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 - Approaching Light Speed
Musical Style: Heavy Metal Produced By: Barnabas & Tom Tucker
Record Label: Light / Retroactive Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 1983/2017 Artist Website: Barnabas
Tracks: 8 Rating: 90%
Running Time:

Barnabas - Approaching Light Speed

The first Christian metal band is a subject open to debate.  Stryper often receives such accolades and understandably so, but any insinuation that Stryper or contemporaries to hit the scene around the same time such as Barren Cross, Bloodgood, Bride and Saint as being the first Christian metal band is misleading in light of the pioneers that literally paved the trail ahead for them.  The point being that the Christian metal scene predates Stryper.  As for those that came before, Resurrection Band deserves note when factoring its Star Song Records debut Awaiting Your Reply might have received a ‘heavy metal’ label at the time of its 1978 release, but by today’s standards would be better categorized as blues based hard rock instead.  Other strong contenders include Jerusalem and Daniel Band, whom are both no doubt heavy and at times stray into metal territory, but similar to ‘Rez Band’ lean more towards the hard rock side of things.

Stronghold and Leviticus also warrant mention as potentially being the first Christian metal bands.  Former released on Tunesmith Records in 1982 the classic hard rock, doom metal and traditional metal of its first and only album Fortress Rock, while latter recorded the traditional/power metal and melodic hard rock of its 1983 Talking Music debut I Shall Conquer.  Barnabas deserves equal consideration.  With the release of its Light Records 1983 third album Approaching Light Speed, the group delivered the type of consistent guitar sound to push the boundaries past the metal threshold and then some. Whereas Stronghold and Leviticus might be every bit hard rock as they are metal, Barnabas, on the other hand, proved groundbreaking by taking the Christian hard music scene into full on metal terrain it had never been previously.

Deserving a full measure of credit in this regard is new guitarist Brian Belew, a shredder who buries the album in layer upon layer of rhythm guitar while bestowing hammer on driven soloing inspired by Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen.  Yet, playing an every bit influential role as it pertains to the Approaching Light Speed sound is founding member and bassist Gary Mann by the manner in which he holds to the group’s penchant for the progressive that began with its 1982 Tunesmith Records sophomore effort Find Your Heart A Home.  Hence, how I like to think of Approaching Light Speed as a converging of unruly metal heaviness (courtesy of Belew) with outside the box and unexpected inventiveness (credit Mann).

When I first listened to Approaching Light Speed back in the day, it left impression as featuring the best production of the first three Barnabas albums, which includes 1980 debut Hear The Light in addition to Find Your Heart A Home.  The fall of 2017 Retroactive Records re-mastering and re-issue of Approaching Light Speed, however, finds an already good product improved upon in bringing production levels up to modern stands in featuring the overall warmer, crisper and brighter sound.  Equivalent might be adding a coat of polish to a nice but older paint job that is starting to show signs of wear and tear.  

Enhanced packaging is another byproduct to the Retroactive re-issue, which encompasses lyrics and liner notes in addition to write-ups from Retroactive owner Matt Hunt and reviewer Doug Peterson.  Also of note is how the re-issue comes with the highest quality scan to the Approaching Light Speed cover art I have seen (previous scans either came across faded or been too dark to bring out the background details).

Opening cut “No Freedom” unleashes Brian Belew.  The song begins its first seconds as screaming guitar feedback roars out of the speakers, with Belew decorating its remaining length with high intensity licks and chops that while not of the speed metal variety are expeditious nonetheless.  Helping take the raw energy to even higher levels is front lady Nancy Jo Mann, who bestows a fiery but impassioned vocal style that helps her rank alongside the best metal female metal vocalists of the period, whether Christian or mainstream.  Barnabas continues to place emphasis on its instrumental sound, as found in an extended break of calescent lead guitar carried over a foundation of Gary Mann’s churning bass.      

Impetus slows for the epic doom like romp to “Stormclouds”.  The key word being epic, as the song begins to sledgehammer riffs at the start only to set a bombastic tone as it bludgeons through its verses while taking the aggression to even higher levels for the ‘as the storm clouds roll from the crest of Mount Zion- who will turn away and be saved?’ refrain.  Best part might be the instrumental interlude, which briefly descends to regal piano only to regain the momentum for a storming surge of insolent guitars. 

