Music Review: SHADOW WINGS – Carry On

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Shadow Wings - Carry OnSHADOW WINGS
Carry On
Regency Records
1991

Much of my extended exposure to the whole Christian metal and rock cultures really happened when I was first in college back in 1993. It was a brighter, much more innocent time, when I was still experiencing the great afterglow of embracing my faith, and before the first in a long series of existential quandaries began testing said faith since. I really dove into the whole exploring what was out there as far as music goes, and made friends that were rather happy to oblige my search, no matter what the quality turned out to be. Hence my taste for more obscure fare, like this release from a band called Shadow Wings.

Never heard of Shadow Wings? Don’t feel too bad. Even now, with the great search too that is the internet, there is very little I could scrape up about the band. What I do know is that there are three out of the four members that share the last name of Hillstrom, one of which has the title of “Reverend”. All siblings? Husband, wife, and brother-in-law? I don’t know. Again, I can’t find anything more on these guys. I’m sure there’s someone out there that can help expound on things a bit. But, in the meantime…

As far as releases, they did record a couple of full-length demos before recording and releasing the subject of this review, Carry On, on the Regency Records label in 1991.

The first thing I wish to point out is the cover art which to me looks like it belongs more on a children’s book about the post-apocalypse. Or a Roald Dahl book. Whimsically dark. Still better than your standard CCM covers at the time, I suppose.

Moving on to the music, now (which is the main point of these reviews), after giving Carry On a good proper front-to-back listen…I have to admit that the band is actually a lot better than I really expected. How to describe their sound, let’s see…I would say that, judging by the basic Evangelical style lyrics, they maybe were trying to go for more of a commercial sounding rock style, like that of later DeGarmo & Key or Petra, but forgot to be lame and ended up being more Barnabas and Daniel Band. This is not a bad thing at all. All of the songs have a great guitar-driven riff and hook, and you get the sense that the guitarist is actually restraining himself from just out and out shredding on these; especially on the song “No Condemnation”, where the riff turns into a misplaced metal riff near the end of the song, possibly to offset the constipated sounding vocals the guy was doing in a failed attempt to sound tough or something.

Speaking of the vocals, they’re handled by both male and female vocals, trading off from song to song. And of the two, I lean towards the female vocals, as they have a genuine rough bite to them, like that of Pat Benatar or Joan Jett back in their prime. Really, they should have just let her sing on all of the songs. Regardless, though, I am impressed that, as I mentioned earlier, all of the songs do, indeed, rock, even though there were instances of attempts for that radio-friendly commercial sound for possible CCM radio play. Even then, the guitar riff still had that raw power edge that you didn’t hear on that kind of radio format. There’s a cover of the aforementioned Pat Benatar’s “Hell Is For Children” that is decent, but lacks the push over the edge that the original has (still prefer the Viking cover). And the closest thing to a “ballad” that the album has is the closer “Wake Up”, which is really more melancholy, and builds to a heavier sound as the song progresses to the end.

Overall, I have to admit that Carry On was more impressive than I thought I was going to give it credit for. The songs showed promise, with some inspired guitar work, some surprisingly heavier compositions than the standard youth group style lyrics were paired with, and had they kept going I have no doubt they would have found their stride sooner or later, with a bit of spit-and-polish. And also letting the lady sing full-time as well. But alas, we shall never know what could have been. Possibly for the better, as this wasn’t the mid-80s when this was released. In any case. a rare gem that’s worth checking out if you can find it.

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Muisc Review: DANIEL BAND – Straight Ahead

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daniel band - straight aheadDANIEL BAND
Straight Ahead
Refuge Records
1983

Daniel Band’s second full-length release, and despite the minimalist cover art that misleads you into thinking this is 80s Pop, Straight Ahead manages to be much heavier in the hard rock department than their debut was. Of course, this is a good thing. A very, very good thing.

Being released in the year 1983, I can imagine Straight Ahead was probably the heaviest thing anyone had heard in the CCM market at the time. Because this album is chock full of the great guitar-driven and hook-laden classic hard rock that, on this release, sometimes veered into metal territory, like on “Reality”, where the main riff takes on almost an Iron Maiden quality to it.

