Monday, April 12, 2021
Thursday, April 8, 2021
Most fans know that Stryper's 2005 release titled Reborn was originally intended as a Michael Sweet solo project. Instead, the band reformed with bassist Tracy Ferrie and released it as one of their own. It was a clear departure from their classic sound of the '80s and included hints of nu metal, a style known for drawing on other musical influences such as alternative, funk, and grunge, all of which can be heard on Reborn.
I was thrilled when it came out and played it endlessly. It was an exciting new musical direction for the band, and I was on board with it. In the more than fifteen years since its release, I have continued to enjoy it just as much as I did in 2005. The lyrics are deep and the music is hard and aggressive, just the way I like it.
Now here we are in 2021, and Michael Sweet has decided to re-release the album under his own name. As he says on his website, "After years of requests and a lot of thought, I decided to release the original versions/tracks and add some things that I felt were always missing: guitar solos, high vocal notes, more rhythm guitars, synth parts and an alternative version of 'Passion.'" The question we have to answer is whether this is a good thing.
My first step was to create a playlist that included the songs from each album in alternating order. In other words, the first track was "Open Your Eyes" from the Stryper album followed by the same song off the Michael Sweet album and so on. As I began listening to this song from Reborn Again, I noticed that it sounded a bit cleaner, and had that been the only difference, I doubt I would have recommended the new album, but then the guitar solo hit and my eyes flew open. Literally. I was blown away and suddenly couldn't wait to hear each of the others songs paired with the 2005 versions.
Michael Sweet certainly achieved what he set out to do. There are indeed additional synth and rhythm guitar parts and high notes, but what really knock me out are the guitar solos, and for my money, these make this an entirely new album. Overall the feeling is heavier in places, perhaps even darker.
Let's also not overlook the cover by Stan Decker, who has worked with Sweet before on the covers of the most recent Stryper albums as well as Sweet & Lynch. For me an album is a whole work of art, from the lyrics to the music to any graphics included in the packaging, and Decker continues his powerful imagery and color scheme on this cover.
In short, I give this five of five stars. I can listen to the 2005 Stryper album and then this one and have two completely different musical experiences, each of which is a shot of powerful, aggressive rock.
For the interviews Pastor Wildman and I did with Michael Sweet and Oz Fox along with even more goodies related to Christian rock and metal, head on over to www.wildmanandsteve.com and be sure to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @wildmanandsteve! And don't forget to subscribe to The Wildman & Steve Show! Thanks!
Thursday, March 11, 2021
It is not too much to say that Columbia House changed my life. The ads for this record and tape club were in the Sunday newspapers and all the music mags back in the day. In fact, you can find a cool retrospective on the service Columbia House provided millions of music lovers here.
But isn't it a bit extreme to say that such an organization changed my life? Sure, it offered eleven albums for a penny and the twelfth for free, but why was this different from any other promotional gimmick?
The year was 1987. I had been part of Columbia House for several years because of my fondness for...wait for it...country music. Yep. I was a huge fan of The Oak Ridge Boys, Ronnie Milsap, Johnny Lee, T.G. Sheppard, Eddie Rabbitt, and on and on. I still am. Yet one day in 1987 the latest Columbia House mailer arrived and I found in it an album by a band called Whitesnake. The description listed it as "Zeppelinesque," and while I had heard of Led Zeppelin, I really didn't know that band, so I thought I would dip my toe in the waters of hard rock by getting an album by a band that supposedly sounded similar.
When that cassette arrived a short time later, my life went speeding down the offramp from Nashville straight into the heart of rock and roll. I was hooked. Oh. My. Goodness. This was like nothing I had heard before, and I played it nonstop.
Eventually a friend told me that Whitesnake had recorded some other albums, and in my search for them in record stores and by doing research in music magazines, I discovered another universe. Through lead singer David Coverdale, I found Deep Purple, and with Purple I found Led Zeppelin. I was a kid in a candy store! I read everything I could find in Hit Parader, Metal Edge, and Circus magazines. And as I came to know and love the hard rock of the late '60s and '70s, I discovered blues. At first it was the Delta blues of artists like Robert Johnson and then, just as they had done in actual life, my tastes traveled up the Mississippi to Chicago and the likes of Willie Dixon and so many more.
