|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By: Barnabas & Tom Tucker|
|Record Label: Light||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1983/2000||Artist Website: Barnabas|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 45:00|
I rarely if every make impulse music purchases. One of the few exceptions occurred in late 1983 when, upon checking out the music section at the local Christian supply center, I came upon the recently released new album from Barnabas, Approaching Light Speed. The science fiction fan in me was drawn to the cover artwork, which portrayed a futuristic spaceship that looked as if it were ready to literally take off at “light speed”. So without even bothering to hear the samples (remember when most Christian stores had cassette copies of new releases available for listen?) I raced with the album to the front counter - almost fast enough to be “approaching light speed” if you will! - for immediate purchase.
To say I was blown away on first listen would be an understatement. A significant surprise factor played a role here in that ALS exceeded all expectations, at least when considering the groups first album from 1980, a hodgepodge collection of hard rock, blues, folk and punk/wave entitled Hear The Light, that left somewhat to be desired. The 1981 follow up effort Find Your Heart A Home was much better, it came with a joining of classic rock and hard rock with occasional progressive touches, but still had some holes to fill.
But not ALS, a true classic that ranks with the better Christian metal and hard rock albums of the pre-Stryper era. Yes, there were many from the time that stretched the boundaries in this area (Stronghold, Jerusalem, Resurrection Band and Daniel Band) but Barnabas separated itself from the rest as a result of a new guitarist it recruited in Brian Belew, who helped pushed the groups sound past the all out metal barrier and then some.
One cannot help but appreciate how he buries ALS in layer after layer of rhythm guitar (check out the screaming guitar feedback at the start of “No Freedom”) while cutting lose with soloing that borrows from the hammer-on and finger tapping techniques developed by Randy Rhodes and Eddie Van Halen (the lead guitar work on “Warrior” and “Subterfuge” is so intense as to leave you breathless!).
Despite the all out heaviness Barnabas proves adept at avoiding the pitfalls of repetition and the overbearing. Yes, the previously referenced “No Freedom” and “Warrior” hit as hard as they get - as does the brazen “Never Felt Better” and doom-ish “Stormclouds” - but also delivers subtle melody structures that lend themselves to repeated play. But if interested in melody then look no further than the gently done ballad “If Love Brings Love”.
Where Barnabas shines is when it gets progressive, a trend it started on several tracks from FYHAM and carries over here. “Waiting For The Aliens”, “Subterfuge” and “Crucifixion” are three 6 minute examples of apocalyptic progressive metal, with the former featuring a spacey keyboard intro that hints of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and latter two some labyrinth-like time signatures and instrumental excursions galore.
What impresses about ALS is its continuity in that you can tell the band was on the same page musically. Not so with the two Barnabas albums that followed: On Feel The Fire (1984) a gulf started to form between the Brian Belew material (heavier and more guitar driven) and that contributed by bassist Gary Mann (more of a keyboard emphasis) while the group might not have put its full heart into the swan song effort Little Foxes (1986). Not so with ALS in that it maintains the same bone crushing heaviness front to back regardless of composer.
The talent level of Barnabas is such that it should have hit the ground running and taken the world by storm, but, unfortunately, hardly every played live. Still, this is no slight on the ability of individual members in that Barnabas also features a talented drummer in Kris Klingensmith, who stands out with his technical drum rolls and fills (check out “Subterfuge”) and Gary Mann, providing the albums intricate bass lines (as can be found on “Crucifixion”).
And this brings us to Nancy Jo Mann, who deserves to rank with the better female metal vocalists of her era. The best way to describe her style would be fiery and full of cutting edge emotion, attributes best displayed on “Stormclouds” and “Never Felt Better”, which find her exhibiting the full range to her voice. But she can showcase a more tempered side to her abilities as well, as demonstrated on the quieter “If Love Brings Love”.
ALS was originally a vinyl and cassette only release on Light Records (the move to a bigger label allowed Barnabas to achieve significant production upgrades in comparison to the rawer sounds of HTL and FYHAH). The album was not re-issued on CD until 2000 (by M8 Records) and included a previously unreleased version of “All Alone” (which made its initial appearance on Little Foxes) as a bonus track. A second re-issue is long overdue, and not just because the M8 version is out of print but also due to the fact its mastering was not of the highest quality.
Track By Track
The screaming guitar feedback starting “No Freedom” leaves little doubt as to the metal motives here. Whether it is the all out relentless tempo, raw (almost punk-like) edginess to the guitars and underlying angst of the chorus, the overall effect is an aural assault certain to leave you spent in the end. Belew adds to the chaos with his pyrotechnical soloing abilities. “No Freedom” conveys a no compromise message:
Conscience screaming but its Saturday night
Dig deep for anything to make the wrong feel right
Morning comes, your head is split in two
I know your bleeding; I've crawled that same path too
The swords are rattling, and the end is in sight
Its now or never if you want to make things right
The futures shaky, but the facts are quite clear
The King is coming, and He's almost here
“Stormclouds” slows things to a doom-laden romp- and a very good one at that! The song is driven by pounding guitar riffs that help add to the emotion at hand while an every bit as monstrous low-end delivers nothing less than a crushing blow. Fittingly, a presiding chorus asks quite the relevant question:
As the stormclouds roll from the crest of Mount Zion, who will turn away and be saved?
