|Musical Style: Modern Rock||Produced By: Jamey Perrenot|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: Guardian|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 70%|
|Running Time: 42:39|
There are two constants in the lineage of Christian rock veterans Guardian: Whatever new album Guardian releases will more than likely differ noticeably from its immediate predecessor, and long-term fans and critics are going to bemoan that said album fails to be a throwback to the groups early nineties era. Simple as that? Yes, at least when factoring the diversity of each Guardian album manifests itself in both the musical trends of the period in which it was recorded and how the group eschews the expectations of the previously referenced fans and critics. One only need take a closer look at things:
Guardian emerged from the eighties and fittingly its very fine Paul Cawley fronted 1989 Enigma Records debut First Watch reflected a melodic metal heading. A new label (Pakaderm) and vocalist (Jamie Rowe supplanted the departed Cawley) led to the 1991 release Fire & Love, one of the better examples of melodic hard rock this reviewer has heard. Guardian maintained the melodic hard rock slant on Miracle Mile from 1993 but not with the same continuity in that an acoustic presence started to imbue its sound, which carried over into the largely acoustic Swing, Swang, Swung released the following year. Never afraid to reinvent itself as the musical climate changes, Guardian approached things from a modern rock standpoint on Buzz and Bottle Rocket from 1995 and 1997, respectively.
After having been on hiatus for over 15 years, Guardian announced in the spring of 2012 it would be reuniting to record a new album, Almost Home, which it would fund via Kickstarter. So what does Guardian sound like following such an extended break? Or more specifically does Almost Home meet the expectations of fans in the same fashion that 2013 comeback albums from eighties contemporaries Stryper, Sacred Warrior, Bloodgood and Deliverance did?
The best method of answer either way would be to focus on what Almost Home is not, which is a throwback to Fire & Love and Miracle Mile. Yes, you will find aspects of both albums here - and fans of that time in the groups history will encounter their share of moments they find appealing - but Almost Home is by no means a melodic hard rock release. Rather, it for the most part represents a joining of modern rock and acoustic rock I might describe as a musical extension of the groups Swing, Swang, Swung to Bottle Rocket period.
Obviously, those pledging towards the Kickstarter project had the first opportunity to hear the album and initial feedback ranged from glowing (“album of the year contender”) to contempt (“run of the mill CCM”). With such a wide pendulum of opinions, I decided to take a middle of the road wait and see approach and let the music speak for itself; in other words, are the songs good regardless of musical direction and influence?
Repeat play reveals Almost Home a diverse bag musically in breaking down between heavier material and that reflecting a lighter touch. Heaviest, of course, stands out best, starting with opener “Boom She Said”, an explosive hard rocker interlaced with modern underpinnings (heavy hitting refrain and all) and “Paranoia Kills”, a short but aggressive modern metal piece with hooks to spare and aptly done shouted backing vocals (this is heavy as it gets as far as Guardian are concerned).
Those interested in a sound in a similar vein as Miracle Mile need look no further than “The Real Me”, delivering equal amounts bluesy low-end groove and pristine vocal melodies while allowing Rowe to shine with his trademark raspy and soulful vocal abilities (the guy has not lost anything over the years). Likewise, I see “King Of Fools” also appealing to the early nineties crowd with its driving hard rock mentality and gritty slide guitar in abundance (great guitar solo from Tony Palacios).
Four songs are the limit to Guardian’s heavier output in that the rest of the Almost Home material reflects that ‘lighter touch’. Not that the mellower side to the album does not have its good moments, as it does on “Little Things”, a melodic based ballad that starts slowly to acoustic guitars that gradually build until hard rocking rhythm guitars take over, and “Almost Home”, a heartfelt acoustic piece with a standout melody and poignant sensibilities to match. “Price We Pay” and “Free” are also good with their acoustic laced melodic rock mixed with alternative touches.
I struggle with the two remaining mellower tracks, which in my opinion fall within average to good territory at best. “California Rain”, with its use of Spanish guitar and Santana influences, has potential but comes across somewhat contrived for my taste. This manifests itself in how the song might have stood out further if Palacios had taken the opportunity to better showcase his licks and chops along the lines of Carlos Santana (to appreciate his abilities check out short guitar shred instrumental “Show Us What You Got”). In similar fashion, “Wonderful” is an acoustic laced but plain alternative rocker that otherwise does not do anything for me
People seem to forget the talent level of Palacios (he is the same person that gave Oz Fox guitar lesions back in the eighties). Please see below footage of Guardian performing “Saints Battalion” at the 1987 Metal Mardi Gras festival to understand my point that he should have cut loose a bit more on Almost Home. No, I do not expect him to don the ‘space warriors’ body armor and blue cape but an occasional guitar solo would have been nice.
Almost Home delivers the goods production wise with a richly textured and warm feel allowing all instrumentation to stand out. Packaging is done equally well in a digi-pak format with multi-page mini booklet.
Almost Home leaves the impression Guardian is placing priority on making music it wants as opposed to meeting fans expectations. A twofold problem arises in the process: On one hand, if a band is going to requisition support via Kickstarter, is said band obligated to deliver the album its fans want? On the other, if a band wishes its fans to invest in them, shouldn’t it at the beginning let its fans know what kind of album in which it will be investing? That said, perhaps Guardian should not be faulted in this capacity in that on Almost Home they are picking up where they left off in the late nineties- so it is not like the album comes as a big surprise musically. The difference in my opinion is that the previously noted Guardian contemporaries followed a similar pattern in making music they wanted but in the process took a heading in line with long-term fans wishes.
Almost Home has its share of good moments and is by no means a bad album regardless of musical direction. Eight good songs out of ten is commendable, keeping in mind I would have appreciated a few more hard rockers. Perhaps Guardian could have also included the rousing cover of “Rockin’ In The Free World” it did in 2010 to help round things out in this regard. Accordingly, I would like to encourage Guardian to get back to its roots and understand foremost it is a rock band and not necessarily an acoustic ensemble, regardless of how much I enjoy the albums better acoustic material. In the end, those disenchanted with Almost Home who had their hopes on “Another Miracle Mile” or “More Fire & Love” would do themselves a favor by checking out Jamie Rowe’s mainstream melodic hard rock project AdrianGale.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Boom She Said” (3:49), “The Real Me” (3:46), “Little Things” (4:45), “Wonderful” (4:34), “California Rain” (5:13), “King Of Fools” (5:04), “Paranoia Kills” (3:02), “Price We Pay” (3:51), “Free” (4:04), “Almost Home” (4:31),
Jamie Rowe - Lead Vocals
Tony Palacios - Guitars
Jamey Parrenot - Guitars
David Bach - Bass
Karl Ney - Drums