Now I co-host with my good friend Pastor Wildman a hard rock & metal podcast, The Wildman & Steve Show, on which I have had the pleasure of talking with many of my favorite musicians, truly a dream come true, and to this day the best way for me to unwind from work or even to get my motor runnin' in the morning is to listen to the classic rock sounds that all started...with the Columbia House Record and Tape Club.
Sunday, June 7, 2020
|Michael Sweet of Stryper with my Latin translation of "Soldiers Under Command" I had given him|
I'm not sure what strikes people more oddly, that I am a Latin teacher who likes heavy metal or that I am a Christian who likes heavy metal. However I put it, it raises eyebrows. The first combination seems strange because Latin teachers and Classicists have an image as people who are scholarly and like the so-called finer things, such as poetry and philosophy, history and art. Heavy metal music, by contrast, seems to be about a bunch of Neanderthals who barely know three chords screaming inane lyrics that could only be heard as profound by a seventh grader. The second combination seems equally unlikely, since the metal scene is often perceived as trading in devil worship, sex, and drugs, or even drug-fueled sex as an act of dark worship. The Christian faith, on the other hand, is about love and joy and light.
A Matter of Taste
A Matter of Style
A Matter of Form and Content
Friday, May 15, 2020
This is also the song I translated into Latin many years later and gave to Michael Sweet. A few years after that, I was able to get him to autograph it for me.
"Makes Me Wanna Sing" comes up next with chugging guitar that opens into an unabashed, Christ-glorifying lyric. "Jesus, King...King of Kings" then flows into a killer guitar solo of the kind that defined the era of '80s metal. If you think that metal must be doom, gloom, and depression, then think again. This song is full on metal, but it, well, makes you want to sing!
The third track, "Together Forever," may be the only metal song in history to feature a doo-wop section. Not only does it talk about the promise of eternal life, but it shares the way to receive it. "Together, forever...all you have to do is receive the One Who died for you." And mixed with the screams and doo-wop is more solid guitar riffing along the lines of Poison, White Lion, and the other '80s guitar-driven bands.
"First Love" gives us a chance to catch our breath. It is an elegant ballad that showcases the upper end of Michael Sweet's vocal range. Some people were surprised when this was the ballad they chose for their 2015 album Second Coming, which was a re-recording of songs from their first three albums, but give this a listen and you will see why. It is a powerful, soaring ballad that could seem to be merely a secular love song, but when heard through the words of Scripture reveals a much deeper message. Plus, and this is a huge plus for me, it is not just a piano-based ballad, but once again has a soaring guitar solo.
Ok. Break time is over. The soldiers continue their attack on the next song with "The Rock That Makes Me Roll." Chugging guitars under gird a lyric that challenges you to "stand up and fight for what you believe in." And if that seems daunting, we are promised that the rock that makes us roll will give us all the courage that we need. Air guitarists and air drummers of the world unite, for this is a song that demands you get your whole body into the action.
The a cappella opening of "Reach Out" may make you think we are back for another ballad, but you would be wrong. This is another great rocker that has become a staple for Stryper fans over the years. "You don't need the darkness when there's a light to see," proclaim the lyrics, which go on to declare that it is Jesus Who will set you free. Let's be honest for a moment. While we older folks love our rock, back in the day music like this had a mostly teenage audience, and as a teacher I can tell you that young people often find themselves in dark places. This song offers a message of true hope for those who seem to be in the dark.
Organ music. Next to the guitar, I'm not sure there is an instrument that is more metal than the organ, and that is what opens "(Waiting For) A Love That's Real." Told from a woman's perspective, something that was a bit unusual thirty-five years ago, it is the story of true love, not the sappy, greeting-card version that society sells.
From the organ we move to piano for the intro to "Together As One." This is another song that could be sung from lover to beloved or heard as descriptive of the Christian's life with God. It is a soaring ballad and one that even now I could sing to my wife. Beautiful harmonies and delicious guitar combine to make a song that is as moving today as it was in 1985.
"Surrender" is one of my favorite songs every by any band. Screams and guitar assaults open this song that grows and expands into a chorus that bellows, "Freely surrender! Open up unto His majesty!" It is the battle cry of an army that conquers in love, for as these soldiers sing, "Jesus Christ is the lover of your soul." This has been a guarantee in every Stryper concert set list for more than three decades, and it's no wonder. It has the message and in-your-face sonic attack that we metal heads love.
