|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Awake & Freddie Martinez Jr.|
|Record Label: Mijaces||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2006||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 14||Rating: 40%|
|Running Time: 71:18|
Awake got its start in the late eighties when vocalist Mike Botello (Matrix, Assalant) decided to record a solo album and subsequently initiated a search for a lead guitarist. Soon crossing paths with a long term acquaintance in guitarist Jess Villegas (Militia), the two began working together and completed Botello’s first demo shortly thereafter. Botello proceeded to run into drummer Rob Battalion at a music conference in Austin, Texas in the spring of 1989, and, after going through a literal revolving door of bass guitarists, decided to take up the bass himself. At this point Botello and Villegas started work on new material and in time made the logical progression from a solo project to a full band effort. Hence, Awake was officially born. The newly formed power trio went on to open for such noteworthy acts as Vengeance Rising, Paradox, Deliverance and King’s X in addition to recording a full length album entitled Spiritual Warfare which it independently released in 1990. On the eve of the release of Spiritual Warfare, however, Botello, Villegas and Battalion parted ways, and while an attempt was made to resurrect Awake in 1991 with a new drummer in John Pace, the group never achieved any further success. The good news, on the other hand, is that Spiritual Warfare – after being an out of print and hard to find collectors item for years – was recently digitally re-mastered and re-released by Mijaces Records along with the original demo version of “See Me Now” and a 22 minute bonus track of a late 1992 rehearsal.
What Awake brings to the table is a blend of commercial metal and melodic rock with an occasional progressive leaning thrown in. The end result is an inconsistent and erratic effort revealing a band lacking the needed maturity in the area of songwriting at this early stage of its career. Awake, for example, is at its best on Rush influenced progressive rockers such as “Reconcile” and “Spiritual Warfare” along with the catchy hooks “Only The Strong Survive” and “Mirror, Mirror” bring to the table. The bands lack of experience, nevertheless, is betrayed by uninspired tracks such as “The System”, “Unjust”, “Truth & Reality” (featuring perhaps the most ill-conceived chorus of all time) and “The Kingdom”- all of which cannot help but force me to hit the skip button. In the end, Awake brings to mind other young bands of the era such as Barren Cross, Messiah Prophet, Bride and Xalt which also displayed some rough edges on their full length debut releases (Rock For The King, Rock For The Flock, Show No Mercy and Under The Ruins respectively). While the four previously mentioned bands showcased a great deal of maturity on their follow up efforts, Awake was not given that luxury in that following the release of Spiritual Warfare it was never heard from again.
It is worth pointing out that Awake is not lacking for talent and if given the opportunity to put out an additional recording or two – and getting more exposure in the process – would perhaps be mentioned in the same sentence with many of the top Christian metal acts of the era. Mike Botello displays good range with his smooth and clean sounding vocal style, occasionally cutting loose with a high pitched falsetto scream. He does, however, reveal a few shaky moments where his delivery can come across slightly off key, a problem which more than likely would have been rectified with more time in the studio. That being said, a legitimate case can be made that Botello overextended himself as well in that in addition to bass and acoustic guitar he also handles all the albums keyboard and synthesizer duties. Jesse Villegas proves quite the talented musician, best exhibiting his abilities on lead guitar on “Only The Strong Survive”, “See Me Now” and “Change”. Drummer Rob Battalion anchors the bands sound with a stead and tight as a nail performance.
While the digital re-mastering was certainly beneficial in cleaning things up, production values here still come across on the thin and muddy side. On the other hand, it is important to keep in mind that Spiritual Warfare was an independent release recorded using early nineties technology.
The albums packaging, to put it bluntly, leaves a lot to be desired. Rather than a mini booklet with lyrics and band photos, we instead get a single page insert with the album artwork on the front and line notes on the back. It does not get much more basic than this.
Spiritual Warfare gets off to a strong start with “Prelude”, “Reconcile” and “Only The Strong Survive”.
The keyboards introducing the instrumental “Prelude” give way to a hard and heavy rhythm guitar after one minute. An open air guitar solo with a neo-classical feel soon steps forward and closes out the songs final seconds.
I like how “Reconcile” reflects a Rush influenced progressive rock vibe. The song slowly moves through its first verse to a blend of keyboards and quietly played guitar until it picks up in pace as the rhythm guitar kicks in. Advancing in resolute and determined fashion, the song culminates for a hook filled chorus in which Botello displays the smooth sounding range to his voice. The band does a good job exhibiting the strength of its instrumental sound as well.
