The eighties happened to be a particularly exciting time to be a fan of Christian metal. Stryper, of course, is the most easily identifiable group to come out of the era but a host of others originated from the time as well: Barren Cross, Bloodgood, Guardian, Sacred Warrior, Deliverance, Whitecross, Angelica, Messiah Prophet, Shout, Saint and Neon Cross all released their debut albums during the decade in question. The period also produced its share of quality unsigned bands, with Apostle, Taker, Paradox, Armada, Revelation, Full Armor and Divine Right leading the way.
Bay Area based Soldier also deserves consideration. Soldier can trace its origin to the mid-eighties and a top-40 band named Rexx that included vocalist Jimmy Arceneaux (pronounced Are-sen-nah) and bassist Marc Allyn. When Rexx came to an end, the two decided to form a new band and recruited talented guitarist Rick Hunter shortly thereafter. On the same night he joined forces with Arceneaux and Allyn, Hunter received a call from a drummer who was looking for a new band, Al Whalen. The rest, as they say, is history.
Soldier proceeded to put together its first demo, Louder Than Hell, in 1987 before recording its second a year later, the full length and critically acclaimed Babylon. What Louder Than Hell, a seven song effort made up of three studio tracks and four recorded live, hinted at in terms of potential Babylon delivers. As a matter of fact, Babylon is widely considered by critics one of the finest “demos” – a term I use loosely – to come out of the late eighties Christian metal underground.
White Throne Editor Dave Johnson best sums things up in his review of Babylon from White Throne 5 (1989): “Actually, calling Babylon a demo really isn’t fair. Soldier spent big bucks on quality studio time and excellent fidelity was their reward”. Johnson goes into further detail: “It’s not like how many good songs are on (Babylon). Dude, they are pretty much all either good or great. In fact, Babylon is just as good as all those albums I was considering for the best White Metal album of 1988.”1
Musically, critics described Soldier as “melodic yet heavy” or bringing a “commercial yet crunchy sound (that) is infectious”. My thoughts are that labeling Soldier melodic eighties influenced commercial metal is accurate but does not tell the entire story in that you can hear elements in their sound as diverse as classic metal, melodic metal, hard rock, blues and even a few moments that touch upon speed metal. Top of the line pieces off Babylon reflect this best: “Louder Than Hell” is a furious cruncher while “King Of The City” delivers speed and hooks. “Deadly Weapons” brings a Dokken-ish sound and “Priceless Heart” a touch of the blues. If you are interested in some commercial elements then look no further than “One Of A Kind” and “Angel”.
But it is equally important to keep in mind that Soldier was not just a studio band but an active live act as well in that they shared the stage with three of the biggest names in Christian metal at the time, Bloodgood, Barren Cross and Messiah Prophet, in addition to mainstream groups Vicious Rumors, Vain and Y&T. They also made the trek to Los Angeles to play at the first His Festival, Metal Mardi Gras and the Metal Midnight II Festival.
Dave Johnson, again from White Throne 5, describes Soldier’s performance at Metal Midnight II as “flanked by a wall of 18 speaker cabinets” and bringing ”professionalism as in stage presence, quality of music and musicianship”. He summarizes by stating, “So many good songs and such an enthusiastic response from the crowd really makes me wonder why Soldier hasn’t been signed. Do all A&R men have mush for brains or what? It is not possible to play better heavy metal music than Soldier did this show and if this band doesn’t get signed to a major secular label like Geffen Records, it will be the crime of the century!”2
Such a statement begs for the following questions to be answered: Why didn’t Soldier get signed? And how close did Soldier come to getting signed? These questions (and others) were answered in a recent online discussion Angelic Warlord had with Jimmy Arceneaux and Marc Allyn, who provide their insight in regards to the matter:
Arceneaux offers his thoughts: “The signing thing...well...let's see. We were supposedly being looked at by Jason Flom (Atlantic). He would be at shows we were on, but did he ever make a formal offer? No, not to my knowledge. Then there was a division of Word that wanted to sign us, but, and Rick and I had many a conversation about this, we were not sure we wanted to simply sign with a Christian label, and not be treated like just a band in the secular market. Especially considering that we felt "why minister to the world that didn't need ministering to" - if that makes any sense.”
Allyn contributes his side of things: “As far as how close we came to getting signed, man there were a lot of people saying a lot of stuff. Some of it was news to me. I know right after the Cal Metal stuff we had some people come sniffing around. Funny, I don't even know what Intense Records is/was!! (There were rumors at the time that Soldier was negotiating with Frontline Records.-Ed) If you were to ask me how close, I'd say not really.”
When asked if Soldier recorded any material other than the Louder Than Hell and Babylon demos, Allyn says, “We did record four or five more songs and yeah I thought they were pretty amazing. We demo'd them on Jimmy's Tascam 16 track cassette recorder or something like that, hoping to record them in a studio. Definitely heavier than the previous material, some if it was.” Arceneaux reinforces this point: “As for the last recordings we did, I actually have the masters of those and might be dumping them onto my hard drive very soon”.
I also brought up a quote from a Soldier interview from Heaven’s Metal 16 in which the group states "We've got videos from every show that we've done, except one. We're taking it and we're splicing old footage up till now." When inquired if they still have the footage, Arceneaux answers, “I also have a few of the videos as well...have not looked at them in years. Who knows, maybe we will get together and do some editing, not sure.”
