|Musical Style: Melodic Hard Rock||Produced By: Jim Delehant & Chris Lord Alge|
|Record Label: AOR Blvd||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1985/2016||Artist Website: Rex Carroll|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 45:19|
Uncannily catchy, immediately accessible and accentuated by loads of talent in the guitar, vocalist and producer positions, the 1985 Fierce Heart self-titled Mirage Records debut perplexed us. In most ways, it’s admirable. It’s proficient songwriting gives prominence to a consistency and professionalism that helps place it among the underrated and overlooked gems of its era. It features the passionate and expansive vocal talents of Larry Elkins and unparalleled abilities of guitarist Rex Carroll, whom form as momentous a front man and guitarist duo you will find. It was produced by Jim Delehant (A&R guru for Atlantic Records) and Chris Lord Alge (multiple Grammy Award winning mixer and producer) while assisted by Tom Lord Alge (three-time Grammy Award winner).
But go beneath the surface and you’ll notice its flaws. It starts with the uninspired production that cannot help but leave somewhat desired. When listening to the AOR Blvd Records February of 2016 re-release of the album for the first time, I expected guitars to come roaring out of the speakers only to end up underwhelmed upon finding them, well, decidedly subdued. When placed alongside albums by contemporaries such as Dokken, Ratt and Stryper, the Fierce Heart guitar sound pales in comparison. Perhaps this might be an unfair analogy in that Fierce Heart might be better realized within a melodic hard rock framework, but similar acts within the genre (think early 90’s Guardian and Fear Not) can play up a commercial elements while exhibiting a certain amount of muscle at the same time.
Further detracting from production is the use of a drum machine (the group reportedly let go of its drummer prior to entering the studio). It seems uncanny given the budget in which Fierce Heart had to work - it recorded the album over an eight-week period at a studio in Times Square - it could not deliver a guitar sound competitive with its contemporaries nor hire a capable studio musician to lay down the drum tracks.
It also includes lyrics. Please note that Fierce Heart is a full secular release, and while in no way is there anything wrong with that, lyrics can be a bit spotty at times. The packaging to the re-issue includes an interview from a 1985 issue of Metal Forces in which Elkins and Carroll go into detail in regards to lyrics, which are “about what people believe. What it takes in life to get somewhere”. In terms of specifics, topics includes “(a guy that is) a real lady killer” (albums title track), “a girl in Virginia Beach (who) is a real bad a**. She would cut you right down” (“Bad Maureen”), “someone going out to get what they want” (“Out For Blood”) and “big mouth girlfriends (that are) the jealous type” (“Loose Lips”).
In taking a neutral and object stance, it might not be fair to place a ‘positive metal label’ on Fierce Heart nor would it be accurate to describe its lyrics as harmful or detrimental either. My thought is that they could be a bit more positive at times, keeping in mind the era in which the group recorded the album. The best way to summarize would be to state that Fierce Heart might not be for all Angelic Warlord readers, but it is for some- so I encourage you to approach with a certain amount of prudence and discernment in mind.
Before going into detail about specific songs, I feel a refresher is necessary: Many will recall Rex Carroll from his work in Whitecross in which he recorded five albums and garnered multiple Heaven’s Metal Guitar Hero Awards. He later went on to form King James and released three additional albums. Before all this, however, he submitted a tape with the goal of auditioning for Whitesnake, which led to a call from Jim Delehant who introduced him to Elkins. The rest, as they say, is history or perhaps not in light of how Fierce Heart crashed and burned in the wake of the albums release. Fierce Heart, for instance, was booked to be the opening act for the 1985 Deep Purple reunion tour only to have that fall through when label politics delayed the albums release by three months. Polydor afterwards purchased the groups contract and things went downhill from there.
I first heard Fierce Heart in the late eighties (on vinyl) and was immediately impressed with the recognizable qualities to its songwriting, particularly the manner in which albums first five tracks stand out as fine examples of hybrid melodic metal and hard rock you will hear from the time. It starts with “Fierce Heart”, a high energy and front to back grooving slab of eighties metal with hooks to spare (chorus towers above the rest) and daring audacity to match (energetic riffs and salient bass form an unwavering union).
The abilities of Carroll and Elkins stand out accordingly. Carroll exhibits his virtuoso propensity, cutting loose with a run of jaw dropping soloing of which only a few select guitarists within the genre could hope to duplicate. Prior to “Fierce Heart” album opens to “Echoes”, one of his trademark classically influenced open-air guitar solos that graced each Whitecross album (at least we know where he got the idea!).
