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
Final Axe - Beyond Hell's Gate
   
Musical Style: Heavy Metal Produced By:
Record Label: Retroactive Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 2010 Artist Website:
Tracks: 13 Rating: 80%
Running Time: 35:08

Final Axe - Beyond Hell's Gate

The musical partnership between vocalist Keith Miles and guitarist Bill Menchen dates to the late eighties.  Miles got his start in Holy Right, a garage band that in 1986 released what many consider one of the worst albums in Christian metal history, Stand As One.  Menchen formed Redeemer around the same time, recording a poorly produced demo in 1986 only to see the group disband three years later.  When Holy Right came to an end, Miles took a year and a half away from music prior to forming Final Axe with Menchen in 1989.  Menchen brought such a significant backlog of material with him that Final Axe was immediately able to begin work on its full length debut Beyond Hell’s Gate.

Released on East West Records in December of 1989, BHG initially came out in the cassette and compact disc formats (a review of BHG from Heaven’s Metal 23 lists an ordering price of $7 for the cassette and $12 for the CD).  Now, I am uncertain if the CD version even exists in that I have never come across a copy or seen it for sale at a reputable retailer.  My guess is that around a hundred or so copies were produced, making it about as rare as a sunny day in Oregon.  Speaking of Oregon, I purchased a cassette version of BHG at a small “hole in the wall” used music shop while living in Portland in early 2004.

BHG was later remixed, re-mastered and re-issued by Retroactive Records in 2005 (limited to 1000 copies) with altered album artwork.  The Retroactive version featured two new songs, “Blind Faith” and “Rated X” but excluded two instrumentals from the original release, “Beyond Hell’s Gate” and “:45 Scream”.  The album was also re-issued on vinyl (limited to 500 copies) by the Greek label Steel Legacy.

In early 2010 BHG was re-issued a second time, again by Retroactive, as a “Collector’s Edition” – remixed, re-mastered and partially re-recorded – with new album artwork and Robert Sweet (Stryper) handling all drum tracks.  The two new songs from the 2005 re-issue were included along with a drum solo, “Area 51”, and instrumental “Beyond The Gate” (originally entitled “Beyond Hell’s Gate” on the cassette release).

So how does the 2010 version compare to the 2005?  The difference is night and day.  Cliffy, lead guitarist of Main Line Riders, who did the re-mastering, had the following to say about Robert Sweet’s performance:

“If you ever thought drums don't make a difference then I invite you to check this out and prove to yourself how wrong you were. Robert makes such a difference on this album that you'll swear you've never heard it before.”

I echo Cliffy’s sentiments in that Robert Sweet takes the BHG material (which was already very good to begin with) to a whole new level.  Many of the songs bring a totally different feel as a result of the variances in patterns – in the form of creative drum rolls and fills – that Robert uses in comparison to the drum machine tracks (off the 2005 re-issue).

As far as the re-mastering?  Again, the difference is night and day.  BHG now features the cleaner separation of instrumentation, resulting in a meatier guitar sound and drums that project added punch and power.  When factoring in that it started as a demo recorded using late eighties technology, the album has come a long way; as a matter of fact, this is the only version I am going to be listening to on a consistent basis.

Musically, Final Axe can best be described as powerful heavy metal with the occasional leaning towards the melodic side of things.  If anything, BHG is my favorite of the four Menchen and Miles collaborations, although I might rank it a notch below Bill Menchen’s post The Seventh Power material such as the third Titanic album (Full Steam Ahead) and his all star project Menchen.

What stands out about BHG is its heaviness, a side we do not often see from Bill Menchen.  Not that the artist has mellowed in recent years, but those familiar with the entire spectrum of his career know that he has rarely put together anything aggressive as “Baptized In Blood”, “Thrown In The Fire” and “War Cry”, three tracks that deliver a wallop but do not forsake hooks in the process.  “Close To Deliverance”, at the same time, even approaches thrash territory.

As previously referenced, any project involving Menchen is going to have its melodic moments, as can be found in the catchy hooks characterizing “No Time To Die”, “Soldier Of Compromise” and “Are You Ready?”.  “Don’t Run Away” almost brings a commercial touch with the huge backing vocals adorning its chorus.

At this point it must be emphasized the versatile vocal abilities of Keith Miles, who brings a raspy but guttural vocal delivery that translates well with both the heavier and melodic pieces.

The only constructive comment to offer is that the BHG songs stray towards the short side of things.  Just check out the track listing at the end of the review and I am sure you will agreed that “Closer To Deliverance”, “Baptized In Blood” and “Are You Ready?” could have been a bit longer.

Now, before moving on to the track by track, I would like to encourage you to track down a cassette copy if at all possible.  It includes a unique killer shred guitar instrumental in “:45 Scream” (don’t know why it was not included – it should have been) and scripture references with all the lyrics.

Final Axe - Beyond Hell's Gate - East West version

The album opens to “Beyond The Gate”, an instrumental that takes the listener on a musical journey from heaven to hell: angelic voiced and choirs transition to ghoulish laughter, offbeat sound effects and boiling lava.

