|Musical Style: Metal/Hard Rock||Produced By: Randy Thomas|
|Record Label: Regency Music||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1988||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 25%|
|Running Time: 35:38|
Southern California based Contagious represents all that did not work with the eighties Christian metal scene. And by that I am referring to labels that signed (a) more bands than they could adequately support, (b) bands that were not ready to be signed, or (c) bands never deserving to be signed in the first place. Which one is it in this case? A combination of the latter two since Regency Records, which released the straightforward metal and hard rock of Contagious’ 1988 full length debut Free Indeed, was not the most prolific label of the time but also had better options available in terms of bands it could have signed (more on this later).
I hate to come across as blunt, but Free Indeed leaves much to be desired. It starts with songwriting in that Contagious was not accomplished enough at this early stage in its career to compose an entire album of noteworthy material. The fact is that out of the albums nine tracks I routinely skip over six: Whether it is high energy rockers “Free Indeed”, “The Provider” and “Turn”, more subdued numbers such as “Backslider” and “Children Of The Father” or the acoustic based “To The King”, the catchy hooks and distinct melodies needed to allow the Free Indeed material to hold up under repeated play are missing.
Another problem revolves around the shaky vocal performance of Mark Lewis, who lacks the abundant range and power needed for music of this capacity. It is not that he is a bad vocalist (he brings a gravelly mid-ranged delivery hinting of emotion) but rather he is miscast. Put him in a bluesy heavy rock band and he would do fine. Which begs the following question: How much better would Contagious be if fronted by someone along the lines of Michael Sweet or Rob Rock? The overall feeling left - at least based upon my experience - is that a different vocal approach might have breathed new life into the groups’ songs.
When Contagious delivers a winner, guitarist Scott Sifton plays a leading role. Sifton proves a phenomenal talent with a fast fingered style that hints of Carol Johan Grimmark (Narnia), Slav Simanic, Brian Belew (Barnabas) and Dee Harrington (Saint). His blistering (and very adeptly done!) lead work helps put metal anthems “Fighting The Good Fight” and “Building On The Rock” over the top while his bluesy soloing is one of the highlights to the melodic “Hebrews 13:8”.
Inconsistencies can be found in the areas of production and packaging. While Free Indeed features a solid drum presence (timekeeper Ryan Crampton is another able performer), it is held back by a muddy guitar sound and vocals placed too forward in the mix. Also, the track listing on the back of the jewel case does not follow the order the songs are played back while the cover artwork is good in concept but suffers from too much of a low budget feel.
What I find maddening about this scenario (and I am sure many of you share my grief) are the number of more musically seasoned Christian metal bands from the era that could have been signed instead. You really think that Soldier, Apostle, Taker, Paradox and Chariot couldn’t produce an album better than Free Indeed? I hate to be negative in that the potential was also there for Contagious to record a good album, providing they first resolve the vocal and songwriting issues (which would have come with time and experience).
Also note that Sifton left Contagious following the release of Free Indeed only to be replaced by original guitarist Mike Gribionkin, who performed on the groups 1987 six song EP Be Ready. Sifton later joined forces with Saint vocalist Josh Kramer, but the two, sadly, never recorded. Ultimately, Sifton must be placed in the same category with Brian Belew as talented metal guitarists from the eighties that were never heard from again.
Track By Track
“Free Indeed” hits fast, rocks hard and does not let up front to back but still falls short. The main culprit is the songs lack of long term engaging qualities- in terms of catchy hooks that would allow it to hold up under continuous play. Sifton, however, shines with one of his stretches of lightning-like lead work. “Free Indeed” takes a panoramic view of current and future events (from the standpoint of the time it was written):
In ’88 there’s missiles flying
Around the world
There’s children dying
I think it’s time to pray
2001 will never come
If we blow ourselves away
The Prince of Peace is coming back
And it could be today
“Fighting The Good Fight” represents a true metal anthem. The song sets a relentless tempo, romping its distance to straight edges guitar riffs and Crampton’s well time drum fills while put over by a brief but to the point chorus:
Fighting the good fight (repeat 4 times in high energy fashion)
Sifton again wows with another fast run of soloing (this time with a slight bluesy feel). The focus of “Fighting The Good Fight” is on spiritual warfare:
I’ve got my armor on
The Lord’s before me
That’s why I sing this song
This song of victory
We’re stepping out in faith
Telling the truth to all
The Devil’s in our face
Our back’s against the way
“Backslider” slows the tempo and highlights some emotional edges, which proves a fitting match for the subject at hand. Nevertheless, the notable hook that might keep you returning time and again proves elusive in that my attention starts to wane after several listens. Nice acoustic break at the halfway point but it is not enough to save things.
