|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Terry Shelton|
|Record Label: Frontline/Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1988/2015||Artist Website: Bloodgood|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 33:37|
It’s fair to say that each of the four eighties era Bloodgood albums has unique traits that set them apart from their siblings. Each has its fans, but many feel Rock In A Hard Place from 1988 was the most commercial. Not so the 1986 self-titled debut, which while basing itself on a heavier foundation of traditional metal (“Demon On The Run” & “Killing The Beast”), otherwise proved the most versatile of the four in also touching upon bluesy metal (“What’s Following The Grave”) and speed metal (“Black Snake”). The album even reflected nuances of melodic metal (“Accept The Lamb”) and commercial hard rock (“Stand In The Light”). What one cannot deny is how Bloodgood unleashed upon the hard music world the group’s signature ‘thinking man’s metal’ sound (in referencing its intelligent lyrical approach).
The 1987 sophomore effort Detonation found Bloodgood upping the heaviness and aggression further in delivering what many consider one of the finer Christian metal releases of its era. Opening tracks “Battle Of The Flesh”, “Vagrant People” and “Self Destruction” embody said Bloodgood newfound hard hitting penchant, while “Eat The Flesh” joined aspects of the heavy and melodic. Yet, a softer side to Bloodgood revealed itself on heartfelt ballad “Alone In Suicide” and blues tinged hard rocker “Heartbeat (Of The City)”. What sets Detonation apart and helps rank it with the best of its time is the eight minutes of ‘theatrical metal’ that is “Crucify” (an all out speed metal assault) and “Messiah” (melodic hard rock) that detail the crucifixion, death on the cross and ultimate resurrection of Christ.
Which brings us back to Rock In A Hard Place, an album in which Bloodgood backs away from the angst inherit to Detonation and took a more accessible stance with its melodic metal and commercial hard rock basis. The problem, however, is that with the bar set so high on Detonation in terms of quality and musical direction there is potential for the Bloodgood fan base to be disappointed either way. Hence, those expecting “Detonation II”, alas, might end up let down and are still waiting for Bloodgood to delivery another album of its kind in the same manner those who are waiting for “Snakes In The Playground II” (from Bride) and “Weapons Of Our Warfare II” (Deliverance) are, well, still waiting.
In looking back at what the critics of the time had to say, the Heaven’s Metal review of RIAHP accurately described Bloodgood as, “(making) the transition from (an) on-the-edge metal band that shreds and rips to a marketable, hard rockin’ band with a ton of catchy hooks”.1 Likewise, Take A Stand had the right idea in suggesting, “Bloodgood has taken a rather dramatic turn musically in their latest release, moving away from hard metal tunes such as “Black Snake” and “Crucify” from previous works and opting for a more straightforward 80’s metal sound sure to reach a larger audience”.2 White Throne also effectively summarized, “On the musical side of the spectrum, we see a much mellower Bloodgood. Compared to Detonation, Rock In A Hard Place doesn’t belong on the same scale.”3
Where do I stand? On one hand, while I agree RIAHP had the potential to expand upon the Bloodgood fan base and added another accessible dimension to its sound, I also feel that in no way did the group ‘sell out’ or go ‘commercial’ to a fault’, as potentially could be attributed to Stryper’s In God We Trust. On the other, whereas I also understand that RIAHP is a completely different animal when placed alongside Detonation, Bloodgood has by no means completely forsaken its previous heavier ways in that RIAHP includes several tracks in which it still proves its unequivocal ability to flex its metal muscles.
Opener “Shakin’ It” is one such piece, a stand out boogie flavored hard rocker propelled its short (2:54) but decisive distance by a hammering rhythm section and knife-edge rhythm guitars that fleetly dart in and out of the mix. The gist is a boisterous display that, again, reflects the Bloodgood aptitude to hit hard with the best of them. Maintaining the quality and heavier spirit is “Heaven On Earth”. This one exhibits high-energy poise and character in abundance as accelerated riffs and non-stop hooks combine for nothing less than melodic metal paradise. Prevalent to the two are David Zaffario’s fleet fingered and deft soloing abilities.
“Never Be The Same” finds Bloodgood lacing the guitar driven proclivities of the prior two with hints of the commercial. The song comes across up-tempo in form, excited with its expeditious demeanor but also lightening as keyboards and acoustic guitar underscore the immaculate backdrop. “The Presence” takes the commercial aspects to the next level but with a ton of heart and class. Impetus decelerates to mid-paced territory as acoustic guitars play the more prevalent role in complementing bluesy rhythm guitars and polished vocal melodies that adorn the august refrain.
“Seven” rates with my all time favorite Bloodgood cuts in joining equal parts heavy and commercial but separates itself in the form of understated theatrical to progressive leanings. The song leaves the immediate impression of a ballad, as piano and orchestration uphold its first minute and a half prior to an explosion of metal-based guitars cutting in at once. Punctual bass guitar driven verses proceed to lead the way until the procurement of an exquisite chorus highlighted by its “God gave Jesus a Revelation” lyrical imprint. Tying everything together are the signature raspy but emotional high-end vocals of front man Les Carlsen.