The song that I first heard from Daniel Band, “All I Need”, is on this album. It was on a compilation release, and while it’s a good song, it isn’t a good first impression on how good this band is. “All I Need” is a Rush-style commercial rock song; well-done, yes, but again, it didn’t really impress me when I first heard it, and it consequently took a long time thereafter to even look into their music after that. All the pity, as most of the rest of the songs on here, like “Power Of Love”, the title track “Straight Ahead”, “Here I Am”, “Lustful Illusions”, “Come Into My Life” and “Comin’ Home” all have that classic guitar-driven hard rock goodness that I grew up with and love. There were a couple of miss tracks here, though: “T’ank You”, which is an MOR type song that has a calypso beat and at one point utilizes a faux-Jamaican accent, and the album ender “In My Mind” is an acoustic ballad, complete with swirling strings.

So, overall, I would say that, while it’s not a completely solid, back-to-back hard rocker, Straight Ahead does rock harder and far more consistently than their debut release. This was re-released by Retroactive Records back in 2006 with a couple of demo songs from 1980; I don’t know how available a physical copy is, but if you don’t mind an MP3 download, it is available for purchase on Amazon. Highly recommended that you check this classic bit of Christian rock history out.

Uncle NecRo Listens To: LOOK WHAT THE CAT DRAGGED IN (Poison)

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So, here’s the first in what should be a new series of articles that will be called, for lack of a better one, “Uncle NecRo Listens To…” This has been percolating in my brain matter for quite some time; where I go through the albums I once owned and listened to back in the day, and see if they still hold up.

There are some basic rules I’ve made for this series: 1) they must be albums that I’ve actually owned, and 2) the years involved would be between when I was in grade school and began listening and collecting albums, through to the end of High School. Also, these won’t be in order of when I owned them, just as they come to mind. As such, let’s get started with this first one, shall we?

poison look what the cat dragged in

The Band: POISON
The Album: Look What The Cat Dragged In
My History: This debut release from the band Poison came out in my Seventh Grade year, in 1986. I remember coming across the album at department stores, and thinking, “wow, those chicks are hot.” Which was immediately followed by a bit of confusion while reading the band member roster, because I was 12 and living in rural Eastern Nebraska in the mid-1980s. I’ve never heard of the term “glam metal” before, let alone come across anything like this before. Anyway, while several in my class had this album, it wasn’t until the summer of 1988 when I finally acquired my own copy.

It’s been literally decades since I’ve listened to this one front-to-back. Let’s see how this holds up, shall we?

Track One: “Cry Tough”
Nice opening rhythm, seems to build up to something awesome…then the power chord…seems to miss something to really push this over the edge as a lead-in song, though. Not a bad introduction, though…

Track Two: “I Want Action”
Now, this is more like it, heavy crunchy guitar and a fun rhythm. Typical “skin” song…the part where Bret sings “If I can’t have her, I’ll take her and make her” seems rather disturbing, there. And that bridge, yeesh.

Track Three: “I Won’t Forget You”
In the mid-1990s, I had a roommate who was a pretty accomplished guitar player in his spare time. He was obsessed with getting this song right, and was demonstrating how the lead was played. That was impressive, yes. That said, this is your typical unremarkable power ballad that only is marginally better than the other power ballad that Poison is known for (you know the one) if only for the fact that it isn’t as overplayed and over-saturated on rock radio stations everywhere. PASS.

Track Four: “Play Dirty”
Good riff, nice n’ heavy. “Act tough”…huh. Got’cha, Bret. Anyway, good basic hard rock tune. You get the sense, though, that the lyrics were written by someone who has never been in a bar altercation, but imagines this is what it would be like. Like they watched Roadhouse and wrote a song about it. Wait, checking to see when Roadhouse came out…never mind, it was released three years after this album.

Track Five: “Look What The Cat Dragged In”
Title track. Rather good guitar riff hook, there. Bit grittier, going for less sparkly and more sleaze. Nifty ode to 1980s Sunset Strip hedonism. Yawn. And did Bret just purr in the microphone? I believe he did. Gads. Right after boasting of his sexual prowess. Stay classy, there.

Track Six: “Talk Dirty To Me”
Full disclosure: I owned the 45 single of this song. It’s a great rock guitar riff, one of the first actual riffs I learned to play on the guitar. Surprisingly easy, once you see how it’s done. Anyway, groan-worthy juvenile lyrics aside, one of my favorite guilty pleasures.

Track Seven: “Want Some, Need Some”
Yeah, okay, great opening hook and riff, here. Good crunch, I have to admit. Again, with the whole longing for a lover of nondescript. Still, way more substance than your average Limp Bizquick song. Interesting chime ending.

