Music Review: SCARLET – Scarlet

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scarletSCARLET
Scarlet
FnA Records
2010

Hey, look. Just what we need. More obscure hair metal from the 1980s getting re-released in the second decade of the 21st Century. In this case, it’s the band Scarlet, a band that hailed from Florida in the mid-1980s, and recorded nine demo songs before calling it quits in 1988. The band and their demos remained obscure until FnA Records released all nine songs on CD in 2010. And since I’m a sucker for things like this, let’s review this thing, shall we?

The very first cut on this collection, “Right Reason”, more or less gives you an overall scope of what to expect, with a really good, driving hook and riff that’s on the upbeat hard rocking metal side of things, with vocals that go for melodic but are really in need of some vocal lessons to tune things up, with the lyrics going for the standard generic “rock for the Rock” cheese that seemed to be the standard for underground Christian hair metal bands from the 80s. Ah, memories. “Lisa” is one of those not-quite-power-ballad type songs that is mid-paced and heavy, with a melodic chorus and featuring a decent shredding guitar solo. “Stop Runnin'” has a decent mid-paced riff and a good solo, but doesn’t really go much of anywhere beyond that. Kind of a forgettable track. “We’re Gonna Rock” is another upbeat, anthemic rocker with the cheesy “rock for the Rock” lyrics going.

It was about this time, as I was settling down and bracing for five more cuts of the same, when “Armor” began with an acoustic opening, but then I was surprisingly caught off guard when some blistering, high-octane NWOBHM style HEAVY METAL ripped my face off with something actually good in this collection. Wow. Nicely done, album. Nicely done. The problem was, this actually raised my hopes that the band was merely getting warmed up, with some better cuts following. Alas, this wasn’t the case, as “I Declare War” is decent, with a driving heavy riff, but with the sound quality not being the best, like the source got a bit damaged between then and when it was transferred to CD. “Treasure” is more of a bluesy metal style, and it’s noticeable that they changed vocalists with this one. Still rather sub-par in the vocals department. “Beginning” decides to shed the whole “metal” thing and goes with a radio-friendly janglepop style that couldn’t end fast enough. But then, the CD ends with “Friends”, which thankfully isn’t a cover of the Michael W. Smith tune, but unfortunately is a !POWER BALLAD ALERT! that’s song by another vocalist entirely, this one more of the female persuasion, that’s just grating on my nerves, and features lyrics that sounds like an angsty 12-year-old wrote them attempting a free-form association thing.

Overall, Scarlet is really more of a curiosity than a must-have in terms of obscure 80s metal. The bright spots to this is definitely the guitar work, which shows some raw talent that I hope the guitarist kept up with after the demise of the group. Otherwise, the production is sub-par, and the vocalist(s) are just annoying. One and done with this one. Pass.

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Music Review: SCANDINAVIAN METAL PRAISE – Scandinavian Metal Praise

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scandinavian metal praiseSCANDINAVIAN METAL PRAISE
Scandinavian Metal Praise
Metal Praise Records
2008

As a long-time disciple of Christ Jesus, and an even longer \,,/METALHEAD\,,/, I do tend to gravitate towards praise and worship song styles that feature the scientifically proven music of AWESOME. Your standard Contemporary Worship stylings of Casting Crowns, Chris Tomlin or whatever version of Hillsong is big this month just isn’t going to cut it for your Uncle NecRo. As a matter of fact, I have a specific mix of METAL-centric praise and worship type songs on my phone, culled and cherry-picked from my extensive collection to listen to during the worship band time every Sunday. I like to pretend the worship team really is playing Mortification’s “The Majestic Infiltration Of Order”.

Anyway, in 2008, the Metal World was blessed with the release of an album by a group going by the name Scandinavian Metal Prais.e Hailing from Finland, the members of this group chose to remain anonymous, and released a self-titled collection of worship choruses done cast in METAL. So, of course this would become part of my music vault. Let’s see what’s inside, shall we?

