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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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.

Uncle NecRo’s TOP 100 CHRISTIAN ALBUMS FROM THE 1990s, Part 1: 100-81

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So, some time ago, I came across a bunch of lists that the members of one of the Facebook Pages that I am a member of were doing. Namely, they were listing their top 100 favorite albums by Christian bands and artists that were released in the 1990s. I thought I would go ahead and write out my own list; the thing was, I was also in the middle of organizing and uploading the posts for the entirety of October, all of the Halloween’ing articles, and put the list on the back-burner to focus on getting all of that taken care of. I went back to it, and…well, I decided to not post it in the group itself, but instead share the outcome with everyone, along with some blurbs on the ones I picked.

Before I share, I want to point out that I had a couple of ground rules: 1) no live albums, and 2) no greatest hits type albums. Also, this list developed from the top down, as I thought of them, with very little messing with the final lineup. This is all as they came to me, so they’re in no particular order per se. So, now, without further adieu, here is my list:

carman-addicted-to-jesus100 – Addicted To Jesus (Carman)
…yes, I actually owned this one, way back in the day. It still remains a bit of a guilty pleasure, really. Especially with “Satan, Bite The Dust” on here. Pure, delicious sanctified cheese.

petra-beyond-belief99 – Beyond Belief (Petra)
…’tis the only 90s-era release of Petra’s that I don’t find myself flinching at too much while listening to. Also, that riff on “Seen And Not Heard” that everyone knew was a rip-off of the riff from the KISS song “Heaven’s On Fire” but couldn’t admit to in public circles because that would be admitting to knowing what a KISS song is.

adventures-of-the-o-c-supertones98 – Adventures Of The O. C. Supertones (The O. C. Supertones)
…there was a brief time in the mid-1990s where everyone claimed to like ska. Well, the so-called “third wave” ska that seemed to pop up like a rash after using the public pool. I’m afraid this wormed its way into my collection due to peer pressure. This album is the equivalent of that one person you know that tries so very hard to get you to be as bubbly happy as they are, you can’t help but want to kick puppies into traffic. Good production, though.

dc-talk-jesus-freak97 – Jesus Freak (DC Talk)
…there was also a time in the 1990s where there was a list of albums you needed to own, otherwise your sincerity of claiming to be a Christian was called into question. This was one of those albums. The thing is…this still holds up.

bloodgood-all-stand-together96 – All Stand Together (Bloodgood)
…it’s a pity that the majority of the good Bloodgood albums were released in the 1980s, because they needed to at least be represented. This particular album, unfortunately, is not that great. But, it’s on here in hopes to get someone to check out their previous releases before this one.

third-day-third-day95 – Third Day (Third Day)
…remember what I said about Jesus Freak being one of those albums you needed to have in your possession to justify your Christian existence? This was also one of these albums. That’s all I’m gonna say about this.

miss-angie-100-million-eyeballs94 – 100 Million Eyeballs (Miss Angie)
…would you believe I got this after seeing the video she did for “Lift”, because I developed a bit of a fanboy crush on her voice and style. The album is pretty good, too, kind of a Veruca Salt vibe to it.

grammatrain-lonely-house-cover93 – Lonely House (Grammatrain)
…one of the actual decent releases from the glut of Grunge music that came out two years after Grunge died out in the mainstream. That’s the usual gestration period for a genre to be co-opted by the CCM market.

mike-knott-strip-cycle92 – Strip Cycle (Michael Knott)
…I like to pop this one on after someone claims they only listen to acoustic singer-songwriter music. Nine times out of ten, their heads explode. I also like to que up “Rock Stars On H” when the youth group is stuck inside the NEKRON 7 with me just to hear the uncomfortable silence.

galactic-cowboys-space-in-your-face91 – Space In Your Face (Galactic Cowboys)
…look, I agree that this should be quite a bit higher, had this been an actual ranking-of-the-worst-to-best list, but as I mentioned in the intro (in case you skipped it directly to the list, like I usually do with posts like these), this was thrown together as they came to mind. And this is my favorite of the Galactic Cowboys discography.

