Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
ArkAngel - Warrior
   
Musical Style: Progressive Art Rock Produced By: Jimmy Hotz, Kemper Crabb & David Marshall
Record Label: Star Song Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 1980 Artist Website: Kemper Crabb
Tracks: 15 Rating: 80%
Running Time: 39:06

Arkangel - Warrior

Perhaps no other Christian hard music album released in the early eighties - the pre Stryper era of you will - piqued more interest than ArkAngel’s debut Warrior.  It certainly piqued mine.  Released in 1980 on both Joyeuse Garde Recordings and Star Song Records, Warrior represents one of the few impulse music purchases I have made throughout the years.  Despite the passing of over three decades, I still recall in the summer of 1981 sauntering into the local Christian bookstore, and upon perusing the vinyl bin, coming across an album entitled Warrior by a previously unheard of group named ArkAngel.  As a lifelong high fantasy fan, I immediately was drawn to the cover art featuring a bearded angel like warrior wearing a helmet and back cover with photos of band members dressed in medieval attire not to mention an opening three part song ending to “March Of The Ents”.

Since I knew I had stumbled upon something well outside the musical boundaries and norm - there was no need to give the matter any time and thought or even listen to the promo cassette copy (remember those days?) - I walked the album to the front counter and made the purchase at once.

At this point, it deserves note I grew up listening extensively to Kiss, Van Halen and Ted Nugent.  Whereas I became a Christian in early 1979, I did not discover Christian rock until the fall of 1980 when a high school friend loaned me a cassette copy of Resurrection Band’s Rainbow’s End.  It would be sufficient to say the hook was set in that over the next couple of years I obtained the back catalog of not only Resurrection Band but also that of contemporaries Petra, Jerusalem, Daniel Band, Barnabas, etc.  So as you can see my musical tastes - whether mainstream or Christian - did not stray outside the boundaries of straightforward metal and hard rock.  For some reason I never embraced the great progressive bands of the time such as Kansas, Genesis and Yes.

With ArkAngel’s Warrior, however, that all changed in that it started a lifelong love affair with progressive music that has remained to this day, noting how some of my favorite albums are from Kerry Livgren (Seeds Of Change), Veni Domine (Material Sanctuary) and Affector (Harmageddon) while Neal Morse is one of my favorite artists.  In terms of specifics, ArkAngel actually falls under the ‘progressive art rock’ designation.  So how do you define art rock and how does it differ from progressive rock?  What is the result when you combine both therein? 

I like to think of art rock as music that places emphasis on the avant-garde and pretentious with the goal of making an unconventional and experimental artistic statement.  It deserves note that art rock and progressive rock are potentially interchangeable terms, keeping in mind progressive rock distinguishes itself from its use of classically trained instrumental techniques and symphonic features.  Boil the two down and the result is a joining of the traditionally melodic and at times eclectic within the context of complex compositions and extended instrumental arrangements.

A single listen to Warrior is all that is required to understand how the ‘progressive art rock’ indicator uniquely applies to ArkAngel in light of its slant towards incorporating medieval music with more up to date musical styles.  Consider, for instance, how the album breaks down between its lighter (acoustic based) first side, ‘Wind Face”, and heavier (straining towards metal and hard rock) second, “Fire Face”, to create a landscape that breaks new musical ground, at least within context of the early eighties Christian music scene in which it saw release.

Helping ArkAngel further separate itself is its abundant instrumental proclivity, with the number of instruments its individual members perform nearly jaw dropping, including numerous synthesizers and guitars, dulcimer, psaltery, bagpipes, recorder and many others (38 in all!).

ArkAngel - Warrior - Wind Face

Opening “Wind Face” cut breaks down between three parts, with the first, “Pange Lingua Certaminis", an under one minute interlude type piece carried by flute, acoustic guitar and founding member Kemper Crabb’s rich and stately vocal demeanor.  “Warrior”, the second, fades in to bagpipes before a militant rhythm carries it to its Christian battle cry themed (and quite catchy) refrain:

The Lord is a Warrior
The Lord is mighty in battle
The Lord is a Warrior
Lord of Hosts is He

My Lord is a Fortress
He is a Sun and a Shield
The Lord is a deliverer
To those who put their trust in Him

As the song builds towards a crescendo, heavier rocking rhythm guitars cut in and take things to their close.  Bagpipes return for third part “March Of The Ents” with its ‘kar-um-kar-um-kar-um-kar-um’ chanting.

“Dwelling Place” comes across in the form of a tranquil ballad, as Fender Rhodes and Hammond B-3 uphold the calm and airy setting and saxophone the clever instrumental moments.  Bekah Crabb lends her classic soprano voice to the ethereal refrain.

"Paradox (Disciple Song)” ensues with a crisp and warmer feel in propelled its distance by acoustic guitar and hints of rhythm guitar.  Occasional outbursts of clavinet lend a contrasting feel.  Lyrics find the song aptly entitled:

I heard Jesus calling soft and low
Turn from yourself and follow me
Come follow me down the narrow road
Oh Lord, I’ll go where you lead me

The worshipful “Realization”, entirely acoustic and lightened by Bekah Crabb’s softer vocal flavorings, gives way to “Greater Love”, taking a similar musical heading but with bell tree and autoharp standing alongside Kemper Crabb’s towering vocal presence.  Lyrically, “Greater Love” speaks of exactly that:

Well they drove Him down the road
And they nailed Him to my cross
And the nails they drove into His hands
Should have been mine
The blood that flowed
Should have been mine

Closing “Wind Face” is the minute long “Praises In The Old Tongue” in which vocals in old Anglo Saxon allow for a medieval flair.

