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 - Little Foxes
Musical Style: Heavy Metal Produced By: Barnabas
Record Label: Light / Retroactive Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 1986 / 2017 Artist Website: Barnabas
Tracks: 8 Rating: 80%
Running Time: 37:07

Barnabas - Little Foxes

The common definition of swan song is ‘a person's final public performance or professional activity before retirement’.  The term often applies in the world of sports, particularly as it pertains to an athlete that goes out on top.  A good example of this might be Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, whom concluded his career in storybook fashion with a victory in Super Bowl XL, over the Seattle Seahawks 21-10, played in his hometown of Detroit.  Equally notable is Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown from how he closed out his ninth and final season in 1965 by rushing for over 1500 yards and scoring 17 touchdowns.  The swan song phenomenon proves no less relevant in the world of hard music.  Consider in this regard Resurrection Band, whose 1995 final studio album Lament is lauded by critics and fans alike as one of its finest works ever (Angelic Warlord placed it third from an article several years ago entitled “Ranking The Rez Band Albums”).

Sadly, the swan song concept also comes into play involving athletes who stick around a few years too long.  Boxing is a good indicator in this capacity.  Heavyweight Joe Louis, for instance, concluded his career at age 37 when he got knocked out by Rocky Marciano (in the eighth round) or who will forget a 38 year old Muhammad Ali being stopped by Larry Holmes (following the conclusion of the tenth).  The hard music scene is exclusive to its share of groups that also outlast their prime.  Not to be disrespectful, but Rex Carroll era Whitecross might have recorded one album too many in that its final release from 1992, High Gear, left impression it was running on creative fumes.  I find the album exclusive to a few too many ballads (a total of four) not to mention a bit too much cheese (can you say “Dancin’ In Heaven”?).  The trademark Rex Carroll guitar solo, “Overdrive”, sounds as if stuck in the mud.  To Whitecross’ credit, label pressure might have pushed it in more of a pop-based direction than it was completely comfortable (a story for another day).        

Which of the two above referenced categories does Barnabas 1986 Light Records swan song effort Little Foxes belong?  After listening closely to the fall of 2017 Retroactive re-issue to the album, I have to say neither applies.  On one hand, Little Foxes does not reach the heights of the two albums to find Barnabas in its arguable prime, Approaching Light Speed (1983) and Feel The Fire (1984), which both combined a straightforward metal basis with strong leanings towards the progressive.  On the other, by no means was Barnabas on its last legs musically either in that Little Foxes, backing from the previous progressive bearings and focusing on a raw and barebones heavy metal sound, proved plenty of gas remained in its creative tank.  That said, also keep in mind any lack of focus Barnabas had on Little Foxes - or inability to maintain the prime form of its two previous releases - attributes to the decision it made to disband prior to entering the studio (more on this later).

Initial track “Gospel Maniac” embodies those newfound straightforward metal sensibilities.  The song kicks in to a bang, as distorted guitars aplenty (credit the keyed up work of Brian Belew) and bristling mindset (as found in vehement front-lady Nancy Jo Mann) carry the song its fuming distance.  Shouted “You fight!” backing vocals urge the brusque refrain.

As does albums title track, which divulges an almost punk-like energy revealed in the angst-like rhythms and fractious flair that prompts it front to back.  Timekeeper Kris Klingensmith’s precise drum rolls reinforce the every bit succinct refrain, while Gary Mann’s bass further emphasized the imposing low end.  “Little Foxes” ultimately sets itself apart with a course and bristling mentality not always found on Barnabas albums.

“Destroy After Use” approaches from a mid-paced standpoint in upholding the raw energy to its predecessors.  The song plays up a pronounced bottom heavy feel, with plenty of punchy bass undercurrents and rhythm guitars that bite with almost doom-like authority.  Belew’s contrastingly (and very pleasing) melodic guitar harmonies carry things instrumentally.

Speaking of contrasts, “Auschwitz 87” blows the door off its hinges with its speed metal aptitude.  Starting appropriately to a sound bite from Adolf Hitler, the anti abortion song (hence, the title) comes off frenetic, furious and just plain affronting as Nancy Jo reveals the full emotion to her voice in light of the subject at hand.  I cannot help but appreciate the all out velocity and scaling mentality intrinsic to the song.

This reviewer’s choice cut is melodic metal masterpiece “China White”.  Reveling in infectious eighties hooks galore, the song divulges an engaging up-tempo essence its length in further expounding upon the groups emphatic energy and proclivity for the heightened.  Decisive players include resonant backing vocals, boosting the every bit catchy refrain, and Belew, cutting loose with one of his signature hammer on driven lead guitar runs.

Whereas it can be said albums first five tracks are up to the Barnabas prime standards, final three begin to reflect that lack of focus or at the very least a step down musically (even if a slight one) directly correlating with its decision to break up.

