|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Roy Z|
|Record Label: Metal Heaven||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2012||Artist Website: Driver|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 49:52|
If you know anything about Rob Rock, then you probably enjoy listening to melodic metal. Not surprisingly, the genre is the artist’s specialty, having gotten his start in the eighties with the super group M.A.R.S. and its Project Driver release but also participating on albums with Impellitteri (self-titled), Joshua (Intense Defense) and Angelica (self-titled). Later hitting his stride by rejoining Impellitteri for five highly regarded albums between 1992 and 2000, the artist teamed up with guitarist Roy Z following the turn of the century and put out four solo releases that received every bit as much acclaim.
Rob Rock and Roy Z can trace their history to the late eighties when they formed Driver with bassist Emil Lech-Brando, keyboardist Greg Schultz and drummer Butch Carlson. Despite garnering a large following as a result of its well received 5 song demo from 1990, Driver never signed a deal, with one of the main reasons being the emerging grunge scene of the time. Driver remained on hiatus for close to twenty years when it was resurrected by the duo, who recorded new versions of the classic demo cuts in addition to several new songs for the 2008 full length debut Sons Of Thunder.
Countdown, the spring of 2012 sophomore release from Driver, finds Rob Rock and Roy Z renewing their partnership. Similar to Sons Of Thunder, Countdown features a mixture of new material and older demo tracks while staying true to the signature Driver sound. Whereas the demo featured its share of heavier material (“Warrior”), melodic based tracks (“Fly Away”) and radio friendly numbers (“Only Love Can Save Me Now” and “I Believe In Love”), Countdown follows a similar pattern.
Driver shines when at its heaviest, as aptly demonstrated on the catchy high energy sounds of “Return To The Sky” and speed metal lacings to “Hollywood Shooting Star”. “Destiny” delivers some technical aspects, while “Thief In The Night” stands out with its traditional metal leanings (great Dio-ish refrain on this one).
When approaching things from a melodic standpoint, Driver proves no less able. “Rising Son” brings a melodic hard rock based sound and “Babylon” an upbeat and groove driven proclivity (what the two have in common are chorus hooks you will not soon forget). Upholding the catchiness are “Cry Of The Wounded”, with its symphonic underpinnings, and “Running From The Darkness”, playing up some gritty and blues driven elements.
A more commercial side to Driver can be found in the acoustic laced ballad “Always On My Mind”. No, not a metal or hard rock ballad but more than enough rhythm guitar presents itself for your attention to be held long term.
Helping define Countdown is how it will be certain to appeal to fans of all eras of Rob Rock’s career. On one hand, you will find the melodic tendencies of Joshua but merged with the faster and heavier sounds to Impellitteri. On the other, the signature Roy Z songwriting abilities that helped define the artists solo material stand out equally well. The overall feeling is that Countdown bases itself upon a foundation of eighties metal (due to the melodic nature to the songwriting) while also highlighting occasional hints of traditional and melodic power metal (as a result of the heaviness therein).
Rob Rock continues to shine with his soaring and powerful vocal style- the guy is not know as the voice of melodic metal for nothing. What continues to impress is how he has not lost anything - in terms of ability to go for a high note (such as on “Destiny”) or showcase a lower side to his register (see “Thief In The Night”) - over the years.
Roy Z plays no small role in helping make Countdown the heavier of the two Driver releases. Yes, he can deliver some bone crushing aggression (“Thief In The Night”) and all out speed (“Hollywood Shooting Star”) but can exhibit a more melodic side to his playing as well (“Rising Son”). Soloing is also over the top, whether blazing (“Destiny”), emotional (“Rising Son”) or dramatic along the lines of Kerry Livgren (“Cry Of The Wounded”).
Driver, at the same time, has all the attributes of an all star project when factoring in contributions from seasoned musicians such as original drummer Reynold “Butch” Carlson, keyboardist Ed Roth and bassist Aaron Samson. Mark Boals, who fronted Joshua Perahia’s stunning Resurrection release (review coming soon, BTW), even makes a guest appearance on “Hollywood Shooting Star” & “Rising Son”.
Production highlights a rawer sound in comparison to Sons Of Thunder. By raw I do not mean thin or muddy but rather vintage- as in backing away from a lot of unnecessary polish and letting the bands natural energy stand out in the process. The sound is also clean enough to allow the bass and leads to rise above the mix and drums maintain a commanding presence.
Lyrics are forthright as any project Rob Rock as participated. While not a concept album, Countdown features many of its tracks based upon end time prophecy (‘Return To the Sky”, “Countdown”, “Babylon”, etc). Subjects, otherwise, revolve around faith (“Rising Son”), overcoming obstacles (“Running From The Darkness”) and life from a positive standpoint. More details in the track by track.
With great song after great song, superlative musicianship and Rob Rock’s signature vocals, Countdown is certain to rank with the top releases of the year- at the very least it maintains the momentum gained from Sons Of Thunder. Either way, if a long term fan of Rob Rock or devotee of eighties metal in general, then by all means make Countdown a priority purchase.
