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
Barnabas - Hear The Light
Musical Style: Hard Rock Produced By: David Storrs
Record Label: Tunesmith / Retroactive Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 1980 / 2017 Artist Website: Barnabas
Tracks: 10 Rating: 75%
Running Time:

Barnabas - Hear The Light

We’ve admired Barnabas since the release of its 1980 debut full length Hear The Light.  The group’s inception actually traces to the late seventies and founding member and guitarist Monte Cooley, who proved a pioneer of sorts - at least when factoring the time at hand - when he developed the vision to ‘start a hard-rock Christian band (with the purpose of) evangelizing young people’.  The Barnabas line up did not begin to solidify until Cooley recruited bassist Gary Mann from an ad he placed at a Los Angeles area Guitar Center and later vocalist Nancy Jo Mann, whom responded to an ad he placed in a local ‘nickel’ paper, The Recycler.  With drummer Kris Klingensmith rounding out its roster, Barnabas recorded the demo material that led to it signing with Canadian label Tunesmith Records, which released Hear The Light and follow up effort Find Your Heart A Home from 1982.

Prior to assessing the Barnabas legacy, one must first consider the late seventies to early eighties Jesus Movement era in which it came out of, a musically mellower period in which ‘the whole harder rock thing was still not considered compatible with Christianity by a majority of the church’ (as taken from the groups press material).  Hence, how it would not be out of line to suggest that in ranking alongside contemporaries Resurrection Band, Jerusalem and Daniel Band, Barnabas defied the ‘mellower’ musical trends of the time as one of the leading figures of the early Christian metal and hard rock scenes.  Moreover, it would be equally fair to suggest that Stryper and the literal flood of ‘white metal’ bands that followed on the heels of its commercial success owe a full measure of respect to Barnabas and said cohorts who literally blazed the trail ahead for them.

My experience with Barnabas dates to the early eighties when a friend at the rather conservative Christian high school (to put it lightly) I was attending loaned me a cassette copy of Resurrection Band’s Rainbow’s End.  One thing led to another, and I went on to acquire albums not only from ‘Rez Band’ but also those from the as noted Jerusalem and Daniel Band in addition to Petra, Servant, DeGarmo & Key and Barnabas.  I held off on obtaining Hear The Light until late 1981, which more than likely attributes to the groups punk image, noting the offbeat band photos gracing both the front and back covers (never been a punk fan).  Of course, do not ‘judge a book by its cover’ in that I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Hear The Light actually based itself on a foundation of hard rock blended with nuances of punk/new wave, heavy metal blues and even folk rock.        

First impression left me turned off by the thin production, which obviously was the result of a minimal recording budget.  Rectifying this, however, is the re-mastering (courtesy Rob Colwell of Bombworks Sound) to the Retroactive Records re-issue to Hear The Light from the fall of 2017.  Keeping in mind limitation to the source material, the Retroactive re-issue is the best version I have heard with an overall cleaner and brighter sound, at least in comparison to the original release and M8 re-issue from 2001. 

Packaging receives an upgrade as well, with a professional layout (credit Scott Waters of No Life Til Metal) that includes both versions to the cover art (Hear The Light was rereleased by Light Records in 1984) in addition to a detailed band history, liner notes, band photos and lyrics- all done with loving attention to detail.

The heavier side to Barnabas asserts on opener “Savior”, a short (3:03) but rampant heavy metal mauler driven by power riffs galore and hooks to spare.  The song also serves to introduce the fiery and passionate vocals of Nancy Jo, whom is widely regarded as one of the finer front women to have come out of the period regardless of mainstream or Christian scenes.  Cooley makes his mark every bit much with his animated soloing abilities.  Lyrics are straightforward in terms of the salvation message:

The Son of God; the Son of man
Christ Messiah
Miracles flowed from His hands
But His message was love
He chose twelve from thousands
To witness His teaching
For He knew that He soon must return
To His Father above

Thirty pieces of silver
And Judas betrayed Him
They crucified Christ on a cross
Where everybody could see
He died to pay for our sin
And our salvation is free know
"Eternal life is God's gift to the world
If you believe in Me

“There’s A New World Coming” touches some of those referenced punk/new wave elements even if slightly.  It begins with the overriding amounts of youthful energy that propels the songs distance not to mentions Nancy Jo’s exuberant opening line, “Hey people don’t you know there is definitely a new world coming”.  It also includes the refrain, which has this offbeat punk-ish chanting that while coming across a bit disjointed works to perfection from being so catchy.

“Directly Assistance” is not so much the albums best track as it is one of the best in the groups five album repertoire with its unabashed heavy metal flair.  The song is noteworthy for featuring one of the all time great hard rock guitar riffs - dunna-dunna-dunna-dunna-dut-dut-du-dunna (wash, rinse and repeat ad infinitum) - in addition to an every bit decisive bass line from Gary Mann.  Instrumentally, things start to a come out of left field keyboard solo that segues to another bold lead guitar run. 

