Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Emerald - Armed For Battle
   
Musical Style: Heavy Metal Produced By:
Record Label: Metal Gem / Magdalene Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 1987 / 2001 Artist Website:
Tracks: 6 Rating: 80%
Running Time: 32:15

What does $550 buy you these days?  A set of nice used patio furniture or perhaps tickets, refreshments and parking to an NBA game for you, the spouse and kids?  If a hard music enthusiast, you can spend it on a used vinyl copy of the independently released 1987 six-song debut EP of Emerald, Armed For Battle:

Emerald - Armed For Battle - eBay auction

Hailing from Southern California, and arising out of the eighties Sunset Strip metal scene, Emerald was founded in 1978 by 15-year-old guitarist Dave Enos and 22-year-old vocalist Larry Phillips.  Subsequent to going through a literal revolving door of bassists and drummers, the group solidified the Armed For Battle line up with drummer Kyle Morrett and bassists Roger Martin (four tracks) and Joe Palma (remaining two).  Yes, this is the same Roger Martin that later joined Vengeance Rising.

The group settled on the Emerald moniker due to its versatility: not only does it represent a stone in the throne of God, but it also does not force you to place a label on the band in terms of the style of music that it plays.  Consider, for instance, how Emerald (as taken from an interview back in the day) describes itself as ‘(not) a typical Christian band- we don’t feel led to minster.  In fact, we look at ourselves as a band of Christians rather than a Christian band’.  More specifically, ‘When we started out (even before Stryper) we wanted to go out into the whole world, because we felt our songs were to be sung to the world rather than sung in churches.  We would rather sing songs to lead people to the Word (rather) than preach to them’.

Armed For Battle was recorded on a budget of 13k, which, unfortunately, left little if no money for promotion.  The album, nevertheless, sold well in Europe’s underground metal scene, particularly in Germany, Switzerland and Denmark.  After having gone out of print and turning into a highly sought after (and expensive!) collector’s item, Armed For Battle was re-issued on CD in 2001 by Magdalene Records as a ‘2-for-1’, with the second album being Oracle’s power metal romping EP Selah.  Including alongside the Armed For Battle tracks are the two songs Emerald recorded for the California Metal II compilation from 1988, “Traitor” and “Born To Die”.

Emerald - Armed For Battle

I always identified with Emerald as straight on heavy metal mixed with strong melodic metal leanings.  Nothing better exemplifies this than the albums opening title track, which storms its distance to raw edged guitars, plundering bass and the group’s penchant for melody of an understated capacity.  Varied vocalist Larry Phillips leads off with a high-end falsetto but otherwise resides in smooth classic tenor to gritty middle register territory.

“Teenage Suicide” is first of the bands two epics in excess of seven minutes.  As expected, the song features its share of time signatures, which run the gamut from light and airy moments in which delicate guitars hold sway and others of a more decided nature that find rhythm guitars powering to the front of the mix.  The group exhibits a great deal of emotion in light of the subject at hand.  Of equal note is how Dave Enos shows off his abundant shredding throughout the extended instrumental interlude.

“We Attack” does exactly that with its walloping guitar presence and buffeting low end.  Up-tempo and high energy all the way, the song elevates hooks to the next level (this is where the Emerald melodic metal propensity comes into play) and aligns them with heavy set backing vocals (to create an effect reminding of classic metal act Saint).  If the Emerald goal is to merge equal parts melody and heaviness then on “We Attack” it succeeds laudably.

“Look To The Stars” presents with some atmospheric and moody tinctures that mirror semi ballad territory.  Starting to clashing symbols, the song slowly drifts forward with impetus building to the point guitars crash in to fortify the ennobled chorus, which reflects some lofty melodic power metal touches.  Despite falling victim to the hair metal trappings of the time - Emerald decked itself in green spandex along with teased hair and makeup - the group reveals on “Look To The Stars” (and other tracks) there is much more to it musically.

Speaking of which, aptly entitled seven minute “Winds Of Doom” proves the albums magnum opus with its light progressive facets.  The song, appropriately, fades in to howling wind prior to deliberately drifting through its verses to ethereal guitars, not reaching its apex until breaking out for the contrastingly doom-like tinctures to its arduous (and quite catchy) refrain.  Another extensive instrumental section runs the gamut from swift soloing to drum rolls and fills to bluesy harmonizing.

