in here have some good production, and feature some catchy guitar hooks and riffs. “No Way Back”, “Turn It Up”, “X-Sinner”, “Reap What You Sow”, “Shame”, and “Last Call” are some pretty good heavy rockers. “Eyes Of Fire” didn’t really do much for me, but it’s not bad. There is an instrumental version of “Last Call” that’s not too bad. I do need to point out that the full version of “Last Call” skips slightly 2/3rds of the way through the song. It’s a bit distracting.

Overall, for what is essentially a compilation of demo songs, Loud And Proud is a pretty good collection of raw yet very good hard rock that’s more than your standard look back at early versions of song favorites. Recommended for the X-Sinner fans, worth a look for fans of no frills hard rock.

Music Review: DANIEL BAND – Running Out Of Time

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daniel band - running out of timeDANIEL BAND
Running Out Of Time
Refuge Records

The Daniel Band’s fifth and final studio release before going on what they called an “indefinite hiatus” (meaning they didn’t technically break up as a band, and while they’ve reunited a handful of times for one-off shows from time to time, for all intents and purposes the band was put on the back-burner while everyone lived their lives), Running Out Of Time is the album that I’ve heard others refer to as not their best. And certainly the 80s collage style cover art didn’t help much for first impressions. But, being of the type to have to hear it before forming an opinion on an album, I gave it a good listen. Is Running Out Of Time a weak album? Or does it hold up?

The album starts off rather well, with the nice, heavy guitar-driven anthem “Black Or White”. It’s a fist-pumper, for sure. This is followed by a pretty good, solid mid-paced hard rock cut, “Sins Of The Heart”, which reminds me of Dokken in their prime, heavy and melodic. Following this, though, we get a couple of breaks in the momentum–“Hold On”, which is a synth-heavy commercial rock cut that does have a decent hook and a good guitar solo, and “Long Time” which is a power ballad, but not the sappy kind. It’s dark, with a heavy riff in the bridge. We venture once again into a tasty heavy blues rock cut with the hilariously titled “Party In Heaven” (the title of which seems to trigger aneurysms in a lot of the anti-Christian Rock articles I come across online), which is followed by another nice heavy rocker “We Need Love”, and the galloping riff-heavy “Greedy Little Hands” giving us a one-two-three punch of heavier rock, before moving into a more commercial and bright “Things Are Changin'”. The album ends on the title track, “Running Out Of Time”, which is a heavy, dark mid-paced rocker, with a great guitar riff and leads.

So, overall, after listening to the entirety of Running Out Of Time, I’m wondering again why this one is considered a weak album. Maybe in comparison to the previous Daniel Band releases, I can see the argument. If you’ve just come off of listening to, say, Rise Up or Run From The Darkness before popping this on, Running Out Of Time may come off as a bit more commercial sounding to your hard rockin’ tastes. And the original production work certainly doesn’t help matters very much, I do admit. However, when comparing this to other commercial CCM Rock records, or even mainstream commercial rock at the time, Running Out Of Time has an edge over the others. Also, Retroactive Records did a good job remixing the production with their 2012 reissue. The only real complaint I have with Running Out Of Time is the cover art. It’s more New Wave pop than what’s represented on this album. But, again, very minor quibble. Gonna have to go with recommended on this one as well.

Music Review: DUAL EDGE – Knock ‘Em Alive

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dual edge - knock 'em aliveDUAL EDGE
Knock ‘Em Alive
Intense Records

Behold, the very first band signed to and album released on the legendary Intense Records label. And this was a time before Intense was owned by the Frontline Music Group. And, that’s about the only reason why I’ve held on to this particular release, simply for historical significance. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, here…

Dual Edge was a melodic hard rock/metal band that hailed from Minneapolis, Minnesota in the mid-1980s. Their one release on the Intense label, Knock ‘Em Alive, was essentially a remixed version of their demo tape, with one song replaced by another–“Open Your Eyes” with “Follow Your Dreams”, if memory serves correct. Knock ‘Em Alive remains Dual Edge’s only release, and, to my knowledge, hasn’t been officially released on CD. My copy was a used vinyl release found at a dark underground used record shop in the Old Market in Omaha.

