|Musical Style: Metal/Hard Rock||Produced By: Judah First & Chris Grainger|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2005||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 41:18|
Nashville, Tennessee based Judah First came together in the summer of 2000 as a result of a vision that developed between four musicians - vocalist James Aaron, guitarist Philip Mead, bassist Keyth Harkleroad and drummer Chris Rosenstone – to create “hypnotically heavy and stage driven hard rock”. A group drawing its name from Judges 20:18, Judah First independently released its full length debut, The Vision Road, in May of 2003 prior to spending the next year and a half on the road. The band followed up in 2005 with its sophomore outing Devil’s Dice. Another independent release, Devil’s Dice serves to showcase Judah First’s heavy but catchy brand of metal and hard rock in no uncertain terms. And catchy would be the best way to describe the albums five opening tracks, “Speak To Me”, “Identify”, “Devil’s Dice”, “Listen” and “Own”. Standing out with their huge chorus hooks and notable melodies, either of the five in question would sound right at home on FM radio- if it happened to be open to music of this variety. The four that follow might not be quite as catchy but are still very good: “Perfect Sky”, “X-Rated Eyes” and “Questions” can best be described as driving hard rock (this is where the band puts the heavy aspect to its sound on display) while “She’ll Never Tell” heads in a more up-tempo direction.
Judah First is fronted by James Aaron, a mostly mid-octave vocalist with a raspy and gritty style that stands out best on “Devil’s Dice” and “Questions”. “Own” and “She’ll Never Tell”, on the other hand, find him adding a smoother element to his vocal delivery. Guitarist Philip Mead proves another capable performer. Combining mega-tight work on rhythm guitar with lead guitar that is at times tenacious and at others bluesy, Philip best exhibits his abilities on the lengthy instrumental sections gracing “Speak To Me”, “Listen”, “Own”, “Perfect Sky” and “X Ray Eyes”. The bottom heavy rhythm section of bassist Keyth Harkleroad and drummer Chris Rosenstone puts in place a solid foundation to rest the bands sound upon.
Production values are quite solid for an independent release (right up with their Letter 7 and TriPart). The rhythm guitar, crisp and right up front in the mix, stands alongside a sturdy blend of bass and drums and clean sounding lead guitar.
Opening the album to a hard hitting guitar riff, “Speak To Me” romps through its verse portions at an upbeat tempo prior to tapering off for a hook-driven chorus backed by a highlighting vestige of keyboards. Nice display by the band of its instrumental sound throughout a two minute instrumental section. The lyrics to “Speak To Me” are introspective in nature:
Open up my heart and let me hear Your call
Could it be in my time of need it seems that I stand alone
No indication, reputation form the seeds I’ve sown
I’m on my knees with my disease
Can’t see, where did I go wrong?
Speak to me…
The gripping penchant is maintained on “Identify”. The song begins at once to a steadfast rhythm guitar, gradually building momentum until breaking out for a chorus guaranteed to draw you in with the overriding feel to its delivery. Heavy but catchy, “Identify” represents all that works well on Devil’s Dice. “Identify” warns its listener against being idle:
You must choose a side
What is the purpose of your pride
Internal spirit homicide
Control committee bona fide
Who will you be today
The albums title track starts to a brief drum solo before driving through its first verse at a choppy mid-tempo clip. “Devil’s Dice” proceeds to pick up unrelenting pace throughout the second, not culminating until gaining a hold of an infectious chorus that comes across near commercial in capacity. Great radio friendly feel here. “Devil’s Dice” deals with the temptation to play the devil’s game and “throw his dice’:
Artificial safety zone
It’s not as cozy as you’d like
The stakes are high
Step up and toss your life
A note to self- don’t believe the hype
So I’ll just wait on your sacrifice
Extend your hand
And take the dice…
Another solid hook is showcased on “Listen”. A crunchy blend of rhythm guitar and drums gets the song underway, the vibrant initiative preserved before things darken for a catchy chorus in which a deep and resonant setting is put into place. After stopping dead in its tracks, “Listen” moves on to a lengthy rhythm guitar driven instrumental section. “Listen” talks about an individual struggling to fit into society:
How do I fit into society?
It’s dark, I cannot see in front of me
Love is just a faded memory
Are there no friends, is there not one who cares for me
You better listen
What do you want your life to be
It’s in your hands
Are you too blind to see?
“Own” commences aggressively to a forceful sounding rhythm guitar. The excess of up-tempo disposition continues to hold sway over the song during its verse portions, decisive the first word that comes to mind to describe the brief but clutching chorus that follows. A sweeping instrumental section showcases a run of sharp sounding lead guitar. The battle scars of life is the subject matter here:
I am battle worn and weary
There’s no cover
And I’m too wet to come in from the rain
Feel my pain
Carry this cross of mine
The blood stains of war aren’t hard to find
They heel the blind
You are battle worn and weary, He’s your cover
Now you see the Light that lights the way
“Perfect Sky” advances through its first minute and a half drifting between passages of a quieter and more tranquil variety and others in which the rhythm guitar plays a prominent role in the mix. Picking up in pace, the song moves on to a poignantly charged chorus whose meaning is synonymous with heaven:
Till you take me to that perfect sky
Where there’s hope in life and dreams never die
Hold on tight, the end is now in sight
An extensive instrumental section begins to a heavy duty riff that segues to a run of tight sounding guitar harmony.
“X-Rated Eyes” opens in a plodding, almost doom-like manner, slowly trudging its way ahead only to pick up speed before moving on to a fleeting chorus supported by an authoritative rhythm guitar. Another solid display by the band of its instrumental sound as a bluesy guitar solo helps shore up an intent instrumental section. “X-Rated Eyes’ focuses on how eyes are the mirror to the soul:
I wonder what is lost that we could find
If we looked without x-rated eyes
The lenses of a focused vision
As you pray, where will your yes take your soul today?
The enemy has his own painting
As you pray, where did your eyes take your soul today?
“She’ll Never Tell”, the albums shortest track at just three minutes, can best be described as straightforward hard rock in combining just the right amount of up-tempo initiative with a melodically structured chorus. A crunchy rhythm guitar sound along with a lyrical direction dealing with child abuse helps put this one over the top:
Another day of pain
Some things will never change
She’s at the mirror
Wearing blood and blame
She’s in the corner
Prays for another life
She’ll never tell…
“Questions” starts calmly to a keyboard based opening, the tranquil scene upheld throughout its first verse before things abruptly explode as the rhythm guitar powers its way into the mix. Putting forth quite the time change, the song proceeds to push ahead in aggressive fashion prior to decelerating for a grinding instrumental section carried by a gritty guitar solo. “Questions” returns to its combative form over its final minute. “Questions” does exactly that:
How many times must I try,
Before I break through?
How many lies must I fight,
Before I trust you?
How many words must I hide,
Before I know you?
How many tears must I cry,
Before I see you?
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track listing: “Speak To Me” (4:31), “Identify” (4:11), “Devil’s Dice” (3:45), “Listen” (5:08), “Own” (4:53), “Perfect Sky” (5:26), “X-Rated Eyes” (5:13), “She’ll Never Tell” (3:01), “Questions” (5:02)
James Aaron – Lead Vocals
Philip Mead - Guitars
Keyth Harkleroad – Bass
Chris Rosenstone - Drums