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
Barren Cross - Rock For The King
Musical Style: Heavy Metal Produced By: Dino Elefante
Record Label: Star Song Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 1986/2014 Artist Website: Barren Cross
Tracks: 9 Rating: 75%
Running Time: 35:05
Barren Cross - Rock For The King

Barren Cross doesn’t do subtle.  Long-term fans know all too well, particularly when factoring the group’s musical direction: Straight on heavy metal with a strong slant towards the power, progressive and speed side of things but intermingled with occasional touches of the blues.  Nowhere is this better exemplified than the Barren Cross full-length debut Rock For The King, initially a Star Song Records release from 1986 but re-mastered and independently re-issued by the band in early 2014.  Helping set the album apart is the manner in which Barren Cross proves more consistently heavy than many of its eighties contemporaries to have already released music, including Stryper, Bloodgood, Bride, Messiah Prophet and Philadelphia.  Yes, observation and no way a critique, but one can also see how Barren Cross, as already noted, gained a not so subtle reputation when factoring an era of the time when commercial proclivities prevailed.

Barren Cross can trace its history to 1981 when drummer Steve Whitaker and guitarist Ray Parris met through a musician’s ad in a Los Angeles area music paper.  Following the recruitment of vocalist Mike Lee (from an ad in the same paper) and bassist Jim LaVerde (at a church youth group), the Barren Cross moniker was decided on after Parris watched a TV depiction of Christ’s life when at the end of the movie he was still hanging on the cross.  In the words of Parris, “Jesus rose off the cross, the whole point of our belief in Christianity”.  Officially commencing on November 13, 1983, Barren Cross went on to gain a large following in the Los Angeles area from playing local clubs, churches and youth groups.  The group’s initial release, a six song EP entitled Believe from 1985, preceded it signing with Star Song and recording three more songs to turn Rock For The King into a full length album.

Opener “Dying Day” delivers big doses of classic US power metal with its churning rhythms and fiery mentality, while “It’s All Come True” proves every bit robust from its technical variations and time signatures of a progressive nature.  Such intricacies are one of the reasons Barren Cross has invited comparison to Iron Maiden.  Another, of course, is the Dickenson influenced lead vocals of front man Mike Lee.  Those that have obtained the recently released Barren Cross live album Birth Pangs know first hand that Lee, now known as Michael Drive, remains amazingly fresh with his signature powerful and charismatic style.

“He Loves You” represents another slugfest with its bluesy metal mentality, and gives lead guitarist Ray Parris the opportunity to showcase his fast fingered soloing abilities during its extended instrumental run (“Dying Day” also stands out in this capacity).  The albums title track comes across as a hulking mauler with its crushing riffs and shouted backing vocals- and hints of other heavy set tracks in the groups repertoire to follow such as “Living Dead” (Atomic Arena) and “2000 Years” (State Of Control).  Also notable of “Rock For The King” is how it allows rhythm guitar of Jim LaVerde, highlighting his punishing bass lines, and drummer Steve Whitaker, from his steady as it gets timekeeping skills, to stand out.

Barren Cross also does the speed metal thing as well as anyone.  “Believe” brings two minutes of fury in a hook driven package, while “Just A Touch” and “Give Your Life” give rise to every bit as much exuberance in taking the more straightforward heading.  What the three have in common is providing foreshadowing for other fast-paced tracks to come from the group in “Killers Of The Unborn” (Atomic Arena) and “Love At Full Volume (State Of Control).

Acoustic guitar makes its presence felt as well.  “Going Nowhere” opens its first minute acoustically prior to taking off and moving its distance at a near feverish clip.  “Light The Flame” can best be described as an emotional acoustic semi-ballad, with hints of keyboards and generous placement of backing vocals.  Yes, this might be the albums lightest but also no less able- and a concert favorite as well.

Production to the original Star Song release might have been a bit raw but held its own when factoring the album was recorded independently using mid-eighties technology.  Re-mastering on the re-issue cleans things up with a sound on the brighter, crisper and cleaner side of things.  As is often the case with re-mastered albums, volume levels have increased but you also have the greater bass presence and guitars that deliver added edge and bite.

The main benefit to the re-issue is having Rock For The King available for the first time after being after of print for several decades.  Collectors and metal fans alike have bemoaned the fact the album was near impossible to find at a reasonable price- the rare CD copy on eBay often went in the $50 to $75 range or higher.  So those that own the much easier to find Barren Cross follow up releases Atomic Arena, State Of Control and Rattle Your Cage now can complete their collection without worrying about having to “mortgage the house” in the process.

Lone downturn to the re-issue is that it still includes the same cover artwork with photo of the band in the “oh-my-gosh-blue-and-white-mid-eighties-hair-metal-time-warp-outfits”.  Yes, on one hand vintage and retro; but on the other also a bit hard on the eyes.  It is too bad the group did not recruit one of the more talented metal artists such as Felipe Machado Franco, Jan Yrlund or Robert “Death Is Gain” Wilson to put together artwork that is much more visibly appealing.

Barren Cross has maintained a penchant for bold and uncompromising lyrics and Rock For The King proves no exception.  Topics covered include our violent world (“Dying Day”), God’s love (“He Loves You”), the second coming and End Time themes (“Rock For The King”) and the need for salvation (“Give Your Life”).

On Rock For The King, Barren Cross exhibits the potential which led to it signing with mainstream label Enigma Records- not to mention ranking alongside other foundational Christian metal bands of the time such as Bride, Bloodgood, Stryper and Saint.  Ultimately, the album adds up to a solid and consistent package I can see appealing to those whose tastes trend towards a wide array of metal.  If Rock For The King has eluded your grasp over the years then now is the time to make it a necessary purchase in an upgraded and re-mastered format.

