|Musical Style: Melodic Hard Rock||Produced By: Stayce Roberts & Johnny Z|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: The Brave|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 55:44|
The Brave’s 1991 Pakaderm Records debut Battle Cries won over plenty of fans with its polished melodic hard rock and commercial AOR sensibilities. Shifting gearing musically for its 1994 sophomore effort Trust (also Pakaderm), The Brave took the heavier rocking and more blues based stance while further expanding upon its fan base in the process. Twenty years later and The Brave have reformed for its summer of 2014 third album Rise, an independently released twelve-track collection of new songs and re-recorded classic material of the past. The reunion might not have come about without the tragic passing of founding member and drummer/vocalist Randy Roberts in 2007, which prompted the remaining The Brave members to put on a concert in his tribute and later record Rise.
Rise features five new songs in addition to re-recorded versions of three from Battle Cries and four off Trust. Helping lend to The Brave’s interpretation of its past material as well as re-defining its sound for the new is vocalist Amanda Z., who replaces Randy Roberts (soulful front man on Trust) and James Salters (soaring lead vocalist for Battle Cries). More often than not, I am skeptical when a band switches vocalists due to the potential change that can occur to its sound- noting the musical shift The Brave went through between Battle Cries and Trust. With Amanda Z., however, The Brave makes a seamless transition in that she possesses the versatility to complement both the rawer Trust material (in terms of gutsy and lower register flavorings that remind of Ransom vocalist Lisa Faxon) and more commercial from Battle Cries (lending a fiery and emotional touch not unlike Christian Steel of Arsenal).
Credit the group for making its fans aware ahead of time that its new album was going to encompass both covers and new material. A couple years ago when King James did not announce until the last minute that its comeback album Maximus was a mostly re-record project it rubbed some people the wrong way (including yours truly). While The Brave sidesteps this, some have complained about the group not waiting until after the pre-release sale to announce Amanda Z. as the new vocalist. Yes, a potentially touchy matter, and I cannot recall a band that successfully made the transition from a male to female vocalist, but as far as this reviewer is concerned, it is a non-issue. Rather, what it comes down to is whether the new vocalist is good regardless of gender. As already noted, Amanda Z. passes the test with ‘flying colors’ as a refreshing talent with a professional performance that ranks her alongside the better female vocalists to hit the scene in some time.
Fittingly, new material draws upon the best elements of Battle Cries and Trust. “Tell Me Now” picks up where former leaves off with its AOR and melodic hard rock leanings, as keyboards, polished backing vocals and radio friendly hooks lead the way. Despite the commercial leanings at hand, guitars deliver a resounding crunch, while Stayce Roberts shreds on lead guitar. “Wither Me” walks a fine line between both eras. This one plays up a hard rocking mid-paced slant in aligning a tasteful blues based penchant with another strong melody and more engaging backing vocals. A groove driven bass presence plays every bit the defined role. Drawing upon the latter is “The Killer Floor”, a traditional blues based rocker drenched with heartfelt grit and keyed up (and very catchy) chorus to go hand in hand. The tasteful slide guitar brings to mind a rocked up Glenn Kaiser Band.
These three are solid as anything The Brave has produced; I would love to hear an entire album of new material in this direction. Also quite good is “I’m Your Reason”, a smoothly flowing melodic rocker with a pop basis in which guitars play a lighter role and up-tempo momentum prevails. This one represents a throwback to the polished Elefante production to the first two albums. “Somebody” is solid as well, as straightforward hard rock undercurrents align with more bluesy proclivities and churning rhythm guitars to match. Of note is how the groups lyrically pay tribute to several classic Christian hard rock albums of the past: Somebody’s playing Snakes In The Playground. Somebody’s singing Fire And Love. Somebody said to Hell With The Devil. Someone’s a Soldier Under Command.
The three Battle Cries tracks back off from much of the polish inherit to the original production in allowing a rawer and heavier rocking ardor to come through. “If That Ain’t Love”, for instance, now hits harder with assertive guitars and reverberant bass while retaining its inherit commercial mindset. Also of note is Roberts’ blues drenched soloing. “All Together Now” also maintains its accessible flavorings in beefing up low end every bit as much and moving at the more pronounced tempo. Vocal flavorings reflect the heavier slant as do guitars (some great guitar harmonies can be found). “Running All My Life” comes across in the form of a bluesy semi ballad, with abundant slide guitar playing a defining role and chorus setting the resounding tone. The Brave deliver a ton of edgy grit to help this rank with the albums best (I am somewhat reminded of Red Sea). Lone complaint is that I wish the band had covered at least one more off Battle Cries (rousing rocker “Ride With The Rhythm” would have made a great choice).
