|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Roy Z|
|Record Label: Metal Heaven||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2008||Artist Website: Driver|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 95%|
|Running Time: 51:00|
Driver can trace its history to the late eighties Southern California melodic metal scene. Rising out of the ashes of Los Angeles based bands Joshua and Gypsy Moreno, Driver, in its initial form, comprised vocalist Rob Rock, bassist Emil Lech-Brando and keyboardist Greg Schultz (all three Joshua) along with guitarist Roy Z and drummer Butch Carlson (both Gypsy Moreno). The talented five piece unit played the local club circuit (including The Troubadour, The Whiskey, The Palace and Joe’s Garage) in addition to gaining worldwide acclaim as a result of the professional 5 song demo/EP it released in 1990. While Driver never signed with a label – one of the reasons being the grunge rock scene that emerged during the early 90’s – its two core members, Rob Rock and Roy Z, reunited in 2008 and re-recorded their old demo material along with several new songs as well. The end result is the fall of 2008 Metal Heaven full length debut of Driver, Sons Of Thunder.
What Driver brings to the table is eighties influenced melodic metal with an edge. Heavier than projects Rob Rock had been previously associated with (at the time), such as Joshua and Angelica, Driver reflects that “edge” in question with its penchant for the guitar driven- all the while delivering a sound that is catchy without trending towards the overtly commercial. I guess you could say that Driver brings just the right amount of muscle and the hook driven. And that is a very good thing. Fans of Impellitteri, Rob Rob’s solo releases and Letter 7 will find a lot to like here as will those into Mad Max, Shining Star (Fatal Mistake and Enter Eternity eras) and Whitecross.
Sons Of Thunder includes all five tracks from the 1990 EP- “Warrior”, “Fly Away”, “Hearts On Fire”, “Only Love Can Save Me Now” and “I Believe in love”. The latter two are top of the line ballads that have “hit” written all over them while “Fly Away” and “Hearts On Fire” head in a melodic metal direction with catchy choruses and polished vocal harmonies. “Warrior”, with its anthem-like feel and great guitar solo, is quintessential metal at its best. Groove rocker “Tears That I Cry”, a track recorded during the Driver sessions that was never commercially released (it made its way onto the demo the band sent to labels), appears along with the aptly entitled “Dark World”, power metal laced “Winds Of March” and the albums spirited title track. Rounding things out is another ballad, “Changed Heart”, and a positive metal piece in “Never Give Up”.
Rob Rock puts forth the type of stellar performance one would expect from him- right up there with his work with Impellitteri and four solo releases. White Throne editor Dave Johnson, in his review of the Driver EP from White Throne #8 (1991), described Rob as having “the power of David Coverdale and the delivery of Ronnie James Dio but somehow (he) outshines them both”.1 I think that pretty much sums things up best (I could not have said it better myself).
As for Roy Z, Dave says that he is “excellent” and that “some Randy Rhodes and George Lynch influences can be heard in (his) style but (he) can slow it down and make his axe sing beautiful melodies for the slower passages”.2 Doug Van Pelt, who reviewed the EP in Heaven’s Metal #28 (1990), had this to say about Roy: “Roy Z is in league with Yngwie. I’ve yet to hear him solo for 20 minutes, but he does make his guitar sing.”3 My thoughts? Sons Of Thunder features some of the finest playing I have heard from Roy Z to date- just check his soloing on “Dark World”, “Hearts On Fire” and “Sons Of Thunder” to understand my point.
Please note that to complete the recording process original Driver drummer Reynold “Butch” Carlson was brought in along with keyboardist Edward Roth (Impellitteri) and bassist Aaron Samson.
Lyrically, this might not be as bold or forthright as Fires Of Babylon or Holy Hell and Garden Of Chaos (Rob Rock’s third and fourth solo releases respectively), but Rob, nevertheless, makes his faith known throughout the project (such as on “Fly Away”, “Hearts On Fire” and “Never Give Up”).
The album opens to “Titans Of Speed”, a frenetic instrumental upheld its distance by a blend or bristling rhythm guitar and pounding drums.