To be fair, when I think of Scandinavian metal, I tend to think of epic power metal, or at least black metal. Technical melodic death metal as well. I would be remiss to not admit that I would expect at least some power metal influence going on before popping this into the media player to give it a few listens. Of course, as per usual concerning my preconceived assumptions, Scandinavian Metal Praise proved me to be a bit off. Okay, more than just a bit off, really.

The sound on Scandinavian Metal Praise features some very heavy and crunchy guitar riffs and thick rhythms that are more mid-paced hard rocking metal, with the guitar riffs themselves keeping things basic, yet still given some room to stretch out with the technical playing, incorporating bits of grunge and Djent in the mix at times, and achieving some fantastic technical styles and solos going. The singer is fantastic, but I couldn’t help but think that maybe she was holding back, coming close but not quite hitting things out of the park. She is very much capable of handing these songs, though, so don’t think this is a major criticism.

The album starts with “Great Is Power”, which has a good, heavy crunchy guitar riff and hook, and has an interesting Djent bridge. “When The Spirit Of The Lord”, one of my favorite praise choruses, has a faster technical riff, befitting this particular song. Of course, when I first heard the song, it was by way of the Petra version on their first Petra Praise release. This version here has a much more textured feel to it. “Praise Adonai” has a moody, almost grunge feel to the music, while “Worthy Is The Lamb” is a bit more commercial sounding, though still heavy. “Wonderful God” leans more towards the power metal side of things, with a fast guitar riff opening and maintaining a thick, crunchy hook throughout. “Take Me In” is a bit darker, featuring a mix of keyboards and guitars that brings out the emotional qualities of the song. Again, this is another song I first heard way back on the Petra Praise release. This one’s heavier, as you may have gathered. “We Sing Alleluia” features a very stark riff, with traditional keys and melody infusing the song; “Holy King” has a good power riff and is more somber; and “Laulu Suomelle” ends the album on an upbeat note, with a good technical and heavy riff and a bit of a faster pace. It’s also sung in the band’s native Finnish, in case you were wondering. I’m fairly certain you weren’t, but I do like to throw in useless facts that no one asked about on these things.

Overall, Scandinavian Metal Praise is a good, solid praise and worship album with some great renditions of the classics I grew to love while growing up in my faith. This is way better than those lame Maranatha! praise and worship releases that we were inundated with back in the 1990s. Highly recommended.

Music Review: SCARLET RED – Don’t Dance With Danger

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scarlet red - don't dance with dangerSCARLET RED
Don’t Dance With Danger
Pure Metal Records
1989

The band Scarlet Red is one of those obscure glam metal bands that, after doing a bit of digging, revels that they had a rather interesting history. It seems they began life as a band named Lust, until their drummer became a Christian and left, effectively breaking up the band. Then, one by one, the other members became Christians, and they all reformed under their new name Scarlet Red. After contributing the song “You Live Fast” on a compilation on Pure Metal Records, they then recorded and released their only full-length album, Don’t Dance With Danger, also on Pure Metal in 1989.

The album begins with the aforementioned “You Live Fast”, kicking things into gear with a nice driving hard rocker with a heavy guitar riff and a hook that will stick right into you and won’t let go. I don’t know if the album version of this song is any different than the one on The Axemen compilation, as I haven’t had that one in my collection for a while. Anyway, “Cry Out” is another hard rocking cut, a bit darker with a nice heavy riff. “Never” is more commercial sounding rock tune, while “Knock Down The Walls” ventures right into !POWER BALLAD ALERT! territory, though it does avoid too much sap with a good crunchy riff and solo. “Fight Fire” brings things back with a really good, driving riff, which continues through the title track “Don’t Dance With Danger” and “Lost And Found”. “Hold On To Love” is another commercial rock tune, whereas “Why” is straight up !CCM RADIO BALLAD ALERT!, just keyboard and vocals. Fortunately, the album ends on a heavier note with “Break The Chain”.