Piano continues to make its presence felt on “If Love Brings Love”, as classy an eighties ballad as you will find.  It is not all piano, however, in that keyboards and guitars also shine in complementary amounts, as does Nancy Jo from exhibiting the full dimension to her fervent voice.  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 breathtaking side of things.

I like to think of “Waiting For The Aliens” as science fiction themed progressive metal that captures much of the groups said outside the box and unexpected inventiveness.  The song begins to a spacey keyboard solo before guitars crash in over drummer Kris Klingensmith’s technical rolls and fills, with an apocalyptic metal feel the upshot the rest of the way.  Consider the end times themes lyrics not to mention haunting voice over ‘outro’ at the end: “In accordance with his most benevolent excellencies command all citizens will swear eternal allegiance to the new order and begin the required identification procedures…”  Keyboards convey things instrumentally. 

Belew penned cut “Warrior” proves straight on metal manifest.  The song barrels ahead in tenacious fashion from the start, not letting up its distance in serving to highlight his abundant abilities in terms of ironclad rhythm guitars but also an extensive instrumental break in which he lets loose with as intense a hammer on driven solo as you will find.  Doesn’t the guy every come up for air?  I understand that guitarist comparisons can be problematic, but imagine a slightly out of control Chris Impellitteri melded with equal parts tenacious Carl Grimmark (Narnia).  Yes, I know I have been throwing around some big names, but he is that good (in my opinion).

“Never Felt Better” stands out as another no-nonsense barnburner.  Also Belew penned, the song steps back from some of the unremitting vibrant energy to its predecessors to deliver a more abundant mid-paced sound, freight train unremitting in terms of initiative but not forsaking accessibility in terms of how subtle hooks rise above the surface.  Equally notable are the bluesy vestiges to the guitar tones.

“Subterfuge” (albums best cut in my opinion) represents a return to an epic progressive metal form.  Progressive in terms of the two and a half minute instrumental opening to feature orchestral keyboards that transition to another intense as all get out guitar solo that will literally leave you breathless.  Also epic from the standpoint of the remaining distance to play up a fragmenting semblance in which anthem-like guitars, a sublime refrain and added apocalyptic vestiges coalesce.  Again, this is Barnabas at its outside the box and inventive best.

“Crucifixion”, composed by Gary Mann, proves a bass guitar aficionados delight.  The song reminds of Find Your Heart A Home track “Star” from how it wraps multiple instrumental sections around a couple of short verses (out of the songs six minutes roughly five are instrumental).  No need to overwhelm you with too much detail, but Mann (much to our delight) takes every opportunity to display his technical bass prowess interspersed, of course, with periodic outbursts of Belew’s guitar pyrotechnics.  Verses lend a powerful effect in going into detail about the subject in question: 

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 can count every one of my bones, they look and curse and stare at Me

Mary, why do you weep? For now you see it's Me
I've risen from the dead; the others shall 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
Prose otherwise is for the most part composed by Klingensmith, whom on Approaching Light Speeds begins to round into form and perfect his craft as one of my favorite lyricists.  “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” builds upon a similar theme:

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  

“Waiting For The Aliens” focuses on 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

Barnabas answers its critics on “Never Felt Better”:

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
On Approaching Light Speed, Barnabas adds up to fiery female vocals, crazy good guitar playing and a technical bass and drum acumen.  The group did not so much stand out musically as it pertains to the Christian hard music scene but also the mainstream side of the fence- in an era when Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard were dominating the airwaves, how many groups were doing this type of a heavy metal meets the progressive thing?  That is not the point, but rather if Approaching Light Speed were recorded and released today, it would be every bit musically relevant in light of the direction the hard music scene has taken.  Pundits such as yours truly, for instance, would be suggesting that Barnabas runs with the current power/progressive metal crowd.

Enter the Retroactive re-issue, which in my opinion is the first quality rerelease to the album, noting how the mastering to the 2000 M8 re-issue left much to be desired (when listened to side by side, the M8 version has no low end to speak of- not to mention an inferior scan of the cover art).  If you are a Barnabas fan such as myself, and are interested in what amounts Approaching Light Speed in its consummate form or are into any type of heavy metal and progressive music (or joining of the two), then make the Retroactive re-release a necessary purchase.

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)

Nancy Jo Mann - Lead Vocals
Brian Belew - Guitars
Gary Mann - Bass & Keyboards
Kris Klingensmith - Drum



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