It would not be unfair to suggest that (in my opinion) Elkins is the best vocalist with which Carroll has worked, with a style falling between the courser Stephen Pearcy (Ratt) influenced flavorings of Scott Wenzel (Whitecross) and high end penchant to Jimi Bennett (King James). Specifically, he takes a mid-ranged approach in combining tons of heart and grit with equal parts soulful presence and affinity for literally singing his guts out. Fantastic talent in which it is disappointing we have not heard more from over the years.
“Out For Blood” slows the tempo but not the quality. The song takes the more resolute heading, with the added bass guitar driven presence and weightier feel (at least from a low-end standpoint) overall. Chorus proves masterful in upholding a similar level of draw you in catchiness. Carroll’s screaming guitar feedback impels the cool instrumental final seconds.
Back to up-tempo territory with “Lion’s Share”, a spirited and boogie flavored rocker in which infectious hooks once more rule and Elkins moves the emotional scene with his abundant vocal delivery. Some of the guitar tones hint of the blues, particularly for the piercing mid-point instrumental interlude. Am I out of line to suggest a mid-period Van Halen to early Guardian type thing is going on here?
“Search & Destroy” might be the albums best. The song starts slowly to open air guitar only to gradually build momentum until breaking out in a crescendo of piercing riffs and trenchant bass. An intense milieu prevails moving forward, pointed and brash in terms of the pretentious verses but reflecting a touch of commercial as found in the pop basis to the adroit refrain.
Quality dips slightly over the albums second half but still remains quite good. “Heroes” embraces a radio friendly flair, with larger than life backing vocals for its expansive chorus and melodic guitar harmonies lending to the inviting feel at hand. If backed by the right video, I could see this garnering play on MTV. A classic wave our lighter in the air ballad, “Never Gonna Cry” also leans to the commercial with its pristine keyboards, lighter guitar aspects and presence of added polished backing vocals. Again, MTV should have been paying attention back in the day.
Mid-paced “Bad Maureen” returns the album to its heavier ways, aligning rhythm guitars on the rawer side of things with a flowing chorus in which hooks galore prevail. A touch of swing and groove is the feel at hand. “Loose Lips” also manifests the guitar driven but in an up-tempo package with front to back vitality and the bands inherit bluesy leanings playing lead roles. Elkins provides a fitting lower register to his delivery.
The AOR Blvd re-issue closes to three demo bonus tracks fronted by Bob Reynolds (Grave Danger), who brings a more high-end style in comparison to Elkins. “Power To Rock” shines as a non-stop energy driven melodic metal shred fest, while “Bad Child” maintains the angst as biting guitars and keyed up rhythm section lend a catchy boogie metal feel. “Getting Lost Inside Your Love” is another ballad with complementary acoustic guitar, lush backing vocals and silky as it gets refrain.
With all respect to Wenzel and Bennett, of whom I remain as much a fan as anyone, but Elkins and Reynolds (in my opinion) take things to the next level vocally. Let’s face facts: Carroll might have reached great heights with Whitecross and King James but also has not recorded (again, my opinion) his ‘magnum opus’ either- by that I am referring to a work that stands alongside To Hell With The Devil (Stryper), Snakes In The Playground (Bride) and Weapons Of Our Warfare (Deliverance) in terms of making an artistic statement. That is why I always have wished he would compose ten equally good melodic hard rock songs and recruit someone along the lines of Rob Rock, Lance King or Mark Boals to front them in the studio.
The first rate packaging comes with upgraded cover art (in comparison to the original release) and multi-page mini booklet with lyrics and credits (in which the band thanks ‘God our Redeemer’ and Carroll thanks Jesus Christ) in an easy to read font. Carroll also adds liner notes that go into detail about the Fierce Heart background and how the AOR Blvd version is the only officially authorized re-issue of the album approved by the band.
Fierce Heart represents quite the commendable eighties melodic metal and hard rock release. Carroll and Elkins form a quintessential guitarist and vocalist duo (I wish we had opportunity to hear more from them over the years) in constructing songs up to the standards one expects from the genres at hand. Lone downside is production, which while not terrible does come across dated, at least in terms of rhythm guitars and programmed drums. Still, Fierce Heart comes as a necessary purchase for those looking for a highly improved version of the long out of print vinyl release or fans of the genres presented.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Echoes” (1:32), “Fierce Heart” (3:42), “Out For Blood” (4:06), “Lion’s Share” (3:23), “Search And Destroy” (4:36), “Heroes” (3:53), “Never Gonna Cry” (4:06), “Bad Maureen” (4:14), “Loose Lips” (4:12), “Power To Rock” (3:35), “Getting Lost Inside Your Love” (4:06), “Bad Child” (3:52)
Larry Elkins - Lead Vocals & Bass
Rex Carroll - Guitars