|Musical Style: Hard Rock||Produced By: Mike Botello|
|Record Label: Mijaces||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2009||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 54:55|
Vocalist Mike Botello is best known for his work in Awake, a Corpus Christi, Texas based power trio that in 1990 released a well known ten song demo entitled Spiritual Warfare. While Awake broke up shortly thereafter, with Spiritual Warfare soon to go out of print and become a hard to find collector’s item, Botello resurrected his career following the turn of the century with the acoustic rock of his first solo album from 2006, A Timeless State.
The artist’s second solo release, Rule Of Law on Mijaces Records in late 2009, proves the all around heavier and more consistent effort. “Heavier” is the key word in that the album heads in a straightforward hard rock direction while mixing in the occasional modern overtone. Yes, a slight modern influence permeates the project – more on some songs than others – but not to the point of detraction or distraction. If anything, the artist should be given credit for avoiding many of the pitfalls often inherit to the modern rock scene: sameness mentality of the songwriting, nails over chalkboard “screamy” vocals and an “artsier than thou” avoidance of guitar soloing.
“Consistent” is another key word in that Rule Of Law represents the more well rounded work in comparison to A Timeless State. The artist has put together some real high quality songs, with “Cycles”, “Matador” and “The Rule Of Law” – three essential tracks characterized by their notable melody structures – and the enticing progressiveness of “The Morning’s Never Come” all standing out. The album does present with its low key moments, as can be found on the acoustic based “Every Day After You” and swarthy semi-ballad “Tug Of War”. In terms of modern influences, “Creatures” showcases energy in abundance and “Do What Thy Wilt” a slower and more driving tempo.
Again, I would like to emphasize the consistency of Rule Of Law in that I only skip over a couple of tracks: “Beyond” is a song this reviewer finds modern to a fault (it almost comes across forced) while the acoustically driven “Angel Of Light” also falls a bit flat.
Mike Botello takes on a “jack of all trades” role in handling lead vocals, bass, drums and percussions, drum programming, acoustic guitars and electric guitar on one track. All additional lead and rhythm guitars are done by Jason Barrett.
Botello proves a quality vocalist with a distinct melodic based style trending towards the mid-ranged side of things. He stays mostly in smooth sounding territory while, mercifully, refraining from adding any abrasive “modern” edges to his delivery. That said, when singing in a lower key – such as on “The Morning’s Never Come” – he sounds hauntingly similar to Jimmy P. Brown (Deliverance).
Jason Barrett enhances the projects instrumental sound with his skilled guitar work. I cannot help but think he played a leading role on the creative instrumental moments found on “Cycles”, “Matador” and “The Morning’s Never Come”. Soloing wise, he reflects a bluesy edge (played with a great deal of feeling) on “The Rule Of Law” and “Do What Thou Wilt”.
No complaints about production- very well done for an independent release, although lead vocals are mixed a bit hit.
The album opens to one of its stronger tracks, “Cycles”. Bringing an abundant chorus hook and spirited tempo, the song drives its length to an exquisite rhythm guitar mix, not decelerating until the start of an instrumental section in which a bass guitar solo gives way to a distorted guitar solo. As its title implies, “Cycles” focuses on the cycles of life:
From birth to grave, drought to rain, the cycle trends
Inside, outdoors, enveloping
Young to old and first to last the cycle moves the cycle lasts
From year to year and day by day to month to month to week to week
From beginning to end when black meets white
Love hate win lose the cycle makes
Good to bad no mishaps enveloping
“Matador” reduces the tempo and heaviness but not the quality. The song comes across scintillating in form, smoothly drifting through its verses to a quietly played guitar until gaining full momentum for a hook driven chorus bordering on the stalwart. A lengthy instrumental section showcases a bluesy guitar solo. “Matador” uses analogy to compare Christ to a victorious bull fighter (with the enemy being the defeated bull):
All guilt aside shame will subside
You will not lose when loves the guide
The bull won’t suck the life that’s precious in His sight
Espada in hand Messiah the man
You cannot quit without His plan
Don’t let the bull control just trust the One who can
Throw the rose to give the praise of victory
He has conquered all through Calvary
“Beyond” showcases a modern influence. Now, I do not mind an occasional foray into modern territory but when the attempt is forced I often lose interest. And such is the case here. Despite repeated listen I failed to grow into this one. Perhaps it is due to being “modern to a fault” but the creativity and hooks of the two preceding it are missing.