Getting past the album cover–which is, admittedly, in keeping with the time in which this was released–the music on Knock ‘Em Alive is, at best, the higher end of mediocre. The main high point of the music on here is the guitarist, who nails some very good riffs and solos on the songs. The standout cuts on here are “New Life” and the title track “Knock ‘Em Alive”, both of which are proof that the band had the potential to really become something big had they stuck with it and polished their collective skills. “Fight For The Light” gets an honorable mention, as the song has a bit more driving bluesy riff going. The visuals are decent, they’re the melodic singing type typical of the style of rock they’re doing, kind of reminding me of Tempest-era Jamie Rowe.

The main downfall to Knock ‘Em Alive are the rest of the songs. Production quality aside, it’s rather evident that Dual Edge was very early in their songwriting skills. They’re formulaic and lack any real personality. There were the standout stuff that was mentioned previously, yes, but even then they struggled to get remembered long after the end of the album. I do think this has to do with the label being content to just releasing their demo, and not giving them some time to give them the proper spit-and-polish with a good producer. Which, again, could have given them a shot at Fire & Love-era Guardian levels of quality. Unfortunately, we will never know what may have been, as they never did release another album after that, and disappeared into the ether not too long thereafter.

Overall, outside of the historical significance of this being the very first Intense Records release, Knock ‘Em Alive is mostly forgettable melodic hard rock. I’m not clamoring for a re-release any time soon, here.

Music Review: DANIEL BAND – Rise Up

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daniel band rise upDANIEL BAND
Rise Up
Refuge Records

So far, the Daniel Band has been pretty consistent with the rocking of our faces off, giving us some pretty good solid releases with some fantastic riffs and cuts going on. It’s been a pleasant surprise going through their back catalog. How do they fare with their fourth album, Rise Up? Let’s find out.

The album starts off by immediately giving you whiplash with the hard and heavy “Bethel”, which is pretty metal, and is a great way to kick things off, methinks. Can they keep up the momentum, though? Well, the next cut after this is “Rise Up”, which is the second Daniel Band song that I heard on a compilation years before I began actively checking the band out. This is another radio-friendly rock cut, a bit more anthemic, decent riff and all. Still, I wasn’t impressed enough to listen to more at the time. And following the bombast of the opening song, this maybe takes the winds out of the sails a bit too soon. Not a bad song, mind, just maybe should have positioned it somewhere in the middle of the album, title track or no.

We get back on track with “Don’t Walk Away”, a nice heavy mid-paced cut that begs to be cranked up. “Paradise” is a melancholy sounding power ballad, and…yeah, I rather like this. It’s very much in keeping with the time of the release, with the kind of power balladeering the contemporary rock bands were doing on the radio. “Fight Back” made me think immediately of fellow Canadian rocker Aldo Nova, what with the keyboard riff on this cut. Not bad at all. “Call His Name” is another great hard rocking anthem, heavy and made me think of W.A.S.P., believe it or not, and the momentum is kept going with the appropriately titled “Rock You”, a thick n’ meaty hard rock anthem that, again, begs to be cranked in the car stereo whilst driving. After this, though, we get “My Children”, another power ballad that starts off in tricking you into thinking this is one of those sappy types that goes for the feels, but right when you’re beginning to reach for the barf bag, in comes the power chord, and things get marginally better. The final cut on the album, “Right Heart”, ends things with another mid-paced radio-friendly rock song. Given the fact that Daniel Band has demonstrated the ability to rock hard with some of the greats, this last song kind of give you a “meh” shrug.

So, overall, I would say that Rise Up is a good album, leaning towards very good. It’s got a very decent amount of hard rockers I’ve come to love from the band, along with a couple of radio friendly rockers and a couple of power ballads that, while they’re far better than a lot of general CCM balladeering that was being released at the time, are still ballads. If that’s your thing, great; I just tend to lead more toward the heavier stuff on the album. Very much worth checking out.

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