Barnabas reveals its creative diversity on folk rocker “Little Faith”.  Plenty of acoustic guitar and a transparent bass line reveals the group right at home within a mellower – and quite melodic framework (in similar fashion as “If Love Brings Love” off its third album from 1983, Approaching Light Speed).  Lyrically, this one provides a discourse on Matthew 14: 26-32:

The twelve men all cried out in fear
Perhaps they even prayed
But Jesus answered from the waves
"It's me; don't be afraid"
And Peter in his eagerness
Said, "If it's really you
"Just say the word and I'll come walking
On the water, too"

Then Peter stepped out on the sea
But he began to doubt
And looking down he felt afraid
And sinking, he cried out:
"Lord save me! Save me Lord!" he cried
And Jesus took his hand
"Oh ye of little faith" He said
As He helped Peter stand

After opening to four cuts solid as they get, album falters with one of its few skip buttons, “He Loves You”.  No, nothing wrong with the song, but rather I find its overriding punk/new wave sentiments to be a bit strong for my taste- in other words, not my cup of tea.  Interestingly, it begins calmly with an almost lounge like feel, but at just the moment you think it is a keyboard ballad, guitars rush in to carry its remaining resilient distance.

Albums second half gets off to a good start with “B.C.”, a trademark Barnabas heavy hitter that walks a fine line between hard rock and the punk/new wave side of things.  While not necessarily my favorite cut here, it still works despite its two and a half minute length by better balancing out the former as opposed to the latter.  Making its mark in the process is an abundance of energy revealed in equal parts accelerated bass and turbulent guitars.

“Playin’ For Him” is better in reinforcing the metal and hard rock propensities.  The song places further emphasis on keyboards, including solos during its instrumental opening and break at the midpoint, but otherwise continues the animated assault in proving pointed, terse and forward in capacity.  Kudos to drummer Kris Klingensmith for his well-timed drum rolls and fills throughout.

“No More Blues” challenges “Directory Assistance” as my favorite Hear The Light cut.  As its namesake implies, this one revels in the blues - all seven and a half minutes of it! - as Cooley unleashes layer upon layer of gritty licks and chops, and Gary Mann provides the shuffling bass driven low end.  However, it is Nancy Jo who steals the show by exhibiting the full range to her emotional voice, which proves in perfect step with the downtrodden setting at hand (her wailing over the final seconds will literally send shivers down your spine).  Song actually expounds upon the source of peace and joy:

Well you can take it how you want to
It's up to you to open up that door
But Jesus Christ gave His life so that you could live
Ahh don't you know it was you He died on that cross for
Well, I've given my life to Jesus
And I want to tell you that I ain' t got those blues no more
Well you can try an' try an' try

To find just a little bit of happiness to keep you goin'
But I just gotta tell you somethin' that you ain't gonna find nothin'
You ain't gonna find nothin' in this world
Worth lookin' for
But you can give your life to Jesus
He' ll take away all the pain and all the emptiness inside
And you won't have to have those blues no more

“Father Of Lies”, another two and a half minute romper, gives prominence to an unsettled (if not darker) mid-tempo feel in aligning with the subject at hand.  Musically, it touches upon metal and hard rock with its distorted guitar edges, but at a moments notices it slows ominously to a near standstill only to regain its lost momentum at once.  Lone complaint is that a bit too much reverb and effects end up added to the vocals, particularly at the end of the song.  Lyrics talk about ‘the other guy’:

A lot of people think I'm a cute little guy
With pointy horns and a cute little tail
Well, that's fine with me, 'cause I get my work done
If people don't believe that I'm real

I'm Lucifer
The father of lies
Just call me satan; don't act so surprised
I'm the prince of darkness; I'm coming after you
'Cause I want your soul, and to hell with you

“It’s Up To You” closes the album in the form of a barebones hard rocker.  No nonsense is the feel at hand, as keyboards at the start give way to the hard charging initiative that commands its distance in which equal parts snarling guitars and heartfelt groove coalesce.  Despite the straightforward predisposition, a subtle catchiness rises above the surface.

I like to identify with Hear The Light as a good start to a great career.  In other words, not my favorite Barnabas album - bottom of the rung actually - but it leaves little doubt as to the groups potentially in terms of highlighting the abilities of the trio of flagship performers to appear on all five of its albums: Nancy Jo Mann, Gary Mann and Kris Klingensmith.  I hope this review does not come across too tepid in that some outstanding material presents itself - “Savior”, “Directory Assistance”, “Little Faith” and “No More Blues” - but also some that (in my opinion) is on the medium to good side of things or is even skip worthy.  There is also some muddiness to production to contend with, albeit noting the improvements made in the area of the Retroactive re-mastering (which makes purchase of the re-issue a necessity).  In the end, any struggles from Barnabas on Hear The Light reflect those of a young band that similar to cohorts arriving later in the decade such as Bride, Messiah Prophet and Saint that also struggled on their initial releases, promise of much better things to come.

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: “Savior” (3:03), “There’s A New World Coming” (2:36), “Directory Assistance” (3:54), “Little Faith” (2:54), “He Loves You” (3:20), “B.C.” (2:21), “Playin’ For Him” (3:34), “No More Blues” (7:28), “Father Of Lies” (2:30), “It’s Up To You” (3:02)

Nancy Jo Mann - Lead Vocals
Monte Colley - Guitars
Gary Mann - Bass
Kris Klingensmith - Drums


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