|Musical Style: Melodic Metal/Hard Rock||Produced By: Russ Kirkland|
|Record Label: Regency||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1990||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 65%|
|Running Time: 35:15|
The decade of the eighties was renowned for the outpouring of “white metal” bands that hit the scene following the commercial success of Stryper. While the likes of Barren Cross, Bloodgood, Bride, Deliverance, Guardian, Sacred Warrior, Saint and Whitecross represented many of the more noteworthy, several lesser known female fronted groups made their mark as well. Barnabas, featuring the searing lead vocal abilities of Nancy Jo Mann, released two relatively obscure hard rock albums in Hear The Light (1980) and Find Your Heart A Home (1981) before following up with the more metal based sounds of Approaching Light Speed (1983), Feel The Fire (1984) and Little Foxes (1986). Ransom is another group worth mentioning. Showcasing the gritty vocal delivery of Lisa Faxson, Ransom recorded its self-titled debut in 1991 and its sophomore effort, Soul Asylum, a year later. Scarlet Red, a glam metal outfit fronted by Danis, put out the polished sounds of its one and only album Don’t Dance With Danger in 1989. Florida based Arsenal featured perhaps the most talented female vocalists of the era in Christine Steel. Recording a three song demo made up of the songs “Reaching For The Truth”, “Golden Love” and “Don’t Let It Pass You By”, Arsenal followed up by placing the tracks “Message Of Love” and “Stand Strong” on the East Coast Metal compilation in 1988 prior to releasing its full length debut Armored Choir in 1990.
What Arsenal brings to the table on Armored Choir is an eighties influenced blend of melodic metal, commercial hard rock, AOR and melodic rock. Comparisons to other female fronted acts of the era such as Vixen, Scarlet Red and Ransom would not be unfounded as would Stryper, Guardian, Angelica, Dokken and a host of others. The album finds the band displaying a penchant for composing a quality hard rock number, the likes of “Turn Around”, “Someone Believes In You”, “Take It Away” and “You’re No Good For Me” all standing out as a result of their guitar driven energy and momentum. But Armored Choir, in the end, however, proves an inconsistent listen in that for every choice track such as “Armored Choir” and “The Valley” (two of the heavier pieces here) and the infectious “Bishop Of Souls” there is a “Come Back To You”, “Forever Yours” and “The Candle… The Flame” that forces me to hit the skip button.
Christine Steel, for a lack of better words, steals (no pun intended) the show as a result of the breathtaking range to her delivery. Nothing less than a first rate talent, she displays the needed amount of emotion on ballads such as “Forever Yours” and “The Candle… The Flame” while exhibiting significant dynamics on more up-tempo tracks along the lines of “Armored Choir”, “Turn Around” and “Bishop Of Souls”. J.D. Miller handles all guitar duties, nailing some bluesy leads on “Someone Believes In You” and “You’re No Good For Me” and cutting loose in more ardent fashion on “Take It Away” and “The Valley”. Bassist Kandy Slaughter and drummer Dave Caliano round out the rhythm section.
Armored Choir could be improved upon from a production standpoint. Yes, the sound here is quite polished, but, on the other hand, the lead vocals end up placed a bit forward in the mix while the rhythm guitar deserves to come across in a heavier and edgier sounding manner. The end result is a slightly watered down effort that, in my opinion, fails to do the bands true sound the justice it deserves.
“Turn Around” begins the album to several seconds of open air rhythm guitar before progressing through its first verse at a resolute mid-tempo pace. Breaking out in spirited fashion, the song culminates as it obtains a chorus highlighted by Christine’s abundant vocal delivery. “Turn Around” delivers a straightforward salvation message:
The time is now will you refuse
The gift of love He offers you
If you turn around you’ll find
This love is yours at anytime
A hard hitting riff backed by some bluesy leads gets “Someone Believes In You” underway. Driven ahead by a crunchy wall of rhythm guitar, a smooth sounding environment is established as the song obtains a pristine chorus with an overriding pop flavored feel. Miller highlights a rousing instrumental section with more of his bluesy licks and chops.
“Armored Choir” ranks among the albums heavier and more noteworthy tracks. The song advances strong and steady from the onset, an abundance of guitar driven initiative urging it ahead at an upbeat tempo to an energized chorus giving rise to a deep and dark sounding ambience. Miller returns to decorate the scene with his fierily done lead guitar work. The message behind “Armored Choir” is one of unity:
We’re so few in number, but we maintain His power
And in the strength of Christ our voices are made louder
We’ll join together
We’re the chosen armored choir
Our voices defend
Together we are unified
After getting off to a fine start with three good hard rockers, the album disappointingly, falls a bit flat for the pedestrian sounding melodic rock of “Coming Back To You”. Lackluster is the overall feeling I get here, reflected in the songs dearth of a notable hook and restrained rhythm guitar sound. I tend to hit the skip button here.
I also do the same with the ballad “Forever Yours”. The song slowly moves through its first and second verse to an acoustic guitar, picking up in pace upon obtaining a chorus that comes across on the drab and colorless side of things. The lyrics here, however, are quite good:
I feel you move on the waters
And I feel your presence growing stronger
The way you’ve touched my life
Like no one else before
By your side I will remain forever yours
The hard rocking “The Valley”, on the other hand, rates with the albums best. Introduced to an ominous keyboard solo, the song takes off to a furious storm of rhythm guitar, determinedly driving ahead until a blues soaked chorus with a hook of the refuse to go away variety is obtained. Miller’s fluid soloing matches the songs energetic aura. “The Valley” talks about leaving the past behind:
Classic patience, standing there arms open wide
You’re forever waiting
This moment’s made for me and I choose to embrace it
I’ll never go back down, down
Down, I’ve been to the valley
Down, that’s where you found me
Commencing to a drum solo before taking off to an edgy rhythm guitar, “You’re No Good For Me” advances resolutely until it acquires a chorus in which a firm and unwavering environment is put into place. Several seconds of bluesy lead work backed by vocal harmonies shores up an energetic instrumental section.