The album closes out with "Battle Hymn of The Republic." This is a powerful hymn from the days of the American Civil War, and I have loved singing it in choirs. It is the perfect hymn to get a metal makeover. It's ominous opening grabs your attention. It's trumpet call remind you that this is a song that came from a time of war. It builds and builds so that by the time Michael Sweet finishes the first verse, you are prepared for the heavy assault that follows. A battle hymn is indeed the perfect conclusion for these soldiers under command.
*As always, check out my podcast with Pastor Wildman called Classic Christian Rock Podcast! Links are on the sidebar.
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
Usually when I review an album, I go through it track by track, discussing the lyrics, musical highlights, and ways it connects with other bands or work previously done by that artist. That will not be the case with Carry Fire, the eleventh solo album by Robert Plant, and you will see why.
First, however, I owe myself an apology, for I am truly sorry I did not purchase this the day it came out in 2017. I was aware of it, listened to a few tracks, and even had it on a couple of birthday and Christmas lists, but for whatever reason, I did not purchase it until recently, and for that I am deeply regretful, for it is from top to bottom one of the finest musical experiences I have every enjoyed.
Back in 1988, I purchased Plant's fourth solo album after the demise of Led Zeppelin, a work called Now and Zen, and I loved it, especially tracks like "Tall Cool One," "The Way I Feel," and "White, Clean, and Neat." Now, "Tall Cool One" certainly had a Zeppelin vibe, which it could not help but have given that Jimmy Page played on the track and that it included numerous references to Zep songs. The other songs, especially those noted above, carried a wispy feel that took me to another place and time, and it was clear even then that Plant would be exploring musical territory far beyond the boundaries of hard rock and metal.
I did not really keep up with Plant's solo work after that, although I did enjoy the collaborative project Raising Sand that he did with Alison Krauss in 2007 and the accompanying, and quite wonderful, performance they gave for the CMT show Crossroads, many videos from which can be found on YouTube.
In fact, it was this album that made get back into Plant's work, for in this collaboration, he showcased just how far he had come from the "Hey, hey, mama" days of Led Zeppelin. You could feel the soulful sensitivity that he was searching for, and often found, and the creativity he sparked with the other musicians made so much else on the market pale in comparison.
And so we arrive at his 2017 release Carry Fire. Most of the time I can only listen to a few songs, and even then, I must occasionally stop a song in its middle. They touch too deeply for me to listen to more at one time. There is only one track that hearkens back to Plant's rock roots, "Carving Up The World Again...A Wall And Not A Fence." The rest are musical streams that carry you away in their gentle currents to places in your soul that you may not have known existed. It is an album best enjoyed with a good pair of headphones. Close your eyes and let the lush, exotic, instrumental sounds, including the delicate instrument of Plant's voice, wash over you. Now, if that sounds strange to those who grew up on his chest-beating wail in songs like "Rock And Roll," then listen to the opening track "The May Queen," the exquisite "A Way With Words," or the title track "Carry Fire." I think you will agree that "delicate" is the perfect descriptor for a voice that is feeling its way carefully toward...well, whatever it is, we find ourselves grateful to go along on its journey, more than willing to carry fire to light its way.
Sunday, October 13, 2019
It has already been said that Michael Sweet's latest album, Ten, goes to eleven, which of course is a reference to the 1984 metal mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap. In that film, guitarist Nigel Tufnel (played by Christopher Guest) explains that his custom amplifiers go to eleven when he needs "that extra push over the cliff." The question, however, is where to go after eleven, and Michael Sweet has answered that. You go to Ten. This album is a monster of creative exploration and pure metal madness.
It kicks off with "Better Part of Me," the first video to be released before the album came out.
It has the feel of Stryper until the 2:30 mark when the solo by Jeff Loomis kicks in. Suddenly you realize this is not Stryper at all, and by the time your head has stopped spinning, the song screeches to a stop. So, what's going on here? First of all, Sweet brought in a different guitar soloist for each song but the ballad, and this speaks to his continuing love for musical experimentation. We hear it on the two Sweet & Lynch albums, on his last solo album, and on the last three Stryper albums, and this is part of what keeps fans coming back for more.