ArkAngel - Warrior - Fire Face

I enjoy the reserved sounds of “Wind Face” but my tastes trend towards the heavier and more progressive “Fire Face”. Two minute "Ex Nihilo" starts “Fire Face” as electric violin (in similar vein as Kansas) and pensive keyboards impel its two short but sublime verses.

“Morning’s Anthem”, albums longest at six minutes, opens its first minute instrumentally to technical drum rolls and concise bass that give way to an onrush of assuming guitars.  The verses that follow lend an impending feel (the tubular bells fit perfectly) in drifting between moments both forbidding and divine to reflect upon the worshipful:

On Mount Zion Gods people sing to their Lord
To Jesus who dwells in their midst as the King
And the song that is sung is the song of the Kingdom
The song of the Kingdom of Jesus our Lord
Come and sing, come and sing…

The instrumental proclivity continues, with a mid-point break carried by doom-ish guitars and final minute featuring melodic guitar harmonies.  Theocracy would sound right at home covering this.

Third “Fire Face” song breaks down between three parts.  First, "Elohim Considers Anteldeluvia", ominously covers its minute and a half to open-air guitar and feedback, while the second, "The Nephilim Disembodied", maneuvers its short length to offbeat sound effects and otherworldly vocal melodies, including a credit give to The Nazgûl!

Third part is full-length piece “Ark”, which plods in forlorn but moving fashion in touching upon the doom-like (with complementary acidic guitar tones).  Interestingly, at a moments notice the song can descend into occasional calmer moments in which lush keyboards move to the front of the mix.  As its title implies, “Ark” provides a treatise on Noah’s Ark:

Oh Lord, how the people laughed when I built your Ark
How the people screamed and cried when the storm clouds turned the sky dark
How they screamed and cried to be let inside
But you were the One who closed the door
And I knew Your judgement was fallen on men
And there was hope for them no more
For the clouds were opened to wash the Earth clean again

Fourth “Fire Face” cut encompasses two parts.  "Bestia Ex Machina" represents a forty-second counting down of ‘various mechanized tones” that start out fast before coming to a complete stop.

“To A Sleeping Infidel” follows in upholding the apocalyptic vestiges.  The song gracefully starts to flute that gives way to the sinuous keyboards adoring its placid verses, with impetus not picking up until profound guitars abruptly power in to brace the unabashedly delivered refrain.  Flute returns at the start of an instrumental interlude carried by authoritative guitars.  Lyrics are end-times focused:

Better lift up your head and wipe the sleep from your eyes
Watch God’s chosen rise up through the skies
If you look to the ocean, you can see the beast rise
Now there’s…

No more days, no more nights
No more time for you to give your life to Christ
No more time to give Him your life
And you really will have to die beneath the Anti-Christ
You really will have to give your life

Don't take the number…

Closing Warrior is short acoustic laced instrumental “Morning’s Anthem Reprise”.

ArkAngel - Warrior - back cover

I have no qualms with production when factoring the albums early eighties release on a small Christian label.  It actually has held up quite well over the years.  A production credit is even given to Jimmy Hotz, whom also released his own progressive art rock magnum opus in Beyond The Crystal Sea from 1980.

M8 Records re-issued Warrior on CD in 2000 with bonus tracks in the form of live versions to “Realization” and “Warrior”.  Lone complaint regarding the re-issue is that it transposes the playback order of the final two songs to “Wind Face” (in comparison to the vinyl version).  Speaking of which, tracking down a vinyl copy is a necessity to obtain the super detailed insert that comes with more band photos in medieval attire (sort of like a Renaissance Festival), a breakdown of which band member performs which instrument on each song, scriptural references and blue ink to the lyrics on “Wind Face” and red for “Fire Face”.  Unfortunately, the packaging to the CD re-issue is a bit barebones in not reflecting such a high level of detail.

Warrior adds up to a groundbreaking progressive art rock release- again, when factoring the period in which it came out (there was not much like it in the early 80’s Christian music scene with the exception of Jimmy Hotz).  I particularly appreciate the synergy between the lighter “Wind Face” and heavier “Fire Face”, which further magnifies the innovative thinking and creativity at hand.  The stunning ArkAngel musicianship plays no small role in this regard, with founding member Kemper Crabb credited with performing no less than 19 of the 38 instruments found on the album.  Which begs the following question: what has he been up to musically over the years?  Outside of a solo album entitled The Vigil (from 1982) and work in Radio Head and Atomic Opera, he has remained on the sidelines.  I find it disappointing ArkAngel has not released several more albums over the years in that the group had the potential to rank alongside many of its aforementioned contemporaries in terms of legacy.

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: "Pange Lingua Certaminis" (:41), "Warrior" (4:15), "Dwelling Place" (4:29), "Paradox" (3:23), "Realization" (1:19), "Greater Love" (3:18), "Praises In The Old Tongue" (1:19), "Ex Nihilo" (1:57), "Morning’s Anthem" (5:50), "Elohim Considers Anteldeluvia" (1:42), "The Nephilim Disembodied" (:41), "Ark" (4:28), "Bestia Ex Machina" (:41), "To A Sleeping Infidel" (3:20), "Morning’s Anthem Reprise" (:24)

Musicians
Kemper Crabb – Lead Vocals, Classic Guitar, Lute, Recorder, Drums, Tambourine, Finger Cymbals, Acoustic Guitar, Kalimba, Dulcimer, Bell Tree, Tubular Bells, Board Slaps, Electric Rhythm Guitar, Full Frontal Guitar, Psaltery, High Strung Guitar, Autoharp, Accordion & Fender Rhodes Electric Piano
David Marshall – Electric Rhythm Guitar, Bass & Full Frontal Guitar
Randy Sanchez – Drums & Mall Toms
Richard Conine – Synthesizers, Organ, Saxophone & Flute

ArkAngel - Warrior - insert liner notes

 

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