In 2002 M8 released a CD entitled "Soldier: The Definitive Collection" that includes all the material from Louder Than Hell and Babylon along with the two songs the group recorded for the California Metal II compilation. Allyn expresses his disdain for "The Definitive Collection": “I absolutely hated the re-mastering they did on that "Definitive Collection" CD. It's possibly the worst re-mastering job I've ever heard. I know in the grand scheme of the music world it's a very small audience that bought this CD, but it bums me out that the way it sounds is the way people think we recorded it or wanted it to sound”.
Arceneaux sheds further light on the matter: “Well, funnily enough, I was wondering what was used for that CD as well, cuz I have most of the masters (if not all) sitting in a closet somewhere. I was not even involved in that CD whatsoever (yea, a bit of a sore spot with me, but I have gotten over it). SOME of the Babylon tapes may have even been recorded over by another band I did work with, although I am not really sure.”
At this point I encouraged them to consider professionally re-mastering Babylon and re-issuing it with the unreleased demo material. Include a bonus DVD made up of the better live footage as well.
The songs Soldier recorded for the infamous California Metal II compilation, “Borderline” and “Tears” did not sit well with critics. Dave Johnson, who always has a way with words, had the following to say in his review of CM II (from White Throne 6):
“Indeed Soldier was an excellent band but even the best of 'me are Pachyderm Studios production crew. This crew transformed an energetic heavy metal band into an overproduced, gutless, sickenly sweet, background vocal laden club of jelly. The producer's job is to capture the band's sound and get it down on tape, not to change it to please the ears of the producers. I saw Soldier no less than 15 times live in concert and this is not how Soldier sounds. The studio re-recorded Soldier's background vocals and remixed their songs after the band returned to the Bay Area and boy was Soldier upset.”3
It turns out that Allyn liked the CM II version of the two songs: “I think I was the only one who actually liked the way they re-mixed it. We had originally planned to record "Louder Than Hell" for the CD but couldn't seem to nail the basics so we moved on to "Borderline". After the CD came out, it ended up there were a lot of songs like "LTH" on the compilation, so I thought it worked in our favor to have two songs more on the melodic end.”
As far as the possibility of a Soldier reunion, Arceneaux said the following: “Marc and I have talked very loosely about the possibility of doing another Soldier "Album" but I am not sure where that stands, as we await Rick's 2 cents.”
In terms of the bands he has been involved in after Soldier, Allyn states, “Jimmy and I stayed pretty busy and were/are active players in the Bay Area music scene. I probably strayed the furthest musically from Soldier as my next band was influenced by what was called back then "college radio" bands like The Replacements or REM. I also played guitar in that band instead of bass. We had a pretty good run, opening for the likes of X, The Stray Cats, Chris Isaac, Beat Farmers and Flock Of Seagulls! Jimmy actually was responsible for us getting the choice gigs in the network of clubs he booked.
After that band broke up, I went on to form a band called Texas Border Radio that played pretty much the exact sort of music you'd expect a band with that name to play...bluesy roots inspired rock. We came pretty close to a deal with Polygram but alas like so many deals, ours fell apart when two things happened, our AR girl got fired and Nirvana hit the scene and suddenly that's the sort of band everyone wanted to sign. While neither of these bands amounted to the professional status I hoped, it was fun to gig around while exploring new music genres and styles. I can't speak for what Jimmy has to say about his other bands, but I can say his band I think right after Soldier was called Wonderland and they were easily one of the best bands the world shoulda known about. Seriously...Soungarden, Alice in Chains, all wimps in the light of this band. Hit him up for some recordings.”
Arceneaux has remained busy in the music scene as well: “My old band(s) (Wonderland & Swerver) were super heavy, not saying we were heavier than the bands Marc mentioned, but we were kinda doing the Soundgarden-ish thing, before someone even pointed them out to me, very dark, lyrically and musically. I went running the opposite direction from the more mainstream sound that Soldier had done, thankfully in part to Marc, as I think I really learned how to craft a song in Soldier because of him, and then felt like it was time to break the rules musically, for me personally. Heck, I am not even sure if even Marc knows how much he influenced me as a songwriter/lyricist (and I am not saying that cuz he is a part of this conversation). Soldier was a pretty exhausting project, so it was easier, for me anyway, to just start a band that was JUST a band.”
Guitarist Rick Hunter, of course, went on to form Regime, a group bringing a style reminiscent to that of Soldier on its early nineties demo Straight Through Your Heart. Hunter’s most recent band, Walk The Sky, includes both Soldier and Regime covers on its self-titled debut from 2005.
In closing, I feel that Arceneaux best sums up Soldier’s legacy: “All in all, I would like it to be said that although there were differences later on in the band and whatnot (which band doesn't have those), I recall the Soldier era very fondly. We were a very good band in a time when I thought there were not very many good bands, to be honest.”
Crothers, Keven. “Soldier.” White Throne 4 (1988): 20-21 & 25.
Johnson, Dave. “Babylon review.” White Throne 5 (1989): 36.
Johnson, Dave. “California Metal II review.” White Throne 6 (1990): 16-17.
“This Soldier Is Holy, But These Are The Other Guys.” Heaven’s Metal 16 (1988): 11-13.
1. Johnson, Dave. “Babylon review.” White Throne 5 (1989): 36.
2. 1. Johnson, Dave. “Babylon review.” White Throne 5 (1989): 36.
3. Johnson, Dave. “California Metal II review.” White Throne 6 (1990): 16-17.