Track Eight: “Blame It On You”
Again, a pretty good boogie rock tune…immediately given the eeew factor with lyrics that seemed to have been written by a horny middle school boy. Though, your average rock song normally doesn’t use the words “pizazz” and “razzmatazz”…

Track Nine: “#1 Bad Boy”
Look, the 80s were a weird time. It was a time when heterosexual men put on makeup, hairspray and adorned themselves with the finest Cosmo looks, and still were considered the pinnacle of masculinity by women. That’s why Poison could get away with writing a song about being “bad boys” without batting a heavily mascaraed eyelash. Also, this song is, musically, rather heavy and rocks my face off.

Track Ten: “Let Me Go To The Show”
Nice up-beat rocker where Bret begs his parental units to allow him to go to a rock show of nondescript to end the album off. Dig them “bad boys” playin’ that rock n’ roll, indeed.

Does It Hold Up: Musically, yeah, this is a pretty good, near-solid hard rock release from a band that would later be known as the poster boys for why Grunge took over in the 1990s. Compared to their other releases, this one is the more raw sounding, leaning more towards rocking rather than the pop formula they grew into later. Lyric-wise, you can’t get much more juvenile than this. The songs are either about sex, being rock n’ roll bad boys, or…well, more sex. Which may have appealed to my hormone-addled young teenage self back in the day. Now, though, I found myself face-palming more than once.

Overall: I give Look What The Cat Dragged In a 6.5 out of 10. The guitar-driven heaviness still retained its kick, but the lyrics killed off a goodly amount of enjoyment.

Music Review: DANIEL BAND – On Rock

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daniel band - on rockDANIEL BAND
On Rock
Streetlight / Lamb & Lion
1982

In the pantheon of early Christian rock bands that should have been bigger and more popular than they ended up being, Canada’s Daniel Band ranks up there as one of the bands that could hold their own with any mainstream hard rock contemporary of the time, and yet never could find the popularity within the Christian rock circles lesser talented bands would get. That was probably due to Canada’s minuscule Christian music industry, as compared to the American CCM industry here. Mind you, Daniel Band could have went the same route as Stryper did, and play all the so-called “secular” clubs and music venues, they were that kind of genuine rock band; however, the members weren’t interested in playing the bars and clubs. And while they did have a big following in their native Canada, they never could crack the American market like they wanted. Which is a pity, because Daniel Band, for all intents and purposes, just flat-out out-ROCKED the likes of every one of their contemporaries, in my not-so-humble opinion.

Take the band’s debut release, On Rock. Released in 1982, the sound of the album was comparable to the likes of Rush, April Wine and Boston–guitar-driven hard rock with a strong progressive edge to it. The album opens with the nice, heavy guitar riff-driven “He’s The Creator” a good straight-forward rock tune to kick things off. This is followed by the Boston-esque sounding “I’m Sorry”, which has a progressive and catchy riff between acoustic and crunchy guitars and keyboards. The songs offer a variety of rock stylings, from the up-tempo hooks of “You Don’t Need The Blues”, “In The Sky” and “Somebody Loves You”, to the more driving hard rock of “Free From Sin”, “Two Roads” and “Never Again”, the blues rock of “I Like To Rock”, and some darker edges with “Undercover Christian” and “Spiritual Game”. The vocals will remind many of the aforementioned Rush, with the higher registry on many of the songs. Production-wise, it’s decent, and going over the production notes, it looks like they had some help from members of the Resurrection Band, which makes sense really.

Overall, On Rock by Daniel Band is an oft-overlooked gem of classic hard rock that blew the likes of Petra out of the water easily. If you’re a fan of Barnabas and Resurrection Band, and you don’t have a copy of this album in your collection, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It’s a solid debut of classic guitar-driven hard rock goodness.

Music Review: RESURRECTION BAND – Colours

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Resurrection Band - ColoursRESURRECTION BAND
Colours
Light Records
1980

After getting the left foot of fellowship from Star Song Records, Chicago-based rock n’ roll troubadours Resurrection Band got signed to another gospel label–Light Records, a label that was, at the time, better remembered as the home of Andreae Crouch and the Sweet Comfort Band. It’s not like they had much of a choice in the matter; there were literally no labels in the Christian market that specialized in that new-fangled rock and/or roll music those rebellious kids were all into. They had to make due with getting lucky, and having a record executive experiencing a momentary lapse of reason and sign them. Or something like that.

After getting signed to Light Records, they recorded and released their third album, Colours. Colours goes for more of a straight-forward guitar-driven hard rock sound than from the previous two releases, yet maintains the raw quality to the music and writing that typifies the band’s style. What resulted was a more streamlined record, but certainly not a corporately produced rock record.