Overall, Don’t Dance With Danger was far better an album than what I was expecting. This strikes me more like Dokken with a singer that sounds much like Lisa Faxon from Ransom. I don’t know if this has been given the re-release treatment yet, but the seems a good candidate for just such a thing. If you find this, however, pick it up and give it a spin.

Music Review: CIRCLE OF DUST – Machines Of Our Disgrace

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circle of dust - machines of our disgraceCIRCLE OF DUST
Machines Of Our Disgrace
FiXT Music
2016

It’s been a very long time since we’ve been graced with a Circle Of Dust album. Well, to be fair, I don’t think anybody was expecting a new Circle Of Dust album. Mainly because main guy Klayton hasn’t held the rights to CoD until just recently. Also, since the release of Disengage back in 1998, it seemed that Klayton just wanted to shed that skin and move on, going by the moniker Celldweller and releasing music as such since then. For all intents and purposes, Circle Of Dust was a forgotten relic, regulated to a bygone era looked back upon with nostalgic longing.

Man, this review is starting to get depressing. Let’s get to the good news, then: In 2016, the rights to the Circle Of Dust catalogue reverted back to Klayton, which lead to not only him remixing and remastering all of the Circle Of Dust albums, but also releasing this album of new Circle Of Dust material, Machines Of Our Disgrace, on his own FiXT Music label.

Of course, there was a bit of hesitation on my part when readying myself to purchase Machines Of Our Disgrace; there was a nagging question in the back of my mind, “was this going to be a true-to-form Circle Of Dust album, or just a repurposed Celldweller album going by Circle Of Dust to bank off of the nostalgia factor? Yeah, I’m that kind of jaded in my middle age.

Obviously, I ended up purchasing my copy of the album, and after listening to this obsessively since then, I can happily say that Machines Of Our Disgrace is a true-to-form Circle Of Dust album. From the harsh industrial intro opening of “re:Engage” to the title track “Machines Of Our Disgrace”, my skepticism was banished, and I found myself awash in some of the best sounding 90s-style metalized industrial that I didn’t know I missed so very much. The heavy guitar riffs, the industrial electronic rhythms, the samples and ambient textures… Machines Of Our Disgrace is like a blend of the best parts of the self-titled Circle Of Dust and Disengage mixed together, injected with the heaviness of Brainchild, and rendered with superb production quality, resulting in a solid album that can only be described as classic Circle Of Dust given a modern polish.

Overall, if you’re on the fence about getting Machines Of Our Disgrace, let me urge you to get over yourself and purchase this release. Nearly twenty years has done nothing to slow down this machine. Nay, it only made it more effective. Highly recommended.

Music Review: STRYPER – God Damn Evil

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stryper - god damn evilSTRYPER
God Damn Evil
Frontiers Music
2018

So, here we are now, with a new Stryper album. I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem all that long ago when they released Fallen. Or when I caught them on the To Hell With The Devil 30th Anniversary Tour (I’m wearing that tour shirt right now, actually…it wasn’t planned, I swear). Now, not only do we have a new Stryper album, but a new member handling bass duties (again), and what seems to be a new dynamic for the music. Also, we have the first Stryper album to be banned from being sold at Walmart. Being banned from Christian bookstores? *Yawn* Old hat. Being banned from Walmart? This is why Stryper is still awesome, folks.

Part of the anticipation of waiting for this release was mostly due to the incredible explosion of controversy within the Christian rock and metal online communities when the title was announced. If you know your Uncle NecRo, then it’ll come as no surprise that I was behind the title God Damn Evil 100%, as I understood what they were going for, and I am rather amused by how easily we Christians can get at the drop of the proverbial hat. Don’t get me started, otherwise this review will turn into a rant that will engulf several pages. But, enough of that. Let’s get to the music, shall we?