“Bishop Of Souls” opens slowly to several seconds of keyboards only to take off to a blend of rhythm guitar and pounding drums. The song proceeds to impel through its first verse in a striking manner, breaking out with a plethora of appeal for a chorus with a huge, catchy hook. Great song that is by far the albums best. “Bishop Of Souls” touches upon the second coming:
There’s an army out there and the battle’s drawing near
There are souls to be lost and the sound of war in my ears
Here, where the gray flag fly’s so high
We will see our Lord break the sky
When He comes to claim His own
“Take It Away” fades in before transitioning to several seconds of impassioned riffing. Settling down to a crunchy rhythm guitar upon obtaining its first verse, the song makes a stalwart statement upon reaching its brief but spirited chorus. Several seconds of rhythm guitar opens an instrumental section highlighted by a brazen guitar solo.
“The Candle… The Flame”, the albums second ballad, proceeds slowly to an amalgamation of guitar and keyboards until acquiring an emotionally charged chorus focusing on victory in the life of a Christian:
I know it’s not over
I will not give in
I will fight, I will fight to carry on
In Jesus Christ, I’m winning
Similar to “Forever Yours”, however, in my opinion this one also lacks somewhat in the areas of energy and inspiration.
After putting out Armored Choir, Christine regrouped with the new guitar team of Kevin Pike (lead) and Brien DeChristopher (rhythm) and recorded a five song demo that found her moving in a musical direction that can best be described as blues based hard rock with classic rock sensibilities. Heavier at times and more acoustic laced in comparison to Armored Choir, the demo brings to mind Kinetic Faith era Bride but replace Dale Thompson with a searing female lead vocalist. Yes, the music here is that good in reflecting the significant growth and maturity made by Christine and company in terms of not only their musicianship but abilities in the studio as well. (The demo showcases a sound which is much more balanced and professional.) What stands out most about the project, nonetheless, is the incredible guitar work of Pike and DeChristopher – both acoustic and lead of a bluesy and fiery variety – in addition to the fact that all five tracks are carried out past five minutes, which helps lend to their depth and long term lasting value. All in all, the overall feeling I get here is that I wish Christine had recorded a full length album along this line. In other words, I want to hear more. And that is a very good thing.
The acoustic guitar at the start of “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down” continues to lead the way through its first verse as Christine steps forward with her copious voice:
With your mouth you confess
Jesus is Lord
But in your heart
You have doubts
That He’s alive
But every time you fall away
He always takes you back
He always gives you one more chance
His mercy it never ends
As the song builds and gains momentum, a crisp rhythm guitar interweaves with the acoustic guitar and stands in support of the slowly moving but poignant chorus that follows:
Don’t let the sun go down
Until you know the Savior
A stretch of bluesy lead work highlights a piece that can best be described as moving, stirring and emotional.
The album continues in an acoustic based direction on “House Of Mercy”. Gradually flowing through its first verse in a tranquil manner, the song does not pick up in pace until just prior to reaching a worshipful chorus shored up by a trace of accentuating rhythm guitar:
In Your hands
In Your hands
In Your hands of mercy
An aesthetically done acoustic guitar solo carries the extent of a well timed instrumental section.
“Dreams” also begins slowly to an acoustic guitar, a graceful scene upheld during its verse portions until an edgy rhythm guitar cuts in and fortifies a driving chorus giving rise to a heavy and driving feel. More bluesy lead work brings out the best in one of the demos heavier and more aggressive tracks. Christine’s passionate vocal performance helps put this one over the top.
“Missionary” kicks in at an upbeat tempo, tapering off upon reaching its first verse as a forward wall of rhythm guitar pushes it ahead hard and heavy. Decelerating for a passage carried by a quietly played guitar, initiative is gained by the song for a spirited chorus delivered in perfect, high octane fashion. An ethereal guitar solo carries an extensive instrumental section. “Missionary” is aptly named:
I am so willing Lord
Let me start
In Your time, in Your way
With Your heart
Lord, me be Your
Lord, send me
Introduced to several seconds of open air rhythm guitar, “Man Made Religion” is compelled through its first verse by a pounding riff prior to obtaining a hook filled chorus sustained by ardent vocal harmonies. A rollicking instrumental section features a stretch of accomplished lead guitar work.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing (Armored Choir): “Turn Around” (3:35), “Someone Believes In You” (3:42), “Armored Choir” (3:44), “Coming Back To You” (2:35), “Forever Yours” (3:50), “The Valley” (3:17), “You’re No Good For Me” (3:32), “Bishop Of Souls” (4:00), “Take It Away” (3:28), “The Candle… The Flame” (3:31)
Track Listing (demo): “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down” (5:20), “House Of Dreams” (5:26), “Dreams” (5:46), “Missionary” (5:06), “Man Made Religion” (5:59)
Musicians (Armored Choir)
Christine Steel – Lead Vocals
J.D. Miller – Guitars
Kandy Slaughter – Bass & Acoustic Guitar
Dave Caliano – Drums
Christine Steel – Lead Vocals
Kevin Pike – Lead Guitar
Brien DeChristopher – Rhythm Guitar