“Judgement Day” represents quintessential Emerald with its backbone of the sinewy and accessible.  The song starts to a keyboard solo that gives way to the guitars that set the technical tone moving ahead, with the gist a dark and pensive mid-paced environment that revels in an arresting low end as Phillips reaches down and lends some fitting muscle to his delivery.  Best way to describe things might be Zaxas mixed with early Jacobs Dream.

Emerald - Armed For Battle - Magdalene re-issue

The two California Metal II tracks reflect strong production values - the Armed For Battle mix might not feature a great deal of big budget polish but is not of the garage variety either - while also taking a slight step back (in my opinion) in terms of songwriting.  “Traitor” is a short but fleet energy burst that might be good but also does not grab me in the same manner as its Armed For Battle cohorts.  The melodic metal to “Born To Die” slows the pace and ups heaviness in mixing light backing vocals with some strong bluesy soloing.

Best Emerald cut might be “Battle Ground”, which made its lone appearance on the White Metal Invasion custom cassette compilation released as a fundraiser for White Throne magazine.  While I am uncertain if “Battle Ground” was recorded during the Armed For Battle sessions or specifically for White Metal Invasion, it delivers the catchy hooks and robust energy that makes the better Emerald material stand out.  Its exclusion from the Magdalene re-release is puzzling (it should have been included).

On a side note: the White Metal Invasion track listing represents a ‘who’s who’ of the unsigned eighties Christian metal scene in also featuring cuts from Divine Right, Chariot, Armada, Seraiah, Full Armor, Soldier, Taker and Apostle.  It also includes a song off the Xalt custom cassette release Dark War in addition to an unreleased Angelica demo track.  It would be an understatement to suggest that White Metal Invasion needs to be re-issued. 

Lyrically, Emerald might not be quite forthright as its ‘white metal’ contemporaries, but it also does not fail to get the message across.  “Armed For Battle” touches upon spiritual warfare:

We fight the good fight
C'mon everyone
Take the Sword of the scripture
For number One

“Teenage Suicide”, as its title implies, delivers an anti-suicide message:

Losing the will to live is blind
The devil's saying your soul is mine
You lost yourself
You fell off track
It's the end of the line
There's no turning back

“Winds Of Doom” takes an apocalyptic tone:

The prophecy has been foretold
The Book of Life is all but closed
The final conflict has begun
The Son of God at last has won

Lyrics to “Judgement Day” are self-explanatory:

One thousand years passes by
All eyes on earth look to the sky
The final judgement’s coming near
All evil’s destiny is clear

You can win, can't you see
So base your life eternally

Most decided Emerald prose can be found on “Born To Die”:

He was born of a virgin
Was a carpenter’s son
Lived His life a perfect way
Immoral soul had been won

Born to die that we might live
Crucified on the cross

It is disappointing Emerald disbanded in the wake of recording the California Metal II tracks: if given a deal with a label such as Enigma or Geffen it had the deft songwriting touch to deliver a full-length follow up album with the potential to be something special.  Further setting Emerald apart is how one cannot pigeonhole it as another ‘hair metal’ band from how it imbues its sound with occasional elements of doom, power and even progressive metal.  If interested in an obscure but musically solid eighties metal gem (no pun intended) then check out Emerald’s Armed For Battle- if you can find it at a decent price (it is long overdue that it be re-issued on CD and vinyl so that hard music fans do not have to break the bank in order to obtain a copy).

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing (Armed For Battle): "Armed For Battle" (4:13), "Teenage Suicide" (7:50), "We Attack" (3:55), "Look To The Stars" (5:07), "Winds Of Doom" (7:00), "Judgement Day" (4:10)

Track Listing (California Metal II): “Traitor” (2:39), “Born To Die” (4:17)

Musicians
Larry Phillips - Lead Vocals
Dave Enos - Guitars
Roger Martin - Bass
Joe Palma - Bass
Kyle Morrett - Drums

Reference List
Arnold, Christy and Tara Jensen. "His II: Two Days Of Heavenly Metal On Earth." Take A Stand (May, 1988): 3.
"Emerald: All That Glitters Is Green." Heaven's Metal 16 (1988): 15.
"Emerald Bio."  Emerald: Armed For Battle.  Magdalene Records (2001).

 

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