The artist returns to his creative ways with the acoustic based “Ever After You”. I enjoy how the song moves its first four minutes to a crisp acoustic guitar in giving rise to an abundant melody- all the while highlighting a background of guitar feedback and pronounced bass lines. But as initiative builds, however, the tempo abruptly picks up to a fuller and heavier direction. I am kind of reminded of Liberty N’ Justice’s 2007 release Independence Day in the process.
“Tug Of War” is a low-key and driving track with a bit of a ballad-ish feel. The song brings some stylish time changes, ranging from calmer passages sustained by a quietly played guitar and others making effective use of upfront rhythm guitar. Credit the artist for extending “Tug Of War” past the six minute range without coming across repetitious or boring. Inner struggle seems to be the subject here:
No one cares to call my name
But you can choose the inner groove to be
I can’t call on nothing sane
But now’s the time to deliver me free
No one cares to call my name
But you can choose the way
Nothing taken nothing gain given by the one who came
Absorbed in the lie of wanting to die
Call on me! Enter free!
“Creatures”, the albums second modern influenced track, would not sound out of place on Stryper’s Reborn. This time the modern flavorings work in that the song shines with its upbeat tempo and hook driven chorus. The difference maker is the quality of songwriting in that the artist adds his unique touch (in the form of an eighties influence) without forcing the modern elements.
I might rank the albums title track its heaviest. “The Rule Of Law” is characterized by its swarthy guitar walls while making room for the occasional passage heading in a more subdued direction. The chorus, in contrast, proves surprisingly melodic. Killer guitar solo rounds things out. Lyrics hit every bit as hard as the music:
Rock the boat to dismiss there selfish wills they bear inside
Nothing lingers from their grasp indeed
They say there here to cover you
Don’t be fooled in spite of you
There sick, demented, undesired rule
They come to you disguised as good
Don’t be the fool
Protect the innocent from you
They say the rule of law is true
NO LAW OF MAN!
A drum solo gets “Do What Thy Wilt” underway, a slower piece with a driving mentality and a well placed punchy bass line. Some modern flavorings make their presence felt but, similar to “Creatures”, not to the point of overriding. The thick as it gets chorus (backed by some heavy duty rhythm guitar) flows well while the gritty guitar solo is played with great feeling.
The acoustically driven “Angel Of Light” leaves me a bit cold. Along with “Beyond” this is the only track I skip over, with the overall impression left that the muscle and emotion of the albums better material is missing.
“The Morning’s Never Gonna Come” finds the artist at his creative best. With Botello singing in a lower register, the song brings to mind River Of Disturbance era Deliverance with its traces of the progressive and lushly done chorus. In the end a great deal of emotion is conveyed on this one. It must be notes the minute long ethereal instrumental introduction and second instrumental interlude carried by a rousing stretch of lead guitar. Excellent effort carried out to a satisfying six minutes.
“Run To Me” proves a fitting album closer with its “mellower” flavorings: tasteful use of keyboards and acoustic guitars are combined with a more tempered mix of rhythm guitar. The end result is a melodic based environs standing out with a flowing chorus and faith based lyrics:
I stand before this sacred throne
Need to hear an answer to life’s regrets
Don’t want to lead you down a rocky road
To look beyond your thoughts and let go
I try to see the outer realm of what’s beyond our present and current form
No need to explain this just to understand what God will give
To look beyond your thoughts…
Rule Of Law is a good hard rock album with modern influences. Yes, I might hit the skip button once or twice but all around the albums proves a consistent listen. Again, do not let the modern elements turn you away in that they are not pronounced and less evident on some songs than others. It also must be noted Mike Botello’s distinct vocal style and the blues driven playing of guitarist Jason Barrett.
Finally, for those interested the Awake demo Spiritual Warfare was re-issued with bonus material in 2006 by Mijaces Records.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Cycles” (4:18), “Matador” (5:31), “Beyond” (4:46), “Ever After You” (5:17), “Tug Of War” (6:20), “Creatures” (3:44), “The Rule Of Law” (4:01), “Do What Thou Wilt” (5:15), “Angel Of Light” (5:32), “The Morning’s Never Come” (6:00), “Run To Me” (4:07)
Mike Botello – Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar, Drums & Percussions, “Drum Programming & Guitars
Jason Barrett - Guitars