|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: David Zaffiro|
|Record Label: Myrrh||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1990||Artist Website: Holy Soldier|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 95%|
|Running Time: 46:30|
I’ll never forget the first time I listened to Holy Soldier’s self-titled debut album shortly following its release in early 1990. I was in my mid-twenties and had just moved to Portland, Oregon prior to landing my first ‘real job’- the type with regular hours, benefits, opportunity for advancement, etc and does not involve the flipping-burgers-delivering-pizzas-washing-dishes routine most if not all of us (including yours truly) inevitably cut out teeth on. Shortly following work on a rainy Friday afternoon - when is it not raining in Portland? - I stopped by the local Christian supply (on Division just east of 82nd) and picked up the copy of Holy Soldier that I pre-ordered several weeks prior. I proceeded to put the disc into the Alpine CD player of my beat up old 84 Subaru with 150k miles - I drove the thing to death delivering pizzas for Domino’s the previous couple of years - and was literally blown away on first listen.
Professionalism is the first word that comes to mind and remains to this day, at least when factoring how Holy Soldier brings the ‘total package’ in terms of production, performance, songwriting and packaging. The album literally leaves no stone unturned and does not fail to overlook a single detail, which contrasts with some of the music purchases I made the preceding decade. I hate to open a can of worms, but it was my experience during the eighties that record labels potentially signed more bands than they could support (or signed the wrong bands in the first place) which resulted in an at times shoddy product (or generic feel similar to that of Burger King: same ingredients, different combinations). It got tiresome, for instance, during the decade playing up to $18 for a CD with only nine songs (including a couple that are skip worthy) while having to deal with average to good production and spotty packaging.
Contrast this with Holy Soldier, which featured ten near equally good songs backed by more than competent production (courtesy of David Zaffiro) and well thought out packaging. Remember many of the eighties releases on the Intense Label - Angelica, Bloodgood, Deliverance, anyone? - with simple cover art featuring the bands logo over a black background and two page insert with lyrics in a font so small they require a magnifying glass to read? Not so Holy Soldier, which proved a breath of fresh air with its eye catching cover art not to mention detailed multi-page mini booklet with easy to read lyrics alongside numerous band photos.
I am not suggesting the eighties were overrated - they by no means were when factoring iconic releases from Bloodgood (Detonation) and Stryper (To Hell With The Devi) - but it could be said the nineties (particularly the first part of the decade) was underrated, at least from a Christian metal standpoint. Consider how the decade saw equally iconic albums come out by Deliverance (Weapons Of Our Warfare) and Bride (Snakes In The Playground) while including several others that (in my opinion) are just as good from Guardian (Fire & Love), Novella (One Big Sky), Red Sea (Blood), Veni Domine (Fall Babylon Fall) and, of course, the Holy Soldier self-titled debut.
Originally signed to Myrrh Records as the labels first true metal act, Holy Soldier came out of the Los Angeles club circuit as a ‘finely tuned machine’ with a sound true to the times at hand: commercial eighties influenced melodic metal and hard rock. The group had the image, hooks, the licks and chops and all the trappings and trimmings to have been widely successful in the era but, alas, it never panned out. Whereas the meaning to ‘successful’ is open to interpretation, Holy Soldier had the potential to sell a To Hell With The Devil like several million copies, while the group (similar to Stryper) deserved to have been all over MTV and receive the opening slot on a major tour with a well-known mainstream act and ultimately become a headliner themselves.
Perhaps it was a sign of the times scenario (by the early nineties the hard music scene hard started its move towards a more modern and grungy sound) or simply lack of promotion (did being on a Christian label prevent Holy Soldier from reaching greater acclaim?). Possibly a lack of breaks might have played a role in that the group lost its lead singer, Stephen Patrick, between the release of Holy Soldier and its 1992 sophomore album Last Train. I recall seeing Holy Soldier live in a small club in downtown Portland shortly following the debuts release but with Eric Wayne on lead vocals instead, so I knew something was amiss.
Stephen Patrick, nevertheless, brought one of the more distinctive vocal styles to the period in walking a fine line between equal parts melodic and raspy. Album opens to two melodic but incisive tracks in “Stranger” and “See No Evil” that provide a good indicator to his abilities. Former takes an up-tempo stance as underpinning bass guitar defines its burly verses and heavy-set backing vocals propel a chorus in which Patrick exhibits the full emotion to his soaring voice. With its contrasting mid-tempo focus, latter ups the heaviness in affixing guitars to a more forward place in delivering a ton of hard rock style and class as Patrick reflects the passion and conviction to the lower register aspect of his delivery. There two are very good and set the tone for the brilliance to follow.