The album kicks off nicely with “Autograph”, which features an extended hard rock riff hook before Wendy Kaiser’s vocals kick in. It’s here I should point out that Colours is a solid front-to-back collection of hard rock, with no ballads to speak of. The closest they come to a “ballad” is penultimate cut, “Beggar In The Alleyway”, which is slower, yes, and does feature an acoustic guitar, but is a rock tune, make no mistake. For the majority of the time, you’re bopping your head along to some fast paced hard rock (“N.Y.C.”, “Amazing”, “American Dream”, “Benny & Sue”) and some mid-paced heavy rockers (“Colours”, “Hidden Man”, “City Streets” and album closer “The Struggle”), all featuring some of the tastiest guitar riffs and hooks with solid rhythms going, all with husband and wife duo Glen and Wendy Kaiser’s raspy and passionate vocals adding weight to the music. What really separated Resurrection Band’s brand of “Christian Rock”, though, was the fact that they weren’t afraid to sing about topics that were mainly avoided in the CCM market then or even since: homelessness, teenage pregnancy, depression, and others from a very solid Christian worldview, refusing to be one of those shiny-happy Christian bands that can get played on the radio. That, and their rock n’ roll was legit, something you can sneak into a mix of 70s-era AC/DC, Thin Lizzy and other hard rock staples of the time, and no one would bat an eye.

Overall, Colours is a classic hard rock album that I’m sure sounded amazing on vinyl, but I was quite a bit late in discovering Resurrection Band’s back catalogue. It’s a solid back-to-front collection of premium hard rock that, if you haven’t heard this one yet, you owe yourself to check it out sometime.

Music Review: RESURRECTION BAND – Rainbow’s End

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resurrection band - rainbow's endRESURRECTION BAND
Rainbow’s End
Star Song
1979

Resurrection Band’s second release continued on in the heavy rock n’ roll style that they went with on their first studio release, which may have ended up being both a blessing and a curse simultaneously. For whatever reason, the label that took a chance on them on their first album, decided to drop the band after this release. I can’t really find any official reason why they were dropped; maybe it was a change of personnel at Star Song Records that decided they didn’t want such a radical sounding rock band on the label (wild-eyed speculation, as they would release the third Petra album on that label the same year…though it could be argued that Petra was less a “rock” band at that time, but I digress), maybe they got too many complaints from the normals because of the genuine bluesy hard rock style that evoked comparisons to Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, and Canned Heat. Maybe Star Song wasn’t as satisfied with the quality of the album as the band was. I don’t know. Again, this is wild-eyed speculation on my part. Point is, after releasing Rainbow’s End, the band suddenly found themselves looking for another label.

As for the album itself, Rainbow’s End turned out to be a good, solid follow-up to their debut release. If there was a question of quality, maybe it has something to do with the kind-of thin production on this, but keep in mind Rainbow’s End was recorded on a small Christian label using late seventies technology. But, trust me when I say that the band makes up for that minor shortcoming in some very gritty, very passionate hard rock n’ roll.

Ten tracks are contained overall, with eight of them being some very tasty guitar-driven classic hard rock (“Midnight Son”, “Strongman”, “Afrikaans”, “Skyline”, “Rainbow’s End”, “Sacrifice Of Love”, “The Wolfsong” and “Everytime It Rains”) and two ballads (“Paint A Picture” and “Concert For A Queen”), the music is, without a doubt, a genuine rock album played by musicians that know what they’re doing, injecting an authenticity into a sea of superficial falseness. This is also the beginning of the band injecting politically-motivated lyrics, challenging the Christian listeners to examine our motivations as believers and putting the “love your neighbor” thing into practice. It’s probably what contributed to their sudden loss of a record label.

So, overall, as a follow-up to arguably one of the classic releases in Christian rock, Rainbow’s End really did take it to the next level with both the music and the message, daring to go beyond the standard Happy Christian Fun lyrics and delving into some rather heavy and dark themes. This was re-released on the band’s own Grrr Records in 2007, but I would recommend finding this on vinyl, as I would wager it would sound fantastic in its original format. Gads, I sound all hipster-y now.

NECRO SHOCK RADIO – May 6, 2017

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MAY 6, 2017

Finally, after taking two weeks off to deal with a massive sinus cold infection, Uncle NecRo is back to continue the weekly dispelling of the Brutal Music Therapy we all crave…

Featuring cuts from:

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