Track By Track

“Dying Day” hits hard from the get go, three and a half minutes of resilient energy, blistering riffs and hi-octane vocals.  Tempo proves every bit unremitting, while chorus pulses from its brash demeanor.  This one puts the power in power metal in no uncertain terms.  Lyric snippet:

Going down to the battle site where guns and bullets lay
To see the screaming wounded men, it's dying soldiers' day
Fight the yellows, fight the reds, shoot all those in sight
Fight the wars that were never yours, kill the world tonight

Dying day - for without the King, there'll be
Dying day - there's no use to look to see
Another way - talk of peace never ends
Dying day - but the blood sheds instead

“He Love You” slows things to a driving, mid-paced grind.  Bluesy metal all the way, the song powers its way to a full on guitar presence and hammering low-end carried by a pulsating backbone of bass.  The pleading chorus in which Lee snarls the songs title literally bleeds emotion.  Topping things off is the albums best stretch of bluesy lead guitar.  Lyric snippet:

There is someone who wants to hold you
In his arms because he loves you
Let him enter your empty heart
Jesus fills you, just open your arms

Is there a hole in your heart
You can't seem to fill
You've tried everything
But it's empty still
Look to the cross
That's where your answer is
He's not hanging there,
He lives - the Barren Cross

“It’s All Come True” kicks up the tempo and energy exponentially.  The group shows off its technical licks and chops here, powering its way with an assault of complex time signatures, bass guitar driven passages and impromptu instrumental excursions.   Commanding but engaging is the overall feel at hand.  Lyric snippet:

I sit and think of a time
When I was once given a chance to receive
The love of god; but I spat in his face
I got up - began to leave

I went about my whole life
Doing my own thing when I pleased
If only I had listened
I would be bound for glory

“Believe” might come in at just over two minutes but makes effective use of its time.  What we have is a hear speed metal romp with some catchy proclivities (chorus delivers the hook filled goods).  A bass guitar solo starts an instrumental passage carried by bristling rhythm guitar.  Yes, song is aptly entitled in terms of its message but does include one of the all time Christian metal lyrical miscues:

Better than pot, Jesus rocks

Lyrics, otherwise, are spot on:

Listen son to what I have done
I have received, I have believed
See me now, see what I found
I want to shout, come and believe

“Going Nowhere” calmly drifts its first minute to acoustic guitar and keyboards.  Impetus picks up exponentially moving ahead, sharp sounding rhythm guitars and chugging low-end helping establish a near speed metal clip.  Instrumental moments prove every bit rollicking.  Lyric snippet:

Life is short so go and try
Grab all you can before you die
Is this you-You're going nowhere
Someone came and died for you
But you just want your pleasure
You-you're going nowhere

Blowin' out your wheels as you rip on by telling why
'Cause you found that Jesus made you free
Now you see

Heaviest of the heavies might be the best way to describe the albums massive title track.  “Rock For The King” starts to a pronounced bass line that soon merges with trenchant guitars to create a hulking environs touching upon the apocalyptic.  Shouting backing vocals shore up a heavyset chorus that adds to the dominant feel at hand.  Lyric snippet:

Get yourselves ready to take to the air
Soon we'll be there-those who live for the King
We're rockin' steady
We'll never let go of the truth we know
And He gives you new life

Drink the water of life
And you will never thirst-no
Taste the laughter of joy
As it builds inside you

“Give Your Life” highlights its share of spirit and verve, pummeling between the up-tempo excursions that are its chorus and verses approaching things from the every bit weighty side of things.  Lone complaint being that backing vocals in the chorus are laid on a bit thick (at least for my taste and only song in which this takes place).  Still, a youthful energy prevails with some emotionally charged moments.  Lyric snippet:

The bible says in black and in red
To turn from sin and let Christ in

Jesus said He's coming again
The day is near,
Well, can't you hear the voice of

Love, happiness and peace eternally,
All these things can be yours - for free

A non-stop ripper can be found in “Just A Touch”.  The song launches out of the gate at breakneck speed, galloping riffs and hyperactive drumming laying the foundation for the non-stop explosive impetus.  Chorus, fittingly, is of a curt and succinct nature.  Parris steps to the plate with more of his brazen lead guitar work.  Lyric snippet:

Just a touch
Of His hand
And you'll be healed-you will

A family lives
God can heal the pain
Divorce is just insane

His word is right
It takes away your pain
Call on Jesus' name

Albums ends to its mellowest with the acoustic based “Light The Flame”.  A big dose of melody prevails, with distant keyboards and moving tinctures lending to the ballad based scene.  The rhythm guitar cutting in throughout builds accordingly, as does the poignant vocal melodies and stirring lead guitar work.  Lyric snippet:

Light the flame
Take hold and know My name
I long to give you the love that's in My hand
Light the flame
My gift to you's been paid
Receive the King
His crowns await your stand

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: "Dying Day" (3:25), "He Loves You" (4:34), "It’s All Come True" (4:02), "Believe" (2:12), "Going Nowhere" (4:36), "Rock For The King" (5:00), "Give Your Life" (2:47), "Just A Touch" (3:26), "Light The Flame" (5:31)

Mike Lee - Lead Vocals & Acoustic Guitar
Ray Parris - Guitars
Jim LaVerde - Bass
Steve Whitaker - Drums


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