Track By Track
“Return To The Sky” represents quintessential Driver. The song storms its distance at a furious clip, dramatic in its unyielding power metal touches but every bit inspired with its eighties style accessible hooks. I cannot help but be reminded of Rob Rock’s 2005 Holy Hell solo release as a result. Lyric snippet:
We are standing on the Rock of Ages
Our treasures deep inside
Return to the sky
It's time to change our evil ways
All to see that You are the Master
Seven seals of the tribulation
The world is spinning in it’s desperation
Behold the great white throne, and the lake of fire
Everybody stands before the Judge
You know your name is written in the Book
He holds it in His hands, worthy is the Lamb
The quality carries over to “Rising Son”. This one slows the tempo in taking a melodic hard rock approach, smoother in capacity with the near commercial lacings of its chorus but upholding the same staunch guitar flavorings. What we have here is classic Driver all the way. Lyric snippet:
You lift me up from the valley below
Dust me off and I’m ready to go
So I realize for Our live the sacrifice
Show the world what this life is about
My burning heart is crying out
Shadows testify, the reason why
Your love is alive
Your live is alive
Shadows testify the reasons why
Well beyond the sky we’ll never die
Momentum picks up for the albums title track. “Countdown” stands out with its frenetic riff action - intense but given to a fusion-like touch at the same time - but can surprisingly even out for an ominous chorus that comes across in the form of a warning:
Countdown to the antichrist
Saving the world with all his might
Everyone on bended, when you fear inside he’s the one you need
The piercing heaviness brings to mind Screaming Symphony era Impellitteri.
“Hollywood Shooting Star” is a non-stop ripper. Starting to a drum solo, the song takes off at a near speed metal clip and upholds the racing proclivity its length. Low end is churning and chorus brazen as it gets. This is as fast and heavy as it gets as far as Driver are concerned (again, the Impellitteri is relevant).
The album hits its stride with “Thief In The Night”. The eighties influences raise their head here again, with the song standing out with its huge Stryper meets Dokken hooks (chorus will have you singing along in no time) and guitar driven emphasis approaching classic metal. Rob Rock sings in a slightly lower register, which perfectly fits the darker nature to the music here.
“Cry Of The Wounded” hearkens back to “Winds Of March” (off Sons Of Thunder”) with its sublime aura. But that would only be telling part of the story in that traces of keyboards and piano join with strapping guitars to highlight some symphonic metal touches. Melody, at the same time, is off the charts as is the dramatic soloing of Roy Z. This one is worth the price of the album alone. Lyric snippet:
The war between the spirits of the evil and the good
You can see the hand restraining if we only understood
Conquering demons as the angels fight the forces of the dark
Persecuting sinners in the spirit world, the prince of the air
The age of darkness soon will pass,
With the sword of the Spirit
The Light will shone on us at last
To hear the cry of the wounded.
“Always On My Mind” is as classy a ballad as you will find. The song touches upon some AOR commercial hard rock leanings in coming across laid back with its acoustic facets while also featuring satisfying edges of rhythm guitar. A pleasing melody helps put things over the top.
Everything about “Feel The Fire” speaks of up-tempo: Front to back fast paced riff mentality, chorus approaching the provoked and mercurial soloing galore. The momentum here, similar to “Hollywood Shooting Star”, approaches speed metal in terms of angst and fury.
The piano opening “Destiny” leads one to believe this is a ballad but such is not the case in that a staunch guitar soon crunches in. At that point we are off, as decisive riff action leads things ahead in joining some intricate elements with another extended soloing stretch from Roy Z. Give Driver credit for the ambition to extend this one past six minutes. Lyric snippet:
I can feel the beat of my heart
It’s rising up with just the thought of you
I need you back in my life once again
I was lonely for so long
But now I know I must be strong, it’s true
Your love’s go a hold on me
I was born with a restless heart
And I know someday it would tear us apart
I was born with a restless heart but now I see
Destiny, I know your coming back for me
I know the way its meant to be
Slugger “Running From The Darkness” stands out as one of the albums slowest with its churning low end and focus on the gritty and blues driven. Chorus plods and scratches in standing out with its penchant for the catchy, helping make this a very solid Countdown deep cut.
“Babylon” gallops forward from the start, taking an upbeat heading with its underpinning traces of groove and melodic bass line, which helps lend some slight commercial elements. Commercial as in immediately accessible but not watered down in that the choice Driver guitar driven weight can be found as well. Lyric snippet:
Powerful city, you are standing tall and proud
Owning the merchants of the world
Kingdom of beauty, your glory shines so bright
With riches and power you rule the earth
Cry out Babylon – your time is going to pass
Look out, Babylon – your walls are falling down
Cry out Babylon – your sins are piling high
Fallen Babylon – your truth is just a lie
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Return To The Sky” (4:57), “Rising Son” (4:11), “Countdown” (4:13), “Hollywood Shooting Star” (3:36), “Thief In The Night” (4:49), “Cry Of The Wounded” (4:13), “Always On My Mind” (4:31), “Feel The Fire” (4:09), “Destiny” (6:05), “Running From The Darkness” (4:02), “Babylon” (5:02)
Rob Rock - Lead Vocals
Roy Z - Guitars
Ed Roth - Keyboards
Aaron Samson - Bass
Reynold “Butch” Carlson – Drums
Mark Boals - Vocals
Ray Buirke - Bass
Danile Cordova - Bass