Stryper – Second Coming


Stryper – Second Coming
Frontiers Records – 2013

This band’s music has never sounded more relevant than it does now with their new album Second Coming.  30 Years have done nothing to diminish the power of Stryper’s message.  It doesn’t matter if you are Christian, Mormon, Jewish or Hindu, Stryper makes it “Loud N’ Clear” what they are all about from their first rocking track.  Michael Sweet and Oz Fox provide the twin guitar attack, which starts from the first note.  The end harmony is just plain wicked.

Stryper is able to take their devotion to God the Father and represent it with power and passion.  “Loving You” has lyrics that any human being can appreciate.  Michael Sweet’s voice reaches exhilarating heights and the two guitar assault is potent.

There is no way any perspective hard rocker or metal fan can’t join forces with the band after listening to “Soldiers Under Command.”  The dynamic guitar solo between Sweet and Fox is awesomely expressive.  Robert Sweet’s drums pound like an armored tank in battle, while Timothy Gaines bass holds it all together.

I’ve got to say the producing job Michael Sweet does on this album is stunningly masterful.  The recording level of each instrument, the performance of every band member stands out in tracks like “Makes Me Want To Sing.”  You can hear everything crystal clear with it all working together like a well-oiled machine.

“First Love” is a beautiful song.  I’ve always been found of it.  In fact, I admit red-faced that I once tried to sing it over the phone to an old girlfriend.  The tenderness and newness of such a deeply important personal experience is completely captured by Stryper.

Robert Sweet attacks the drums with gusto in “The Rock That Makes Me Roll.”  The lyrics of this song are written in a way that you could apply them to anything important you want to accomplish.

Michael Sweet and the rest of the band have cool exchanges in “Reach Out.”  This is definitely a song designed for the crowd-listener to sing along with.

“Surrender” is one of Stryper’s hardest rocking tunes.  The main guitar riff is a killer.  Ox Fox goes off big-time with his lead work and use the tremolo bar.  It’s one of the band’s best songs.  The chorus is catchy and the end harmony is a metal guitar duet made in heaven.

The dark, slower drum beat Robert Sweet established in “To Hell With The Devil” will have you trying to play along with him.  This tune almost has the feel of Black Sabbath, which is probably intentional.

There is a playfulness that shines bright in “Calling on You.”  This song is very positive and affirms the band’s outlook on life.

Drums and guitar are on a mission to rock your soul in “Free.”  I find the lyrics incredibly inspiring to do what I want to do.

Fox’s tremolo blurred lick into his solo of “The Way” will sear into your metal consciousness.

Love the way the guitar leads into “Sing Along Song.”  Robert Sweet’s drum beat is robust.  Stryper achieves Queen-like vocal harmony to go along with the guitars joining as one voice.

The beginning of “More Than a Man” has Fox dancing a metallic ballet or sorts.  The main guitar rhythm of the tune is cool and Michael Sweet really nails the notes at the end.

The heavy dark groove of “Bleeding from Inside Out” carries a punch.  The drums have weight and the bass has strong presence.

There’s a tug-of-war to the rhythm of “Blackened” that should get your attention.

I’ve listened to Second Coming as much or more than other CD released this year.  There is no possible way this won’t be in contention for Best Album of 2013, when all is said and done.

James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance

JamesLaBrieImpermanentResonanceJames LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Inside Out Music – 2013

James LaBrie’s 2005 album Elements of Persuasion is one of my all-time favorites.  It was the beginning of the main nucleus of this band; James LaBrie on vocals, Matt Guillory on keyboard and the birth of a guitar wizard Marco Sfogli.  When the band followed it up with Static Impulse (2010), they leaned in a heavier direction with the addition of drummer Peter Wildoer’s cookie monster vocals playing a significant role in the songs.  Though the music was still excellent, the playing stellar, the more consistently aggressive approach took something away from making it as memorable as their first album.

Impermanent Resonance is nearer to the debut disc, with more delicate moments while still having Wildoer’s harsh vocals within some of the songs.  For me, Matt Guillory’s keyboards taking more of a presence is the key that brings out the band’s contrast.  When Sfogli’s heavy distorted riffs & Wildoer’s pounding drums are placed against the soft dreamy piano or ambient keyboards, it makes a much more indelible impression.

This bands’ greatest strength is harmony.  The incredibly diverse keyboard sounds that stretch from new age piano to electronica set the stage for everyone else to play off of.  James LaBrie must be given a great deal of credit because his songwriting with Guillory clicks on every track.  LaBrie’s vocal patterns are so damn catchy and pleasing to the ear that you can’t help but get caught in his vocals.  The music goes right along to support the rhythmic structure, which is so listenable that I could imagine every tune on the radio.  I don’t say this in a condescending way or as a derogatory comment.  It’s just that the tunes have so much hook power that I know a mass audience would eat it up.

