|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By: Felipe Gonzalez|
|Record Label: Righteous Records||Country Of Origin: Venezuela|
|Year Released: 2011||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 14||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 53:50|
Can we have a bit of fanfare, please? Battle For Souls, the debut solo release of Venezuelan veteran musician Felipe “FG” Gonzales, is one of the better Christian metal releases of 2011 to get lost in the crowd. Yes, 2011 has had its share of good moments up to this point (at least 3/4 a way through the year), with Sarepta and its debut Smokin’ Vinyard and Saint’s The Revelation both standing out- not to mention all the good re-issues we have seen on Retroactive Records (the Originals Series from Saint and Bride) and Roxx Productions (can you say Crossforce?). But FG almost fell beneath the radar in that there was not a great deal of hype or promotion done in support of Battle For Souls. As a matter of fact, if it were not for a thread discussing FG at the Christian Hard Music forum, I might have overlooked the album altogether. As it turns out, I went away from listening to the online samples so impressed that I promptly purchased a CD copy (I am yet to fully embrace download only music but may have to eventually. That, however, is a story for another day).
At this point it must be noted that Felipe Gonzalez was previously a member of the Christian power metal band Boanerges between 1997-2001 in addition to currently being part of his own group Suenos y Visiones (Dreams and Visions), which has recorded a pair of albums in Spanish, A Mis Enemigos (2005) and Sal Y Luz (2007). Battle For Souls, in case you are wondering, is an all English release.
What stands out is how FG is actually a one man project in which Felipe Gonzalez handles ALL aspects of the recording process, in a similar manner that Matt Smith did on the first Theocracy album and Tommy Johansson on the early ReinXeed releases. Specifically, the artist contributes all the songwriting in addition to lead vocals, rhythm and lead guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. He also produced the project. How is that for versatility?
But what is all this previously referenced “fanfare” all about? Well, what we have in FG is straight on heavy metal that brings to mind Impellitteri and Rob Rock's solo releases but joined with aspects of melodic metal not unlike Stryper’s heavier material and Surrender era Joshua. Mix in occasional power metal touches along the lines of Seventh Avenue and Sinbreed and you wind up with the heavy and energetic sounds that are FG.
On Battle For Souls you will find some of the most intense guitar riffs this side of Impellitteri, as is aptly demonstrated on the up-tempo aggression of "Death To Life" and "I Never Met You", two heavy hitters that rank with the artist best. The albums title track and “Streets Of Gold” stand out with their technical fortitude while “My Vision” and “Repent” hint of some speed and power metal elements. Classic metal would be the best way to describe “Shine In The Darkness” and eighties melodic metal the commercial leanings to “We Got Power”.
The overall impression left from Battle For Souls is its infectious energy- you cannot help but keep playing the CD again and again while cranking it as loudly as possible (at least that was my experience). When further factoring in the emphasis on all out heaviness, I am sure you can understand why the album by no means warrants being left out or getting lost in the shuffle. In other words, it deserves all the fanfare it can get!
Yes, Battle For Souls presents with 14 tracks, but it proves quite consistent when considering the volume at hand. I only skip over one full length song, the ballad “Guardian Angel”, while two others, “Through His Own Blood” and “Nobody Can”, rank in the above average to good territory (at least in my opinion). You also get a throwaway cinematic introductory piece (with complementary cheesy battle effects) and a closing number with narration from Psalm 103.
It cannot be overlooked the artists soloing abilities, which are adeptly done in coming across flashy, fiery and fast paced at the same time. No, I might not rank him with the likes of Chris Impellitteri and Joshua Perahia (two of the best of the best), but he is certain not without his moments either, as can be found in his ripping lead work on “My Vision” and “Repent”.
Vocally, he also proves a top talent with a high end (but not high pitched) style that fans of Michael Sweet, Rob Rock and Matt Smith will be certain to appreciate. What stands out is how the artist can cut loose with a well timed falsetto without overdoing it, but otherwise showcases a delivery that can best be described as smooth, clean and in line with the musical happenings at hand.
Yes, vocals and guitar are the artist’s main areas of expertise but bass, drums and keyboards are also ably done, although to not quite the same extent. Which leads to the lone constructive area worth noting: And that is perhaps the project might have stood out further if additional musicians had been brought in to round out the FG line-up. To understand my point, consider the steps and strides made by Theocracy and ReinXeed as they transitioned from (already referenced) one man projects to full band efforts. I can see FG making similar progress by following the same path.
Production proves surprisingly crisp and clean with loads of upfront and crunchy guitars and a well placed low end. All in all, this is another area in which the artist proves highly competent.
Track By Track
The albums title track is a brazen heavy hitter. Driven by a muscular guitar sound and pummeling rhythm section, “Battle For Souls” powers its distance to unrelenting momentum while giving rise to an every present melody at the same time. Rob Rock would sound right at home doing something like this.