My eyes flew open at the intro to "Lay It Down," the second track. It's hard, dark, and chugging, which is what a good metal fan wants. The chorus could have come from the Stryper album Fallen, but that is it. This song is well outside what we've heard from Sweet before, and while there is fine, melodic noodling on the six-string later in the song thanks to Marzi Montazeri, that heavy chugging and pounding drums prove that Sweet wasn't making things up in the pre-release interviews when he said this would be a true metal album.
What would happen if Jimi Hendrix brought his "Foxey Lady" to a Michael Sweet concert? You would get the song "Forgive, Forget." While the opening riff is Hendrixesque, it moves into a Stryper-flavored thing with a hint of Sweet & Lynch thrown in, and you ask for the first of many times, "Who IS this beast of an artist named Michael Sweet?" Howie Simon's solo makes it abundantly clear that while Ten may have been influenced by other of Sweet's works, it cuts its own metal path.
"Now or Never" is up next, and opens with a big, epic, almost orchestral metal sound with a touch of metal opera in the middle. The guitar solo by Gus G is simply thrilling, and you just want to replay this song again, only louder. As I said in my review of Sweet's prior solo album, One Sided War, he can bring a Dio-esque quality to his vocals, something he did on that album's song "I Am." He continues to show himself the true successor of Ronnie James Dio on this dark and dramatic track.
The title track comes in with a swagger befitting its lyrical content. Written from the perspective of God as
He gave the Ten Commandments, this could easily have been on a Stryper album and was the third video from the album. The Duke of Metal, Rich Ward, brings his royal touch to the solo, making this a solid rocker.
The second video for this album was for the next song, "Shine," which again opens heavy and showcases Sweet's signature lyrical theme. Michael Sweet writes positive songs. Period.
Then again, what would you expect from a guy who claims Jesus as his Lord? Ethan Brosh, who worked on Sweet's One Sided War, is back, and it's a complete toss up whether to focus more on the music or the lyrics.
In addition to soaring high note vocals and virtuoso guitar playing, Michael Sweet is known for his ballads. Obligatory on a metal album, perhaps, but "Let It Be Love" goes beyond the typical boyfriend/girlfriend scenario. It is not just a song, but a salve for a bruised and wounded world. This is one to hold hands with your neighbor and sway to or hold up a light in the arena when it is played. Sweet handles the solo, and it is straight from the '80s, perfectly matching the melodic, powerful lyrics.
Okay. Ballad time is over. Track 8, "Never Alone," is back into hard, dark, and heavy, chugging, metal, and again comes the question, "Who IS this beast of an artist?" There is simply nothing not to like about this song. It and the next one were co-written with Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, who takes on the solos. Hoekstra had worked with Sweet on One Sided War, and this is truly a musical partnership from which the world needs to hear more and more.
"When Love Is Hated" opens with a '70s hard and heavy metal sound and expands into soaring vocals reminiscent of the '80s. The solo is something the must make David Coverdale jealous that it was not on the last Whitesnake album. This is the second Sweet-Hoekstra collaboration on this album, and for my money, I could take an entire album of songs like this. It's pure, classic metal.
"Ricochet" bounces up next with more of that '70s/'80s feel coursing through the blood-pumping veins of this tune. None other than Tracii Guns sets the six-string on fire, and you start thinking how great this collaborative project really is. Sweet has brought in musicians from throughout the decades and across the spectrum of metal and has given the world a taste of what amazing music they can make.
"With You Till the End" takes us back to classic Michael Sweet territory as the familiar-yet-fresh sounds assault the ears. Ian Raposa accompanies Sweet on vocals, making you think of great sounding, different-but-complementary vocal pairs like David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes in the Mark III lineup of Deep Purple. Mike Kerr handles the guitar solo and lends a drive and passion to this song that it makes it one of the true standouts.
The album concludes with a full frontal sonic assault in "Son of Man," with no less than Todd LaTorre on shared vocals and Andy James on guitar. The video for this has killer graphics to match
the brutal, heavy attack of this song that, like the opening number races right to the edge of a cliff and then stops.
Bottom line: This is quite simply the best solo album Michael Sweet has released and one of the best of his career. If you love metal, get it now!
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In 1987 I picked up the cassette of Bloodgood 's album Detonation . I was new to metal and wasn't in a place to appreciate fully ...
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