Just about every song stands out.  Highlights include; the vocal flow of “Undertow,”  Wildoer’s drum work in “Slight of Hand,” “the gigantic hook of the chorus of “Back On The Ground,” Sfogli’s hypnotic guitar in combo with the fantastic vocal qualities of “Holding On,” Guillory’s beautiful keys in “Lost in the Fire”, which hook up with the chorus in a way that will snag you big-time.  I love how Sfogli’s distorted guitar bounces with Ray Riendeau’s bass to really grab you in the seventh track.  The heavy guitar riff and drums in “Destined To Burn.”  James LaBrie’s heartfelt voice in “Say You’re Still Mine.”  The tug-of-war between delicate and heavy music in “Amnesia.”  Even the bonus tracks pop; Sfogli’s gorgeous acoustic guitar in ‘”Unraveling” and the way the guitarist and Wildoer attack the last tune “Why.”

It’s not often that a CD comes along that has the killer musical combination that Impermanent Resonance sports.  This will be something you will become attached to for not only this year but the rest of your life.

Evil Dead – Music by Roque Baños


Evil Dead – Music by Roque Baños
La-La Land Records – 2013

The score for the remake of Evil Dead is carried out with wondrous skill and real compositional flair.  Rogue Baños does a masterful job of getting the Pro Arte Orchestra and the BTG Chapel Choir to perform on the highest level.

No matter how you feel about this latest version of Evil Dead (I thought it was strong, the most violent movie I’ve ever seen a major studio release), there’s no denying the power of this new score.  I was impressed with the softer moments in “I’ll Rip Your Soul Out” as much as the bombastic screaming horns, wall of choir voices and big drum hits.  This shows Baños’ control of his craft and speaks highly of both his versatility and music knowledge.

The piano in “Sad Memories” stirs the heart with spread out notes creating tenderness of the main character’s serious drug problem.  The strings underline a creepiness that dwells not far off in the shadows, itching to break free and wreak havoc.

Baños engineers the strings to flutter in “Don’t Say It, Don’t Write It, Don’t Hear It” in a way that makes me think of The Shining.  The real quiet, almost silent part of this cue is incredibly tense because there are voices whispering and the subtle orchestral touches make it suspenseful.

The ascending strings in combo with the chorus voices in “Demon Possession (extended)” will put you on the edge before you get shoved off when the horns and drums impact like a charging rhino.  It caused me to jump in my seat as I was straining to listen to the low volume sounds and got suddenly walloped like a sledge hammer to the head when the big orchestra hit.  There’s another moment like this in the middle of “Get Me Out of Here”, which reminded me a bit of Creature From the Black Lagoon or Jeepers Creepers.

Speaking of brass instrumentation, the trumpets and other horns scream out in “She Tried To Kill Me.”  Baños also pushes the brass to the max in “Bloody Kiss.”  In this eighth cue, I love the deep low horn instrument, which delivers substantial weight and force.

The bright snapping sound in “Three Ways of Saving Her Soul”, bites like a venomous snake.

The orchestra purrs softly in the beginning of “Natalie Hunting,” which changes mid-way through in both volume and intensity.  The acoustic siren is most definitely an eerie addition.  It was fascinating reading Baños linear notes why he used the siren. The same approach is taken in the longest track “I’ll Do What I Gotta Do (extended)”, which hits a peak half-in.  The trumpet pattern during the last quarter is real catchy and passionate.

My favorite track has to be “Come Back To Me.”  This is the powerful music used when David (Shiloh Fernandez) tries saving his sister Mia (Jane Levy) by attempting to get her heart started again after burying her.  This is definitely the most important moment in the entire film and the music supports it.

Baños scores “He’s Coming” with aggressive thrust propelling the musical story forward with relentless intensity.  I love the way the orchestra builds to a fever pitch and then dissipates into the either.  The choir voices take over to make the track even more potent.

“Abominations Rising “sounds like a tornado of evil raging across the soundscape.  The orchestra extends down like a funnel cloud touching to the ground, with the choir fueling the spinning vortex of evil.  Voices speak, cry out and shout representing the demons that run amuck in the film.  The strings work franticly in the best John Williams fashion and then that acoustic siren puts the topper on creating all out terror.  It’s fun, creepy and sounds absolutely amazing.  This easily qualifies as my second favorite track of this score.

I love the way Baños dances with “The Pendant / Evil Tango” as he gets the music to flow with the orchestra leading the choir to move in a ballroom dance pattern, while still retaining the horrific aspects of this film.

The psychological center of Evil Dead is captured in this beautiful piano rendition of “The Evil Dead Main Title.”

This soundtrack wraps up with “Come Back To Me (alternate)”, a composition that dives into the film’s emotional crest with a gentle grip on the film’s heartstring.

Rogue Baños has created an outstanding piece of work that will definitely be lauded by all film scoring listeners.  ‘I’d best describe the Spanish music composer as a cross between Jerry Goldsmith, Elliot Goldenthal and Christopher Young.  He has deep roots in the pillars of movie music, yet he’s not duplicating anyone or any film in particular.  It all comes across rather naturally and makes me excited about not only this magnificent score for Evil Dead but his work to come.

La-La Land Records have done another stellar job with this soundtrack.  The packaging, artwork, quotes from the main people behind this film all lend credence into this score.  I also appreciated the considerable 71 ½ minute running time, which gave me lots of time to enjoy this standout work.

I’m quite confident that this will end up as one of the best of 2013.