“The Pain Inside Of Me”, first of the albums two ballads, ensues and highlights the exquisite Holy Soldier production with its near perfect layering of acoustic guitar and unwavering low end. A refreshing six and a half minutes, the song intermingles delicate vocal harmonies, haunting melody and affecting vestiges as it approaches the elegant. It is the crime of the century second ballad “Eyes Of Innocence” was not an FM radio hit. The song exhibits the hugest of melodies, lightly maneuvering its distance to hints of airy acoustic guitar as stauncher rhythm guitar periodically makes its presence felt. Guitarist Michael Cutting lends a climactic touch with his moving lead guitar work.
Also laced acoustically but taking a heavier melodic hard rock stance is “Lies”. Rhythm guitars make the more pronounced statement here, interweaving with sweeping, acoustic tinctured verses and buffeting refrain in which the group’s sleek vocal harmonies again play a highlighting role. “Love Me” upholds the greater forthright leaning, with acoustic tinges for its verses (which play up an ethereal feel) but also chorus (with its uplifting and freely flowing essence). Lead guitar takes a bluesy heading for both.
Holy Soldier is also not afraid to flex its muscles, as it does on powerhouse hard rocker “Tear Down The Walls”. The song literally storms out of the gate, with gripping bass and undaunted guitars setting the decided tone to a song that ranges from the aggressive (noting the driving refrain) but also lighter (as found in the ethereal vocal melodies). “We Are Young, We Are Strong” maintains the muscle but in a decided mid-tempo package. This one highlights melodic guitar harmonies galore placed over a basis of Terry Russell’s double kick drum, exuding a heaviness that extends beyond melodic metal while reaching for an intricacy that embodies power metal. My favorite part is the jam flavored final minute as guitarists Jamie Cramer and Michael Cutting contest on lead guitar.
When Holy Soldier steps outside the box, it does so in style. “Cry Out For Love” highlights a post-modern hard rock sound that has been compared to Bang Tango and The Cult. Holy Soldier, of course, pulls it off with a ton of class as bluesy guitars and copious underpinning groove align with the technical proclivity to match. “When The Reign Comes Down” finds the group at its laid back and reserved best. Low-end makes a pronounced statement here - again, Andy Robbins shines with his conspicuous bass - as does a more bluesy if not classic rock influenced side to the Holy Soldier sound. The two songs reveal the group not to be another one trick pony eighties metal band but are rather willing to experiment and push its musical boundaries instead.
Lyrics leave little doubt as to the faith of the Holy Soldier members. “Stranger” points the way to salvation in this regard:
They didn't understand Him
Though His words were plain to see
Because of this they made a plan
To kill Him brutally
He was different
He was heaven-sent
And for this they took His life
But in the end
He rose again
His name was Jesus Christ
“See No Evil” is an anti abortion song:
I float inside her womb
Oh mother, I am coming soon
Suddenly, fear and dread
When mother says she wants me dead
Please don't kill me
I want to live
Day by day
Can anyone hear me
The numbers grow
I want to live
“Cry Out For Love” was written from the standpoint of a new believer experiencing God’s love:
When I was a young boy
So sad, you know
I was looking for the answers
But that was a while ago
Those days are gone
I found what I'm lookin' for
But what I got ain't nearly enough
So I'm cryin' out for love
The Spirit of the Ancient One
That was, is, and shall be
His love is ringing in my ears
Crying out to me
“When The Reign Comes Down” deals with sin and how it impacts society:
You see it all around you
It's everywhere you turn
And like a beast that stalks the night
It's deadly hunger burns
It feeds on the lust and greed
In the wicked hearts of men
Hunts you down
It's the hound of hell
He's on your heels again
In the mind it breeds
'Till it's giving birth to sin
Sin brings death
And the wicked won't rest
Will we ever see the end?
I find Holy Soldier a fresh listen to this day despite the passing of more than twenty-five years. The album not only remains within my personal top 5, but it also finished number 2 in an article I wrote that outlines what (in my opinion) are the top 50 Christian metal and hard rock albums released in the 90’s- and it was no shame finishing second to my top selection, Veni Domine’s Material Sanctuary. It is not so much that I love the songs on Holy Soldier (which I do) but also that all other pertinent aspects to the album shine, including production, packaging and overall band performance to create (once again) a total package scenario. It would not be out of line to suggest accordingly that Holy Solder rates with the best metal and hard rock debut releases of all time. Good news is that the album is still relatively easy to find at a reasonable price in light of how it has seen re-issue twice, with the first on Spaceport Records in 2005 and second by the Brazilian label Silent Music Records in 2008.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: "Stranger" (3:25), "See No Evil" (5:28), "The Pain Inside Of Me" (6:35), "Cry Out For Love" (3:29), "Tear Down The Walls" (3:58), "When The Reign Comes Down" (5:17), "Lies" (4:57), "Eyes Of Innocence" (3:55), "Love Me" (4:12), "We Are Young, We Are Strong" (5:12)
Stephen Patrick – Lead Vocals
Jamie Cramer – Guitars
Michael Cutting – Guitars
Andy Robbins – Bass
Terry Russell - Drums