“Only The Strong Survive” is by far the albums strongest track. Getting underway to several seconds of open air rhythm guitar, an energetic setting is put in place as the song moves ahead at an upbeat tempo to a catchy chorus backed by a touch of vocal harmonies. Villegas stands out with a nice stretch of skillfully done lead guitar work.
Things begin to take a turn for the worse with “The System”. While the song is a mid-tempo melodic hard rocker standing out with a good, uplifting message, it falls a bit flat due to its lackluster delivery and uninspired feel to its chorus. Some more energy and oomph from the band would have gone a long way to putting this one over the top.
“Drums Of War”, as its title implies, is a drum solo that is 1:14 too long. Next.
“Unjust” is another track that struggles to hold my attention. A blend of militant drums and keyboards slowly propels the song forward until the rhythm guitar takes over, a more-up-tempo environment put in place as it obtains a chorus I might describe as colorless if not pedestrian at best.
The album moves in a very well done acoustic laced melodic rock direction with “Change”. An acoustic guitar gently compels the song through its first verse until a trace of quietly played guitar enters the mix in time to accent the strong, emotionally charged chorus that follows. Villegas delivers another run of exquisitely played lead guitar work.
The erratic “Truth & Reality” flows quite well during its first verse to a quietly played guitar line. Abruptly picking up in pace as the rhythm guitar steps forward, “Truth & Reality” progresses in quickly moving fashion until hitting a dead end for a chorus shored up by a blend of overriding backing vocals and high pitched falsetto screams. Yes, Botello displays good range here but the heavy handed manner in which the chorus is conveyed is a bit too much to take.
“Mirror, Mirror”, on the other hand, represents one of the albums brighter spots. A sublime setting is put in place as a slowly moving amalgamation of keyboards and lead guitar carries the song over its first minute. Picking up in pace for its first verse, “Mirror, Mirror” is driven ahead by an edgy rhythm guitar until it transitions to a smoothly flowing chorus delivered with an abundance of hook-filled impetus. Beautiful song with a nice progressive touch to it.
“The Kingdom” heads in a restrained melodic rock direction. The keyboards highlighting the song during its first verse are soon replaced by the rhythm guitar upon reaching the second. A slowly moving chorus in which the keyboards make a cameo appearance, unfortunately, comes across with much too laid back of a feel. This one also needs some up-tempo energy and initiative.
The original demo sounding version of “See Me Now” features the albums worst sounding production. The song, however, is quite good, gradually progressing to a blend of keyboards and orchestration before picking up in pace as the rhythm guitar carries things to a refined chorus fortified by backing vocals. Villegas spices things up with an over the top fluid guitar solo.
The two minute “Faith” is a directionless keyboard based number that begins to a minute long instrumental section. Keyboards continue to play a forward role in the mix as the song slowly progresses through its first and only verse.
After struggling through a dozen songs and nearly 40 minutes of music – with much of it on the non-descript side – the last thing I need is for things to close with a song coming in at past 7 minutes; yet, that is what we get in the albums epic 7:13 title track. Not that the song is bad – it actually represents one of the albums finer moments – but it probably would have come off better if placed earlier in the track list.
Following an instrumental introduction that starts quietly only to pick up in pace as a hammering riff makes its presence felt, “Spiritual Warfare” plows through its first verse with a plethora of determined impetus prior to transitioning to an instrumental passage highlighted by a fiery guitar solo. Stopping dead in its tracks, the song moves on to a slowly moving passage featuring narration from Galatians 5:16-17. I enjoy how “Spiritual Warfare” closes out its final three and a half minutes to an instrumental section allowing the band to showcase the abundant strength of its musicianship.
Finally, the Spiritual Warfare re-issue closes with a 22 minute “bonus” track of a band rehearsal recorded in late 1992 with drummer John Pace. Yes, I managed to get through all 22 torturous minutes and would best describe it as a monotonous and muddy sounding non-stop jam session. Long term Awake fans, nevertheless, will enjoy this as the rehearsal track is quite nostalgic and features a performance from Pace in which he cuts loose with plenty of rapid and hard hitting double bass.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Prelude” (2:10), “Reconcile” (3:58), “Only The Strong Survive” (3:57), “The System” (3:17), “Drums Of War” (1:14), “Unjust” (3:01), “Change” (3:16), “Truth & Reality” (3:59), “Mirror, Mirror” (4:33), “The Kingdom” (4:48), “See Me Now” (5:26), “Faith” (2:18), “Spiritual Warfare” (7:13), “Bonus Track” (22:02)
Mike Botello – Lead Vocals, Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Keyboards & Synthesizers
Jesse Villegas – Guitars
Rob Battalion – Drums & Percussion
John Pace - Drums