|Musical Style: Power Metal||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Aztek||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 85%|
Maintaining the cool head of objectivity can sometimes be hard in the music review world, especially when something exciting comes up. Four Star Revival and its fall of 2014 Aztek Records full length debut Knights Of The Revival is a case in point: The group draws upon the influence of old school classic US power metal and backs it with veteran musicianship to represent one of the more exciting up and comers to hit the hard music scene in recent years. Results speak for themselves with the accomplished quartet of vocalist Jack Emrick (Life After Death), guitarist Benny Bodine (WarMinister), bassist Ed Girard (House of Jason) and drummer Eddie Ling (Time Wasted Sleeping) producing eleven solid tracks that walk a fine line between Jacobs Dream, Faith Factor, Zaxas, Inner Siege, Barren Cross, Sacred Warrior and The Sacrificed.
Yes, the power metal scene breaks down into various sub-formats, which can make categorization problematic. On one hand, you have the European form with its emphasis on keyboards, symphonic elements and double bass; on the other, the epic slant reinforces classical overtures, choir like backing vocals and the engaging melodies that go hand in hand. The progressive side of things, as its namesake implies, revels in lengthier songwriting and technical leanings, while its melodic counterpart gives rise to an eighties aspect from its catchy hooks and penchant for the accessible. US power metal, however, takes the more stripped down and rawer approach with a heavier guitar emphasis in which keyboards and commercial elements are correspondingly downplayed.
A vocalist with a high end and soaring (almost operatic) style is another quality characteristic to the US take on the genre. High-end crooners along the lines of David Taylor (early Jacobs Dream), Rey Para (early Sacred Warrior), Norman ‘Ski’ Kiersznowski (Faith Factor) and Eli Prinsen (The Sacrificed, latter Sacred Warrior), for instance, lend a distinct quality that allows their respective bands to stand out. Four Star Revival, on the other hand, eschews the norm in this regard in that front man Jack Emrick gives rise to the more mid-ranged touch in comparison. Mid-ranged, however, means no less powerful when factoring his delivery ranges from smoothly reverberant and robust (in which he goes for the occasional high note) to dogged grit and determination (that finds him cutting loose with the periodic aggressive scream). Such versatility allows Four Star Revival to separate itself in establishing its own unique identity in that is already a crowded power metal scene.
The Four Star Revival experience in question reveals itself in songwriting. “Red”, a non-stop bruiser in which stomping guitar riffs and pumping bass uphold the verses and slightly tempered initiative the distinguished chorus, stands out best in this capacity, as does “Faith”, even heavier with abiding guitar walls and unyielding momentum combining for a near thrash like effect. Benny Bodine adorns the former with his torrid lead guitar work, while latter finds Eddie Ling’s technical drumming holding sway. “Save Me” maintains the quality in swaggering its distance to prodigious low-end groove (bassist Ed Girard sets the weighty tone at hand) and knife-edge mentality to match. Old school Bride comes to mind in the process.
“Hold On” might be one of the albums shortest at three and a half minutes but proves no less demonstrative with its galloping Maiden-Esque guitar riffs and demeanor pointing towards the no-nonsense and mid-paced no frills. Emrick adds a fitting muscular lower register touch to his delivery. “Broken Man” stands out as the albums fastest, kicking up a storm of angst with its abundant hooks and rhythm guitars that have an eighties era Ozzy quality to them. Bodine again tears it up on lead guitar.
“Perfect Life” maintains the Four Star Revival heaviness but in a more melodic package. The song sets an up-tempo tone from the get go, with rousing verses on the assertive side of things and chorus contrastingly reflecting the more laid back and placed feel. Sustaining the melodic aspect is “Shine”, hard charging from the get go with its hit like a ton of bricks guitars and groove based bass but also lightening for warmly tinctured moments highlighting a slight worshipful essence. Backing vocals even lend a King’s X quality.
Albums best (my opinion) is seven-minute closing track “Fade”. This one finds the group revealing a progressive facet to its songwriting, as lighter and ethereal passages woven with acoustic guitar trade off with others in which staunch rhythm guitars tower at the front of the mix. The subsequent moody if not melancholic setting contrasts with the occasional scream of an extreme nature. Lengthy instrumental moments at the songs mid-point and final minute find Four Star Revival again exhibiting its musicianship flair.