swirling-eddies-sacred-cows90 – Sacred Cows (The Swirling Eddies)
…finally. Proper renditions of Christian favorites. This has the superior version of “Satan, Bite The Dust”. Sorry, Carman.

steve-taylor-squint89 – Squint (Steve Taylor)
…this is a classic. You need to own this, if you don’t. Period. Yeah, I realize I would say this to all of Steve Taylor’s output, but this was the only one of his solo albums released in the 1990s. So, there you go.

crashdog-the-pursuit-of-happiness88 – The Pursuit Of Happiness (Crashdog)
…released at a time when punk was still underground and yet to be made into a joke, this release is legit.

tourniquet-microscopic-view-of-a-telescopic-realm87 – Microscopic View Of A Telescopic Realm (Tourniquet)
…Ted Kirkpatric’s “Tourniquet” goes back to playing “metal”, and the result is adorable. Eh, still better than Crawl To China.

kings-x-dogman86 – Dogman (King’s X)
…very raw, very dark and very angry. My favorite King’s X release. You know, whenever I’m in that kind of mood.

way-sect-bloom-effloresce85 – EfFLoReScE (The Way Sect Bloom)
…something I came across while first exploring the industrial and Gothic side of Christianity. Produced by Celldweller, released on Flaming Fish, and one of the more interesting electronic industrial releases I came across.

scaterd-few-grandmother-spaceship84 – Grandmother’s Spaceship (Scaterd-Few)
…the legendary scaterd-few’s third full-length release I don’t really listen to as much as the first two releases, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something to overlook, here.

tourniquet-vanishing-lessons83 – Vanishing Lessons (Tourniquet)
…Tourniquet back when they still had a few members of the classic lineup left, plus a new singer and a streamlined sound. Eh, still better than Crawl To China.

holy-soldier-holy-soldier82 – Holy Solider (Holy Soldier)
…some say this self-titled released by Holy Soldier is better than their sophomore release. I disagree. Still a good album.

dig-hey-zoose-strugglefish81 – Struggle Fish (Dig Hay Zoose)
…while I grant that Dig Hay Zoose actually tried to do something unique with their music, rather than just aping a style, this is a delicious hot mess when compared to their second album.

::END TRANSMISSION::

Music Review: AUNT BETTYS – Aunt Bettys

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Music Review: AUNT BETTYS - Aunt Bettys

AUNT BETTYS
Aunt Bettys
EastWest Records
1996

Back in 1993, musician / artist Michael Knott, the mastermind behind the highly influential new wave turned alt. rock band L. S. Underground, as well as being a versatile musical renaissance man with his solo albums and various other band projects, created a “general market rock back” called Aunt Bettys Ford. I engage the quotes there, because it was taken from Mike Knott’s Wikipedia entry, and that was used to describe the sound of the band. Mind you, back in the early- to mid-1990s, radio was dominated by alternative music, which made it ubiquitously mainstream, which then lead to the most ironic genre label of the time with “mainstream alternative”. It was a wacky time to be alive, let me tell you.

Anyway, after a bit of a publicized label bidding war which saw the Electra label winning, the self-titled debut release was put out on Electra imprint EastWest Records in 1996 to high critical acclaim…but since it wasn’t promoted properly, it kind of went the way of a wet fart while walking down the street: hardly anyone noticed, and it disappeared fast enough for anyone to care. Which is a pity, as this release really is a hidden gem amongst the glut of modern rock that was being foisted upon our earholes back then.

This might come as a surprise to those who only know me as the die-hard \,,/METAL\,,/head, but I know good music when I hear it, and for me to say that I think that Aunt Bettys Ford is a good, solid collection of rock in the alternative vein shouldn’t be very shocking.

If there’s one thing Michael Knott knows how to do, it’s writing a good guitar-driven rock tune with very smart lyrics and catchy hooks, and imbuing the songs with a unique personality. The album starts off solid with the track “Jesus”, which blends together the use of acoustic and electric guitars rather well, and snags us with the hookiest hook and keeps us through most of the album. Nearly every song on here is a good one, from the giggle-inducing “Mother Trucker”, to the redux of Knott’s previous solo tune “Rocket And A Bomb”, to the rollicking closer “Rock And Roll” (not a Led Zepplin cover, in case you’re wondering). There’s maybe two songs that I wasn’t too impressed with; “Jane”, which wasn’t bad, but just didn’t do it for me, and “Double” which is a WGWAG cut with some interesting percussion touches.