“Building On The Rock” is a monster track. This one serves to showcase Sifton’s abilities, including an awesome hammer-on driven open air guitar solo starting the song and fitting lead guitar run later on in which he pulls out all the stops. In between the song delivers a heavy hitting chorus (backed by shouted vocal melodies) and the low-end muscle and fortitude to match. Building on the correct foundation is the subject at hand:
Building on the Rock
Your treasure will not fade away
Because the Good Shepherd
Is standing at the door
And I’m looking forward
To that holy, holy day
When I can stand before the Lord
I can’t wait
Building on the Rock
You have a firm foundation…
“The Provider” brings three minutes of up-tempo energy, driven by punchy bass lines and hard charging riffs while upholding a slight impassioned edge. This one actually comes close to working - chorus borders on the serviceable - but, like many here, vocals head in a different direction than the music. Have Mike Lee (Barren Cross) front this one and it might work.
Bluesy and moving would be the best way to describe “Hebrews 13:8”. The song finds Contagious putting it all together and delivering a winner in the process. Sifton adds some gritty and soulful licks and chops while the rhythm section, correspondingly, highlights every bit as much life. Holding everything together is a profound melody and victorious message:
Well, on the third day
He rose for you and me
And defeated the enemy
And He’s the same
Yesterday, today, and forever
Well, He’s the Shepherd
The Good Shepherd
He gave His life
For the sheep
And He’s the same
Yesterday, today, and forever
“Turn” hits as hard as anything here, with some pummeling riff action for its verses and aggressively done backing vocals shoring up another heavy duty chorus. Sifton cuts loose with another mercurial guitar solo. So what’s wrong? Not much really in that, similar to “The Provider”, this one is only a different vocal approach away from potentially working. Let Josh Kramer handle vocals and this one would come to life.
“To The King” falls short with its acoustic based approach. Too much orchestration, too much keyboards and too much fluff. Yes, a good message but the overall feeling is that “To The King” would come off better in the hands of White Heart or Petra rather than a gritty hard rock band like Contagious. Lyrics bring a worshipful feel:
I look to You
In all that I do
For in You I have eternal life
There is hope within me
Your Spirit has set me free
As It talk to You on my knees
My Lord of Lord, my King of Kings
So as I wait for You
Help me make it through
Help me finish this race
And stand before Your face
“Children Of The Father” addresses the televangelist scandals that were happening at the time (can’t fault the band in that Bloodgood did the same with “Shakin’ It” from Rock In A Hard Place). Musically, the song proves a melodic hard rocker with plenty of keyboards and guitars playing a reduced role in the mix. Once more, not bad, but the cheesy TV preacher voice over that makes several appearances leaves me somewhat cold. Subject matter self-explanatory:
The preacher man is on T.V.
And he is goin’ broke
He needs the money he’s tellin’ me
But I don’t need the words he spoke
What about what’s goin’ on
In the world today?
Why is everyone so concerned
About their daily wage?
When many souls are gonna burn?
Let’s tell them how to be saved
Let your light shine openly
Before it’s too late
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: "Free Indeed" (4:05), "Fighting The Good Fight" (4:11), "Backslider" (4:17), "Building On The Rock" (4:48), "The Provider" (3:00), "Hebrews 13:8" (3:36), "Turn" (3:14), "To The King" (3:05), "Children Of The Father" (5:18)
Mark Lewis - Lead Vocals, Bass & Keyboards
Scott Sifton - Guitars
Ryan Crampton - Drums & Keyboards