“Baptized In Blood” hits with all the force of a runaway freight train.  Three minutes of pure aggression, the song storms its distance to an assault of sledgehammer riffs and a dominant drum sound.  No, not the albums catchiest but the bands all out raw energy puts it over the top.  “Baptized In Blood” deals with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ:

He was crucified on a cross in pain and misery
His hands and feet nailed to the wood
Thorns shoved in His head
Everyone was shouting out: “This Jewish King is dead!”

They never knew that He died
To save man from His sin
He won the war and conquered death
The day He rose again

“Are You Ready?” takes the more tempered approach.  This is a song I found somewhat flat in its original version but comes to life as a result of the latest remix and re-mastering.  You will find the melody to now further stand out and the pace and tempo bordering on the invigorating.  The end result is I am listening to this for the first time on a consistent basis.

“No Time To Die” delivers one of the albums stronger hooks.  I love the hard charging riff the song brings – determined, fixed and catchy as it gets – but what puts the song over the top is the bands performance: Robert Sweet literally goes nuts behind the drum kit while Menchen delivers some speedy guitar licks.  The only complaint is that the dramatic scripture reading from the original version (Matthew 24:29-30) had been replaced by an undecipherable and muffled sounding voice.  “No Time To Die” talks about taking a stand in the faith:

You give an inch, he’ll take a mile
You turn around, and he’ll crush you to the ground
You shake your head, do you feel the pain?
Well there’s a price to pay when you throw it all away

There’s no time to die!
God tell me why?
There’s no time to die

The profound hooks continue on “Soldier Of Compromise”.  This one slows the pace and takes the more emotional approach but shines with its huge melodic based chorus and tight sounding guitar harmonies.  As a result, I am almost reminded of Bloodgood (Rock In A Hard Place era).  Either way, this is melodic metal at its finest.

“Close To Deliverance” borders on all out thrash.  A two minute slugfest, the song brings some riffs that would not sound out of place on the first two Deliverance albums.  Otherwise, this one is fast, heavy and about as subtle as a punch in the jaw- as nonsense a track as you will find!  Cool intro drum solo from Robert Sweet as well.  “Close To Deliverance” draws its lyrics from the Book of Revelation:

There’s going to be a time
At the end of the world
When darkness reigns and evil rules
People turn away to accept the mark
But they condemn themselves as fools

Are you gonna take a chance-
So close to deliverance?
You might never get another chance
So close to deliverance

It does not get much heavier than “Thrown In The Fire”.  What we have here is another scorcher, joining an all out aggressive proclivity with what is nothing less than an overpowering chorus- delivered bluntly but quite memorable at the same time.  The song now starts to a spacey keyboard solo that was not present on previous versions.

“Don’t Run Away” brings some commercial elements.  This is a song that drives through its verses to a forward rhythm guitar sound but smoothes out for a surprisingly catchy chorus backed by vocal harmonies that, for a lack of better words, are as big as they got (this is where those commercial elements come into play).

“War Cry” is this reviewer’s choice track.  The song reminds me somewhat of “Thrown In The Fire” due to its towering presence but also proves quite listenable with an expertly delivered chorus combining the best elements of the combative and the hook driven.  Menchen complements things with his shredding lead guitar abilities.  “War Cry” touches upon spiritual warfare:

Draw your sword
And thrust it through his heart
Don’t give him a chance
Just tear him apart

It’s war!
When you’re under the gun
It’s war!
And the battle has only begun

The two new songs, “Blind Faith” and “Rated X”, are both good but not on the same level as the original BHG material.  “Blind Faith” is a driving mid-paced number with some cool drum rolls from Robert Sweet at the end.  Ethereal U2-ish guitars open “Rated X”, a more up-tempo piece with a curtly delivered chorus and crunch driven mentality.  Menchen adds some bluesy licks and chops.

The instrumental “Area 51” highlights Robert Sweet’s drum soloing abilities but combined with some “techno sounding’ (not certain if this is the correct term) keyboards.

Closing things out is “Eternity”, a short (:44) instrumental reprising the “angelic” first half to “Beyond The Gate”.

I cannot help but recommend making BHG Collector’s Edition an essential purchase, even if you already own either of the two previous versions.  Robert Sweet’s drumming and the re-mastering, again, make all the difference in the world.  The end result is that I rank BHG at the top of the four Menchen and Miles collaborations.

Track Listing: “Beyond The Gate” (1:35), “Baptized In Blood” (2:36), “Are You Ready?” (2:42), “No Time To Die” (3:07), “Soldier Of Compromise” (4:14), “Blind Faith” (2:58), “Area 51” (1:54), “Close To Deliverance” (2:07), “Thrown In The Fire” (3:19), “Don’t Run Away” (3:27), “War Cry” (2:55), “Rated X” (3:24), “Eternity” (:44)

Musicians
Keith Miles – Lead Vocals
Bill Menchen – Guitars
Rod Reasner – Bass
Robert Sweet - Guitars

 

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