After taking in the very, very awesome METAL cover art, we begin with the first cut, “Take It To The Cross”, which has a nice atmospheric build-up to a heavy groove riff hook. It’s heavy, but then at the chorus, the speed is shifted to light speed, and it’s there that I realized Stryper was spreading their creative wings and trying something different with the music, much like on Against The Law back in the day. The song is…interesting. When I purchased the prerelease, I was allowed to download “Take It To The Cross”, which I shall be honest, I wasn’t completely convinced by. Fortunately, there are ten more songs on here, and this first cut doesn’t fully represent how things are.

While there are songs on God Damn Evil that feature the classic Stryper style, like on “Lost”, “You Don’t Even Know Me”, and “Beautiful”, the overall dynamic on here seems a bit heavier, a bit darker, with some choice mid-paced riffs and hooks going, like on “Sorry”, “The Valley” (which has a very Ronny James Dio-era Black Sabbath feel to it), and “Own Up”. The title track itself has a good late-80s, early-90s AC/DC style riff going, while achieving a good bluesy groove on “Sea Of Thieves”. We have a kind of !POWER BALLAD ALERT! with “Can’t Live Without Your Love”, but it’s not sappy, like Stryper has been known to do; it has a good crunchy riff, and it really doesn’t break the flow of the album. The final song, “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here”, ends things with a fun and infectious metal boogie.

Overall, I realize that reactions to the music on God Damn Evil have been mixed (not counting the ones that only focus on the album title, here…this is about the music), but since this is my review on my personal blog (and whoever might link to this), I’m going to come out and say that the album as a whole is fantastic. It’s better than I would have expected, with the variety and styles playing, yet keeping things unmistakably Stryper. My advice is to ignore knee-jerk reactions, and give this a listen. I look forward to your collective rebuke emails.

Music Review: FIRST STRIKE – Rock Of Offense

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first strike rock of offenseFIRST STRIKE
Rock Of Offense
Exit Records
1984

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: RACKETS & DRAPES – Candyland

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rackets and drapes - candylandRACKETS & DRAPES
Candyland
Independent
1998

It’s amazing how, all these years now, and I have yet to publish my official review of one of the albums that was kind of a paradigm shift for me back in the day. You would think that would have been one of my first reviews of Rackets & Drapes’ discography. But, for whatever reason that eludes all logic in me, I have held off, put off, and subsequently never gotten around to doing a proper review of their very first full-length release, Candyland.Well, since this year–2018–marks the 20th anniversary since the release of Candyland, I figure better late than never.

Released independently at first, but then re-released through MCM Music after being signed to that label, Candyland was a rather ambitious and curious release at the time. The entire pop culture world was still reeling from the sudden rise of darker, scarier music from the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson and the new wave of Goth children. While the Christian music scenes did feature a thriving industrial and Goth rock underground of sorts, there had yet to be a genuine shock rock band to shake things up. Well, outside of Alice Cooper, who just had come out of the confessional closet as a Christian a few years earlier. Enter Colorado band Rackets & Drapes, and the release of Candyland.

While the band described themselves as “shock rock”, the music on Candyland is a dark and thick blend of industrial, punk, death rock and Gothic theatrics, with songs that tackle taboo and controversial topics with unblinking glee that makes normal Shiny Happy Christians (TM) a bit squeamish: abortion, child and domestic abuse, homelessness, child abducitons…yeah, these guys made it clear that they were scary for a purpose. And for me, this was a God-send, as I was exploring the darker expressions of my faith, through the Goth / industrial / black metal subcultures. I embraced Candyland with gusto, and it quickly became one of my soundtracks to my faith.

20 years later, and I still revisit Candyland frequently. It’s still has a raw punk aestetic, and the songs still pack a punch. One thing I never understood was why Rackets & Drapes were immediately slagged with the “Marilyn Manson rip-off” tag; even now I still come across it, which clearly indicates that no one really bothered to listen to the album. Regardless, I still hold the band and Candyland in general in high regard. If you can find a copy, pick it up and give it a listen, or twelve.

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