Three ballads round out Knights Of The Revival. My favorite is “Let Love”, five and a half minutes of raw power and ardor in which Emrick stretches and exhibits the abundant range to his voice (very moving performance, which helps to rank this with the albums best). Refrain is over the top in its emotional capacity, while the lighter guitar tones lend a commercial feel. Also good is “Somewhere To Run”, a stirring semi-ballad allowing for crisp acoustic guitar and perseverant rhythm guitars to set the airy front to back tone. Haunting refrain brilliantly slows to a near crawl. Final ballad “Home” stands out the least of the trio and not due to being a bad song, but rather I find three ballads out of eleven tracks to be a bit heavy when factoring the genre at hand. Perhaps the band could have better mixed things up with a full length instrumental or further explored its progressive side instead (another face mauler along the lines of “Red” or “Faith” would have worked as well).
Production shines with expertly placed guitars (both rhythm and lead) and pronounced low-end (allowing bass to breath in the mix). It is always good to not to have to use words such as ‘thin’, ‘muddy’ or ‘disappointing’ in describing (what as far as I can tell) a self-financed release. The group’s experience, in other words, also comes through in the studio.
Lone complaint is that cover artwork is on the basic side of things. It is too bad a professional artist along the lines of Rodney Matthews, Jan Yrlund or Robert ‘Death is Gain’ Wilson had not been brought in to handle the cover illustration.
This is more an observation as opposed to critique, but the Four Star Revival moniker has a bit of a modern quality to it. Perhaps I am out of line but there is a preponderance of three word modern rock band names that start with a number (or some form of numerical quality): Five Iron Frenzy, Seven Mary Three, 3 Doors Down, Third Eye Blind, Nine Inch Nails, etc. When contacted by the band about a review and I saw ‘Four Star Revival’ in the e-mail signature, my initial thought is that this is a modern rock band. How wrong I was when after downloading the promo music files and first listening to the album my opinion changed at once: These guys can play! That being said the name of a power metal band (IMHO) should reflect both the POWER and the METAL: : Avantasia, Battlelore, Blind Guardian, DragonForce, Dragonland, Firewind, Elvenking and Gloryhammer (not to mention all those previously referenced) do this more effectively.
The Four Star Revival press material describes the group as “four veteran musicians (who) were brought together by a mutual love of Jesus and a desire to use their talents for His glory”. Accordingly, the groups prose is bursting of faith, as it does on aptly entitled tracks “Faith” - Now we hold to faith, and we hold to love. And we hold on to You and Your love - and “Save Me”: You are the Light in a dark world. You’re always right in a wrong world. Come on and save me, save me from myself. “Home” gives rise to a similar theme - The grace of God, it’s what we depend. We fight for good, and what is right. We stand for love until the end of time. All I know is I’m coming home again - as does “Shine”: You are the Light of my life, won’t You shine down on me. I was blind but now I see, You saved a wretch like me. Inside the arms of love I live again. “The Perfect Life” even features a breakdown from Psalm 23: Yay though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil… (repeat four times).
Knights Of The Revival adds up to as fine a power metal debut as you will find in which consistent songwriting, solid production and able musicianship allow Four Star Revival to shine in what (as already noted) is a crowded power metal scene. The only thing potentially preventing a grade in the 90% range is the presence of one ballad too many. Still, I appreciate how the group gravitates towards the US power metal side of things without adding a lot of unnecessary keyboards and polish, robotic double bass, choir vocals, etc. Not that the other forms of power metal are bad (I like them all), but I welcome hearing a band take a heavier and more straightforward take on the genre.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Knights Of The Revival (Intro)” (:26), “Red” (3:54), “Faith” (4:20, “Hold On” (3:31), “Perfect Life” (4:19), “Somewhere To Run To” (3:46), “Let Love” (5:35), “Save Me” (4:12), “Broken Man” (3:44), “Home” (4:22), “Shine” (4:39), “Fade” (6:45)
Jack Emrick - Vocals
Benny Bodine - Guitars
Ed Girard - Bass
Eddie Ling - Drums