Overall, though, Aunt Bettys is a good solid rock n’ roll album from one of the more criminally underrated artists in music, Christian, mainstream or otherwise. Recommended.

Music Review: UNDERCOVER – Balance Of Power

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undercover - balance of power

UNDERCOVER
Balance Of Power
Broken
1990

I understand that, for many old school Christian punk fans out there, they remember Undercover as that California surf punk band with a thin New Wave shellac, and album and song titles that can double as nifty bumper sticker slogans. For me, though, my first exposure to the band known as Undercover was by way of the song “World Come Crashing Down” that was included on the Ultimate Metal 2 compilation that Star Song Records put out around that time. It wasn’t too bad…though calling it “metal” seemed a bit of a stretch. Of course, I had no knowledge of the band at the time, and didn’t really start seeking out their discography and history until some time later.

Balance Of Power was the album that was released after 1986’s Branded, which many consider the transition album that saw Undercover segue from a happy New Wave-y punk band to a darker, more introverted post punk alternative band, much like The Cult. Balance Of Power continued on in that darker path, resulting in an album that is dark, moody and probably the heaviest they released thus far.

The music on Balance Of Power is dark, heavy and…quite frankly, fantastic. It’s brooding, crammed with great guitar riffs with the perfect type of vocals that complement the introspectively dark lyrics. Front to back, I found Balance Of Power pretty solid, some massive comparisons to The Cult when it comes to describing this type of Gothic-style hard rock.

It’s been said that Ojo Taylor considers Balance Of Power his least favorite Undercover album. Maybe it was due to the circumstances happening that resulted in the darker vibe and writing, I don’t know. I have to say, personally, that Balance Of Power ranks as one of my favorite darker works, and joins the likes of L. S. U. and Dead Artist Syndrome when I get in the kind of a mood. Which is frequent, in case you’re wondering. Recommended.

Music Review: UNDERCOVER – Branded

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undercover - branded

UNDERCOVER
Branded
Blue Collar Records
1986

Most of us aging Righteous Rocker types initially remember the band Undercover as being this cheesy New Wave band with ska leanings that were constantly mislabeled as “Christian Punk” in the early 1980s. And rightly so; their first couple of albums were just that. Then, around 1984, the original singer left, and the group brought in a different vocalist that had, let’s just say, a different style. Add to this a lyrical change to reflect the personal struggles the band was starting to go through at the time, and what resulted was an album that was strikingly different than the poppy, upbeat bumper sticker sloganeering that everyone was used to from the band. Instead, we were given an album that signaled the birth pangs of maturity.

Gads, that sounded so very pretentious. Eh, I’ll leave it. Take it as you will.

The album opens with “I’m Just A Man”, which retains an element of the New Wave rhythm, but is more a driving rock tune with good use of keyboards and guitars. The music is more alternative than punk, with a goodly amount of driving rock songs (“Where Can I Go?”, “Pilate”, “Darkest Hour” and “If I Had A Dream”), some darker, mid-paced pieces (“The Fight For Love”, “Build A Castle”, “Come Away With Me”) one legitimate Clash-inspired punk tune (“Tears In Your Eyes”), and a !BALLAD ALERT! (“Cry Myself To Sleep”). I’m not really counting the two brief instrumentals flanking “Darkest Hour”.

Overall, Branded has a raw feel to it, some due to the production, but mostly to the music and introspective lyrics contained. This was vocalist Sim Wilson’s first recording with Undercover, and his raw passion ties things together nicely. I can imagine the reaction from the fans when they first heard this when Branded was released; to say nothing of the original cover art, which features a photo of a tattoo, maybe the cause of various eyebrows being raised alone. Eh, I wasn’t there at the time. What I can say is, listening to Branded now, the album seems to still hold up. Recommended for fans of classic alternative rock.

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