Sons Of Thunder is the fourth release to include “I’m A Warrior”. The song made its debut on the Driver EP (under the title “Warrior”) before returning four years later on Impellitteri’s Answer To The Master (also entitled “Warrior”). Holy Hell also finds the song making an appearance, this time featuring the full title “I’m A Warrior”.
The question to be asked at this point, of course, is do we really need to hear four different versions of “I’m A Warrior” (irregardless of title)? I would have to answer with a resounding yes! Why? Because it is a special song. From the passion of Rob Rock’s vocal delivery, to its engaging chorus, to its Christian metal soldier imagery (“I’m a soldier under His command”), “I’m A Warrior” proves nothing less than an inspired metal anthem.
The Impellitteri version of the song, with its use of backing vocals (that add a nice touch of the commercial) and Chris Impellitteri’s unbeatable guitar solo, is my favorite. That said, “I’m A Warrior” comes to life on Sons Of Thunder with its muscular rhythm guitar sound and complementary mix of keyboards (Roy Z is no slouch on lead guitar either!).
“Fly Away” also made its initial appearance on the Driver demo. What stands out most about the song are its bountiful vocal harmonies – particularly during its melodic based chorus – and resonant mid-paced impetus. Every bit as heavy as it its catchy, “Fly Away” finds Carlson putting forth quite the technical performance on drums while Roy Z, again, tears it up on lead guitar. Rob Rock is renowned for writing intelligent lyrics and such is the case here:
Looking for answers deep in the night
Caught in the shadows hiding from sight
Losing my senses out in the cold
When I felt the power breaking the hold
Fight to survive, you’ll stand or fall
You’re dead or alive, inside this war
Fly Away, you can find the way
Fly Away, the price is paid
“Heart’s Of Fire” comes across heavier in comparison to the original demo version with its steadfast mid-tempo inclinations and forward mix of rhythm guitar. Musically, the song proves melodic metal at its finest in showcasing a huge chorus – the hook here is prevalent and will pull you in on first listen – and atmosphere bordering on the commercial: if Driver had been signed back in the day “Hearts Of Fire”, along with several tracks here, had the potential to dominate FM radio and MTV. This one is mature from both a musical and lyrical standpoint:
All this time you’ve been hungry
For fortune and fame
You realize you can’t hide
From the power of the flame
Deep inside a true believer
You’re caught in between
The Rock and the hardness of pride
Take the mask from the deceiver
Emotions will lie, you’ll never deny
The pace picks up for the albums stunning title track. Opening to several seconds of guitar feedback before taking off at an upbeat tempo, “Sons Of Thunder” roars through its first verse and bridge before culminating for a spirited chorus shored up by the smooth sounding feel to Rob Rock’s vocal delivery. Roy Z steps forward with a run of fast fingered lead guitar. Determination and perseverance are the subject matters here:
Nimble and quick, running the race
Manic and swift, setting the pace
Velocity rules, pushing the edge
Rushing the wind, riding the rail
With an angel over me
I’m never looking back
Flying on the wings of speed
I’m breaking from the pack
“Never Give Up” does a good job highlighting the albums crystal clear production. The rhythm guitar really stands out on this one – particularly during its instrumental based opening – while the pronounced low end brings out the best in its uplifting chorus and jam-based instrumental section. Slow in delivery but stately in feel, “Never Give Up” can best be described as positive metal:
I hear you say “never give up”
You’ve got to fight
There’ll be peace when you can finally
Reach the light
I hear you say “never give up”
You’ve got to fight
There’ll be rest for you
On the other side of night
“Change Of Heart” represents as classy ballad as you will find. The song moves its distance to an acoustic guitar with occasional hints of rhythm guitar shoring up the backdrop, put over the top by the easy going feel to its chorus and instrumental section on the jazz-flavored side of things. All in all, I would rate this with the finer Rob Rock ballads out there. “Change Of Heart” talks about exactly that:
You, you’re looking away, you’re here but so far
You need a change of heart
Stop this anger you have or it will tear us apart
You need a change of heart
Now you know wherever you go I’ll be around
I’ll be there catching your tears before they fall
Sons Of Thunder hits its stride on its brilliant second half.