Trust leaves the impression blues is The Brave’s natural element. “Dirty Water” is by far my favorite of the Trust tracks, translating well with its variances ranging from light and airy verses flowing at a tempered pace to a resounding refrain of a stalwart quality. Amanda Z. is at her moving and spirited best. “When Your Alone” gives rise to a straight on heavy rock direction in which acoustic guitar joins with the trademark The Brave sense of melody, while “Don’t” continues the melodic hard rock leanings with its no frills demeanor and occasional sublime elements. “Trust” comes across in the form of a tasteful worship rocker, carried its length acoustically but interwoven with the needed bluesy guitar to align with the emotional scene. While the albums title track is quite good, better songs to cover (in my opinion) include “Long Way To Heaven” (classy as it gets arena rock) and “Can’t Let The Devil Win” (another blues drenched rocker). It is to the benefit of us all that The Brave’s back catalog is so deep and varied.
Some have voiced concern over the production to Rise, noting how ‘mastering could have been better’ or that ‘production is definitely not great but by no means horrible sounding’ either. My impression is that Rise lacks much of the slickness characteristic to the Elefante produced first two albums that many have grown used too. Accordingly, Rise comes across on the raw side of things but by no means thin or muddy- keeping in mind a touch of polish while beefing up guitars would have improved things overall. If at the same time The Brave are attempting to step out from under the shadow of the Elefante production and establish its own identity and sound they are proving successful in this regard. I feel that the best way to approach Rise is with this in mind while also noting The Brave is the different band in comparison to its early to mid-nineties equivalent as a result.
As for the Elefante production, I find it to work best with a melodic rock act like Petra along with commercial hard rockers Guardian and Fear Not. Sweet Comfort Band had its share of good moments as well (I enjoy Perfect Timing to this day). Likewise, the bluesy to groove based sounds to Bride (Scarecrow Messiah) and Lovewar (Soak Your Brain) also achieved desirable results. That being said one could make a good case that brothers Elefante might have been out of their league with the heavier Barren Cross and high energy X-Sinner, both of which they adorned with too much polish and refinement. I cannot help but be reminded of a statement made by White Throne magazine editor Dave Johnson: “The producer’s job is to capture the bands sound and get it down on tape, not to change it to please the ears of the producers”. If this is the benchmark then the Pakaderm Studios production crew had more than its fair share of good moments but swung and missed a few times as well.
The Brave press material mentions how “Rise (features) 12 songs for your sonic consumption, all of which were created to lift up our Lord and Creator, Jesus Christ.” Lyrics (both old and new) do not disappoint in this regard, with strong statements of faith made by “Running All My Life” - I've been running all my life down this long and lonely road. Hear me call upon you, Lord help me lighten my load. And when will my heart ever learn. Lord help my heart to return to what I know is home - and “If That Ain’t Love”: Gave His life 'cause it had to be. Shed His blood for you and me. If That Ain't Love - Then I don't know what love is.
“Whither Me” speaks of a heart crying out - Now I’ve cried my last tear. I’m so tired of your dysfunctional fear. So take a look at me now. I can show you how. I believe in His grace. And feel so free - as does “When You’re Alone”: Every time I start to look for some love and affection. I always seem to end up being led in Your direction. I walked alone - no one to carry me. I lived my life so temporarily. I know that You could wash the pain away. Why am I living just for today. “Trust” takes a worshipful slant: There’s a light that keeps us guarded it never goes away. And the strength of our salvation grows stronger every day. There’s a place called Trust and you will find Him there.
Overall quality to Rise resides in the wealth of choice material in which The Brave had to draw upon in factoring both new and old. Strength to band performance and a new vocalist I see as a force for time to come further lends to the value at hand. If anything, The Brave proves it still has a lot of tread on the tire following a twenty-year hiatus. With the momentum of Rise behind it, I hope we hear more from The Brave in the future, with the optimal scenario being a full length album the same quality as the better new tracks with production allowing its bluesy heaviness to stand out in a polished (but not so much) package.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Tell Me Now” (4:07), “I’m Your Reason” (3:41), “If That Aint Love” (5:15), “Running All My Life” (5:33), “Dirty Water” (5:08), “Wither Me” (4:28), “All Together Now” (4:18), “The Killing Floor” (4:06), “Trust” (3:49), “When Your Alone” (5:34), “Don’t” (5:14), “Somebody” (4:31)
Amanda Z. - Lead Vocals
Stayce Roberts - Guitars & Keyboards
Johnny Z. - Drums, Percussion & Bass
Malcom Paris - Bass
Steve Irwin - Bass