Thus I like to identify with “Sins Of The Father”, first of the three closing tracks, as an ‘in between’ type song- in other words it falls in between those that rate very good or better and others considered skip worthy.  Musically, it accents a conspicuous mid-paced low end and bluesy guitar vestiges but also lacks the unfeigned energy attributing its five predecessors.  Overall feel is a solid deep cut that does not bring the kudos to make the final cut on Approaching Light Speed or Feel The Fire.

“All Alone” did, at least as it pertains to Approaching Light Speed only to get bumped at the eleventh hour (and rightly so I might add) in favor of Gary Mann’s stunning “Crucifixion”.  This one also backs from the musical leanings to the first five with an emotional melodic hard rock flair in which forward keyboards - albums only cut in which they are used - hold sway over a bedrock of defined rhythm guitars.  Once more, impression is good but not quite great, although I cannot help but think this is the musical direction Barnabas should have taken on Feel The Fire track “Hearts” (as opposed to being fully keyboard driven).

“Suite For The Souls Of Our Enemies (Part 2 - Lover)” does the better job embodying the group’s capabilities.  It also diverges musically but proves stronger overall (in comparison to the previous two) by joining ample portions of southern heart and soul with the fitting saxophone and hard rocking guitar grit to match.  Barnabas has not gotten this bluesy and classic rock influenced since its 1982 sophomore effort Find Your Heart A Home.

I always felt the Little Foxes production was on the raw side of things in serving to elevate the group’s inherent energy and heaviness.  The Rob Colwell (Bombworks Sound) re-mastering to the Retroactive re-issue builds upon such strengths in lending a missing element of polish to result in the best version to the album I have heard.  Likewise, the immaculate packaging (courtesy of Scott Waters at NoLifeTilMetal) shines with a detailed mini booklet exclusive to lyrics, liner notes, write-ups and vintage band photos. 

As with past Barnabas releases, the thought provoking Kris Klingensmith fails to disappoint.  “Gospel Maniac” touches upon fighting the good fight:

Let’s be honest and tell the truth
I’m far from honest, and so are you
A couple skeletons under the bed
The carnal nature not always dead

But that doesn’t mean you have to die in your sin
You have need of repentance- let the Spirit come in
The Father adores you; He won’t turn His back
The Son is your Brother; you’re a Gospel Maniac

“Auschwitz 87”, as noted, is an anti-abortion song:

Unmindful of the torment of butchered, unborn sons
Stabbing deep within the womb, the carnage has begun
The fuse burns ever shorter, through phony, worthless talks
Holocaust escaping from Pandora's lead-lined box

Saviour high in heaven, look down upon your bride
Tiny men, yet precious gems for whom you bled and died
Father high in heaven, we praise You through Your Son
Refine your people in the fire that surely has begun

“China White” deals with drug abuse:

She'll rip you up, this is one tough whore
She can eat out your eyes, boys, keep you
Coming for more, she's a too-cool torture
Her wish is your command
In over your heads, boys; you're playing with fire
She's licking your soul from her hands tonight

So straighten up, turn toward the Son
He's your only salvation, The only true One
Don't be a too-cool loser, just to run with the herd
The ride isn't worth it; stop playing with fire
Stop lighting the fuse on your world tonight

“Sins Of The Fathers” is aptly entitled:

So many things remain unsaid
So many signals never read
Behold the unenlightened truth
Of blind, unfeeling youth

Growing up, a child is surrounded
Towering above, so rudely pushed and shoved
By those who've lost the child-heart
Demanding, without love
Limping into parenthood

The son becomes what father was

As far as swan song efforts go, Little Foxes adds up to a very good albeit not quite great release that does not reach the heights of Approaching Light Speed and Feel The Fire.  On one hand, the album shows Barnabas to by no means the equivalent of ‘punch drunk’ boxer that stuck around too long; on the other, it was also no longer proportionate to a prime running back threatening to rush for over a thousand yards each season and score double digit touchdowns.  Any potential misgivings in terms of continuity and consistency, of course, relate to the groups decision to disband ahead of entering the studio.  The point being Barnabas made the best of a difficult situation.  That said, I cannot help but think what Barnabas might have accomplished if it did not have to deal with any distractions at the time the album was recorded.  As for the Retroactive re-issue, it comes highly recommended with its upgraded re-mastering and packaging, but do not limit yourself to just Little Foxes in that the first four Barnabas albums were re-released on Retroactive at the same time (fall of 2017) as well.

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: “Gospel Maniac” (5:07), “Little Foxes” (4:08), “Destroy After Use” (5:06), “Auschwitz ‘87” (4:46), “Chine White” (3:29), “Sins Of The Fathers” (5:28), “All Alone” (5:25), “Suite For The Souls Of Our Enemies (Part 2 - Lover)” (3:33),

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

Additional Musicians
Chris Hicks - Saxophone


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