“Dark World” proves a dignified piece with its near perfect melding of keyboards and rhythm guitar. An airy – almost ominous – environs prevails as the song pushes through its verse portions, impetus building as the rhythm guitar takes over and leads the way to a chorus advancing at a regal mid-paced tempo. Terrific hook here along with a radiant run of lead guitar from Roy Z. “Dark World” talks about finding your way:
What will it take
For you to find your way?
Every time you call
I’ve been there for you
Shadow’s fall, the night descends
And the mirror tells
The story on your face
Feelings fall like rain
The smile that covers every once of pain
“Winds Of March”, with its slight touch of power metal would not sound out of place on Holy Hell or Garden Of Chaos. A galloping guitar riff drives the song forward from the start, impelling things in portent fashion until a bottom heavy chorus every bit as inauspicious is achieved. Roy Z again stands out with his fluid work on lead guitar. “Winds Of March” talks about the apocalypse:
Nations are gathering for war
From the corners of the dark
Led by the armies of the North
Like rising Winds of March
Satan is gathering for war
From the corners of the dark
Taking the nations of the world
Through the mighty Winds of March
The semi-ballad “Only Love Can Save Me Now” is by far my favorite track here. Standing out with its huge commercial flavored melody, the song slowly drifts between verse portions laced by a joining of keyboards and acoustic guitar and a catchy chorus upheld by a sturdy wall of rhythm guitar. The end result is an emotional environs that, similar to “Hearts On Fire”, could have dominated FM radio if given a chance.
Groove based hard rocker “Tears That I Cry” brings to mind the old Impellitteri track “Grin & Bear It” (from the 1992 album of the same name). The song moves at an upbeat tempo its full length, taking a crunch heavy rhythm guitar and joining it with a chorus featuring a hook of the guaranteed to pull you in and refuse to go away variety. More blazing lead guitar is added to a song talking about leaving the past behind:
There comes a time when you stand alone
And you know
When you’re holding on to a broken dream
Let it go, let it go
You’re tearing the pages out of your life
And I want you to know
You’re going through changes
Crossing the line, and I’m waiting for you
“I Believe In Love”, the albums final ballad, is a majestic piece flowing forward to a piano from the start, initiative building until the rhythm guitar steps forward to drive a luxurious chorus shored up by abundant vocal harmonies. This one almost comes across Stryper-like in capacity. Not unlike “Hearts On Fire” and “Only Love Can Save Me Now”, I can see this one also making its mark on FM radio.
My overall feeling is that Sons Of Thunder ranks with Eyes Of Eternity and Impellitteri’s Answer To The Master as the finest projects I have heard from Rob Rock. From songwriting, to performance, to packaging and production, everything is done in a first class manner. If you are looking for melodic metal with an edge – again, Driver brings just the right amount of muscle and the hook driven – then you can do no wrong with Sons Of Thunder. Highly recommended.
I would like to close by stating it is the crime of the century that Driver never signed a deal back in the day. You would think that someone in A&R at a major label, having heard the groups demo, would have the foresight to understand that if given the right push Driver had the potential to sell 5 million records (or more).
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Titans Of Speed” (2:30), “I’m A Warrior” (4:18), “Fly Away” (4:28), “Heart’s On Fire” (4:06), “Sons Of Thunder” (3:47), “Never Give Up” (4:00), “Change Of Heart” (5:13), “Dark World” (4:04), “Winds Of March” (4:23), “Only Love Can Save Me Now” (3:53), “Tears That I Cry” (4:54), “I Believe In Love” (5:18)
Rob Rock – Lead Vocals
Roy Z – Guitars & Bass
Edward Roth - Keyboards
Aaron Samson – Bass
Reynold “Butch” Carlson – Drums
Matt Sinner & Daniel Cordova – Bass
Also Reviewed: Rob Rock – Holy Hell, Rob Rock – Garden Of Chaos, Angelica – Angelica, Impellitteri – Crunch, Joshua – Intense Defense, Warrior – Code Of Life
Van Pelt, Doug. “Rockin’ With Driver.” Heaven’s Metal 24 (1990): 22-24.
1. Dave Johnson, “Driver review”, White Throne 8 (1991): 39-40.
2. Dave Johnson, “Driver review”, White Throne 8 (1991): 39-40.
3 Doug Van Pelt, “Driver review”, Heavens Metal 28 (1990): 39.