A piano briefly enters the fray prior to a biting lead guitar run from Belew. Another forthright lyrical direction:
Holy Saviour, murdered by the masses
Sacrificed so man could go free
Patient Father, waiting for the harvest
Reaching out for you and for me
And when the good news shimmers in the spotlight
Freedom finds a home on the stage
So come and join us; your life won't last forever
It’s over with the turn of a page
Piano also makes its presence felt on “If Love Brings Love”, as classy a ballad as you will ever hear. But it is not all piano in that keyboards and guitar can also be found in complementary amounts. Melody is stunning (I am surprised this one did not generate its share of radio play back in the day) and overall atmosphere on the poignant side of things.
Science fiction themed progressive metal might be the best way to describe “Waiting For The Aliens”. The song comes across no-nonsense in capacity, driven by hulking walls of guitars and spacey keyboards in putting in place a setting that has apocalyptic written all over it. Consider the haunting voice over outro closing the final minute: “In accordance with his most benevolent excellencies command all citizens will swear eternal allegiance to the new order and begin the required identification procedures…” Lyrics, at the same time, are based around end times themes and how space aliens are behind it all:
Seen it on my TV for the past couple nights
Freaky, but it seems to be true
Captured earthlings vanish in a flicker of light
And there's nothing that the Air Force can do
The guys at work all say that it’s a message from space
An omen of the good things to come
An interstellar rescue for what's left of the race
Now that the troublemakers are gone
Everything sounds rosy when the New Order speaks
Informing us of what we must do
So we're waiting for the aliens with our hearts open wide
Clinging to their every command
They say they're coming soon, so we should trust the new guy
Who wants to put that mark on our hand
What we have in “Warrior” is a straight on metal anthem. The song barrels its way ahead in tenacious fashion and does not let up until the end, fusing an incredibly intense hammer-on driven guitar solo (that actually ranks among my top five of all time) with an underpinning bass guitar driven presence. No, nothing fancy, but rather good old fashioned in your face metal the way it is supposed to be done!
“Never Felt Better” proves another face-melter. This one steps back from the all out energy of its predecessor to deliver a more low-key driven sound, freight train unremitting and heavy but accessible at the same time (notable hook, although not to the point of being commercial). Lyrically, Barnabas challenges its critics to walk a mile in their shoes:
Some people call us wolves in sheep's clothing
They don't like the kind of music we play
"Dropped out of school, a pack of lazy young fools
They haven't even combed their hair today!"
I have no intention to cause an intervention
In the way its thought my life ought to be
But why not take the time to walk a mile in my shoes
And you will see the way this world looks to me
And we've never felt better
Not looking back; got no tome to back track
And it still doesn't matter what they say
Rock and roll is here to stay
Back to progressive metal with “Subterfuge”. One of my favorite aspects to the song is the instrumental opening, which runs the gamut of offbeat keyboard solos to more intense hammer-on driven lead guitar. The song, otherwise, proves sublime the rest of the way, driven by anthem-like riffs, tempo changes to a slower but more romping direction and sweeping chorus that has insolent written all over it. An instrumental section with a haunting keyboard solo rounds things out.
“Crucifixion” is a highly complex piece that breaks down into two parts. The first starts to a bass guitar solo that gives way to a trenchant rhythm guitar and lyrics drawn from Psalm 22:
My God, my God! Why hast Thou forsaken me?
Be not far from me, for trouble is near
For bulls have surrounded me, they open wide their mouths at me
I am poured out like water, all my bones are out of joint
My heart is like wax, melted within me
Dogs have surrounded me, and nailed my hands and feet
I count every one of my bones
They look and curse and stair at me
An instrumental section ensues carried by another bass guitar solo and lead guitar with a distorted feel. The second part to the song, maintaining the stalwart heading, details the crucifixion:
Mary why do you weep? For now you see its Me
I've risen from the dead; the others will come and see
God gave Me the victory over Satan and this world
I hold the keys to death and hell; proclaim my name to all the world
Closing the song is another extended bass guitar solo (Gary Mann gets quite the workout here!) and more screaming guitar feedback similar to that opening the album.
“All Alone” can best be described as a melodic based piece that maintains more of a hard rock direction, at least in comparison to much of the albums material. Keyboards play a prominent role while guitars do not receive quite the forthright mix. Solid melody, but I prefer the group’s heavier songs instead.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: "No Freedom" (4:37), "Stormclouds" (4:43), "If Love Brings Love" (4:12), "Waiting For The Aliens" (6:21), "Warrior" (4:01), "Never Felt Better" (3:26), "Subterfuge" (5:59), "Crucifixion" (5:52), "All Alone" (5:45)
Nancy Jo Mann - Lead Vocals
Brian Belew - Guitars
Gary Mann - Bass & Keyboards
Kris Klingensmith - Drums