A slight notch below but still very good is “Do Or Die”, albums fastest and most contentious with its forthright rhythm guitar mix and battering drum abilities of Mark Welling. Lone complain is its all too brief two and a half minute length. That said Stryper proves on its most recent outing Fallen that songs of similar duration can shine in showstopper “Till I Get What I Need”. Lone difference is how Fallen is a true full-length effort at 12 songs and over 50 minutes of music in comparison to the 9 and less than 34 of RIAHP. This might be unfair in that Bloodgood recorded RIAHP during an era in which labels commonly signed bands to deals requiring them to record 3 to 4 albums in as many years- so it is easy to understand how when Bloodgood was not on the road it was in the studio, which did not leave the most time to work on new material.
“She’s Gone” represents albums lone ballad and it is a good one, albeit (in my opinion) it does not shine to quite the extent as “Alone In Suicide”. Acoustic guitars and crystalline piano help create an orchestral effect, with lighter rhythm guitars later dancing their way in to adorn the wistful scene. Also on the reserved side is “The World (Keeps Movin’ Around)” but taking a melodic hard rock heading with its basis of acoustic and earthy rhythm guitars allowing for the more up-tempo basis. Similar to “She’s Gone”, this is not my albums favorite but solid nonetheless.
Lone song not to do it for me is “What Have I Done?”, a piece that despite the passing of 25 years I have never warmed up to. Perhaps it is due to arriving on the heels of three great opening tracks, but I have always found the song laid back and reserved to a fault, or at the very least lacking the energy and genus inherit to the better material here (again, my humble opinion). The mundane chorus does not help matters. It also deserves note this is my lone skip button of the four eighties Bloodgood releases, which equates to 36 good songs out of 37 (a 97.3%b success rate).
When people complain about RIAHP, it is in regards to production, and rightly so when factoring its lack of low-end presence. According to bassist Michael Bloodgood, the studio in which the group recorded RIAHP had a high degree of false low-end in which producer Terry Shelton was not aware, a problem not caught in mixing or mastering either. The good news, however, is that in the fall of 2015 Retroactive Records re-issued RIAHP with re-mastering that rectifies this problem with the album now giving rise to a much more substantial low end and sounding as it should have from the beginning. Now that each of the eighties era Bloodgood albums have been re-released (1989 follow up effort Out Of The Darkness was re-issued at the same time of RIAHP), I am willing to bet that RIAHP will lead the way in sales due to the improvements from re-mastering being so significant in comparison to the original.
As noted earlier, Bloodgood has gained a well-deserved ‘thinking man’s metal’ reputation from its intelligent lyrical approach, and RIAHP proves no exception. It starts with “Shakin’ It” from its tongue in cheek take on the televangelist scandals of the time:
He's a sinner thought he'd never be found
He got caught with his own pants down
Can't imagine how he must've felt
He should've tightened-up his Bible belt
“Seven”, as its title suggests, draws its prose from the Book of Revelation”:
God gave Jesus a revelation
And the Lord sent His angel to John
The faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead
The ruler of the kings of all the earth
The one who loves us and has freed us from our sins
His blood has washed clean and now He's coming
So shall it be, Amen
“The Presence” delivers a message of encouragement -
One on one I see Him always staring face to face
Closer, closer, always pulling towards His Holy grace
When I fall He's there to pick me up
With nail prints in His hands
In His blood that covers all around
I plea the righteous stand
Peace will roll on and on
His kingdom stands forever strong
The righteous words of praise to Him belong
- as does “The World (Keeps Movin’ Around)”:
He knows there's pain, but there is healing on His wings
His time's not come, but when it does we will sing
In His heart and in His eyes with every tear-drop He calls your name
And He says I want you home, my child
Til then, there'll be pain
And as the world keeps movin' around
You know His love can always be found
Within a beat of His heart the darkness must part
As the chains fall to the ground
Spiritual warfare is the topic of “Do Or Die”:
The bullet's flyin', the armor's on
Your shield is ready, your sword is drawn
The evil grows in the final hour
We'll slay the darkness with heaven's power
The world is calling you, don't lend an ear
No compromise, there's a way out of here
The Master's calling, down on your knees
He is your strength, and your victory
Some of you might not take too kindly to the fact I am giving the iconic Bloodgood a grade of just 75%. While one cannot deny RIAHP is my least favorite of the eighties Bloodgood releases, it does include several of my favorite songs from the group in “Heaven On Earth” and “Seven”. That said, perhaps the album is also a bit top heavy in great material when also factoring “Shakin’ It”, “The Presence” and “Never Be The Same”, but also falls a bit short in terms of deep cuts that might be good but also do not hold up as well. Regardless, I would like to reinforce I support the change to a more commercial musical direction, keeping in mind Bloodgood would return to its previous heavier ways on follow up effort Out Of The Darkness. In the end, if owner of the original RIAHP version and wish to hear the low-end in the manner in which it is supposed to sound then make the Retroactive re-issue a necessary purchase. Likewise, fans of eighties melodic metal and hard rock will find a home in RIAHP as well.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
1. Van Pelt, Doug. “Rock In A Hard Place review”. Heaven’s Metal 18 (1988): 29.
2. “Rock In A Hard Place review”. Take A Stand August 1988: 3.
3. Crothers, Kevin. “Rock In A Hard Place review. White Throne 5(1989)”: 15.
Track Listing: “Shakin’ It” (2:52), “Never Be The Same” (3:59), “The Presence” (3:29), “What Have I Done?” (3:41), “Heaven On Earth” (3:43), “Do Or Die” (2:21), “She’s Gone” (4:29), “World (Keeps Movin’ Around)” (4:09), “Seven” (4:47)
Les Carlsen - Lead Vocals
David Zaffiro - Guitars
Michael Bloodgood - Bass
Mark Welling - Drums