“My Vision” picks up the tempo with its speed and power metal touches. This one sets the furious clip, with double bass galore and mercurial guitars leading the length of what amounts a track that would not be out of place in the hands of Seventh Avenue. A shredding run of lead guitar adds the fitting touch. “My Vision” is a song of faith:
I know that you will not let me die
Now I can see in the sky
The sign of His love
I don’t have other choice
I must keep going on
In my vision
It’s hard for me to believe it
It’s hard for me to leave everything behind
A darker and more ominous direction is taken on “Shine In The Darkness”. Highlighted by a mega-heavy guitar focus, particularly for its verses, and the artist exhibiting the full range to his voice, during its high end chorus, the song brings a romping presence that borders on classic metal in capacity.
“We Got Power” brings some eighties melodic metal touches not unlike Stryper. What shines are the beautiful guitar harmonies that carry the song its distance, aligning with an infectious upbeat tempo and chorus that has play me on the radio written all over it. Forthright lyrics direction as well:
There was a man
Who came to us
But He was also Divine
He came to die for our sins
He came to die for you and me
But His own people
Didn’t receive Him
They didn’t believe in His promises
We got the power to be children
Children of God
We got the power to receive Him
Receive Him in our hearts.
“Death To Life” delivers an Impel litter-like touch. An awesome chugging low-end presence will be found here - heavy BUT melodic - and catchy riff that appears in time to fortify the songs succinct but tersely done chorus. Play this one several times and you will be challenged to rid it of your mind.
“I Never Met You” is this reviewer’s choice track. The song brings another commanding riff and merges it with flowing groove-based touches, hints of vocal harmonies and some technical underpinnings- all the while remaining rooted in the eighties at the same time. Yes, a lot going on here, but it is so well executed one cannot help but admire- and listen! “I Never Met Your” deals with false teachers:
You say you are a Christian
You say you love God
They see your face everyday
And see the love of Christ
You act like a holy man
But in secret you laugh at the name of God
With bible in your hand
And daily prayer
You steal so much money
That someone gave with love
You act like a holy man
But in secret you laugh at the name of God
“Repent” is a ripping track along the lines of “The Vision”. With a breakneck tempo leading the way, the song combines an intensity of the highest order with some blistering lead work that would turn the head of Chris Impellitteri. Hooks are not forsaken in that an enticing melody can be found as well.
Things take a downturn for the ballad “Guardian Angel”. It is not that the song is bad, but rather the orchestral elements and worship rock flavorings give it too much of an overdone feeling. In other words, we have heard this before and more than likely will hear it again. But that is not the point; rather, wouldn’t it make better sense not to record a ballad for ballads sake but only record one if it happens to be a great song? With that in mind, if dead set on recording a ballad and you do not have a great one ready then why not do a cover instead? “Guardian Angel” is aptly entitled:
Cuz you are my guardian angel
My other half, you’re my air
On this altar we climb
We will be one for eternity
I promise to believe in you
I promise to take care of you
After many years
My love will remain until eternity
“My Salvation” better represents the artist’s abilities. On other words, what we have here is a brazen hard rocker that kicks up quite the storm with its pounding guitar riffs (right in your face!) and tinges of melody to its chorus (not commercial but perceptible nonetheless).
I might describe “Through His Own Blood” as merely good when compared to the albums better material. Yes, heavy and driving and by no means filler, but that extra something special - in terms of notable hook or exciting riff - ends up missing. I tend to gravitate to other songs, although I can see others embracing it (keeping in mind this one is by no means a skip button). “Through His Own Blood” delivers an anti suicide message:
Many people think the way out is
Committing suicide; fear is in their minds
God gave us His Word
The bible is the only chance
To understand what is happening
We have to see the Light
I discovered the One
Who gave me the chance
To break my prison
You must believe in Him
“Nobody Can” is another piece that has not quite drawn me in. What we have here is a speed metal excursion in which edgy guitars align with a machine-like rhythm section. Without a doubt a spot-on performance but, similar to “Through His Own Blood”, that standout hook that might keep me returning cannot be found. But once again listen and decide for yourself.
“Streets Of Gold” is as good as it gets. The song highlights an underpinning technical milieu, delivering front to back mid-paced impetus while reinforcing weighty guitars (in abundance) and the artist’s deft musicianship: An extended instrumental stretch begins to a cool drum solo that gives way to a complementary run of lead guitar. Lyrics are a bit cheesy but get the point across:
I am rockin’ for the Lord
Cuz He is the Truth and the Life
I am rockin’ for the Lord
Cuz I have my hope
In the streets of gold
I’m sick and tired of religion
They will not rest
Until my flesh will be destroyed
I just wanna be a normal guy
I just wanna sing metal for God
One cannot help but commend Felipe Gonzalez for his well rounded abilities in that he proves one of a very few metal musicians that can do a lot of things well. And Battle For Souls reflects this as a result of the strengths of both his songwriting skills and musicianship. That being said, I would like to encourage the artist to put together a full time band in order to tour- the material here is so good that it deserves to be heard live.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Intro” (1:32), “Battle Of Souls” (4:17), “My Vision” (4:12), “Shine In The Darkness” (4:32), “We Got Power” (3:51), “Death To Life” (4:00), “I Never Met You” (4:12), “Repent” (3:42), “Guardian Angel” (5:08), “My Salvation” (4:34), “Through His Own Blood” (3:39), “Nobody Can” (4:34), “Streets Of Gold” (3:53),
Felipe Gonzalez – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass & Drums